Marian L. Greenblatt's "green machine" has started rolling toward the Nov. 4 school board election at which she hopes to be reelected for a four-year term.
The nickname for her volunteers, chosen in jest, is not a misnomer. A group of about 50 persons -- that will burgeon to 500 by election day -- is at work, efficiently spreading the word of Greenblatt's campaign, "Stand Up for Traditional Education."
She is among six candidates trying for three seats on the seven-member board. Blair G. Ewing, Suzanne K. Peyser, Sandra M. King-Shaw, Marilyn J. Praisner and Michael F. Goodman also picked up enough votes in the May primary to qualify for the race.
Board president Daryl W. Shaw is not running for re-election, and the terms of Joseph R. Barse, Elizabeth W. Spencer, Carol F. Wallace and Eleanor D. Zappone do not expire until 1982.
"We've just hired a new superintendent," said Greenblatt, 38. "We're just starting to see progress from our policies, but it could turn the other way. It takes several years. I've been convinced by people that I should run."
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and a resident of Silver Spring for the past 11 years, Greenbelt was elected in 1976 on a similar "back-to-basics" stand, but said she felt she initially was blocked in her actions by other members of the board.
"The first two years were frustrating. When I had what I thought were good ideas, they were disregarded. I didn't think kids were being challenged to their full potential. The board attitude was permissive," she said.
Two years later that changed when her husband, Marshal (Michey) Greenblatt, managed the campaigns of three like-minded candidates and helped put Barse, Wallace and Zappone on the board, creating what has come to be known as the "conservative majority".
They named Greenblatt president of the board, fired Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo because they did not believe his educational views were compatible with theirs, rescinded a requirement that school employes take a course on black culture, and made written final exams mandatory for all secondary school students.
"I call myself traditional, but I accept the term 'conservative,'" Greenblatt said. "I'm outside the PTA mainstream. I wouldn't be considered conservative in other parts of the country."
She said the emphasis on students' rights during the Vietnam War years had an impact on the high schools, and lax policies led to a drastic decline in test scores.
"The traditional skills have been neglected. The way to correct that is to devote more time to the task. We are not preparing the kids for life. We're not teaching them that even if you don't love something, you still have to do it. I don't think we're pushing them hard enough," said Greenbelt, who has three sons -- one at Francis Scott Key Junior High School and two at Cresthaven Elementary School.
Greenblatt, along with Barse, Wallace and Zappone, voted last February in favor of the new senior high policy that requires countrywide exams in math and English for ninth and 10th graders and reduces the number of absences students are allowed without losing credit from 10 days to five.
The high school policy may be changed if a new majority is elected in November. Ewing, the incumbent on a slate with Praisner and King-Shaw, said he believes attendance and discipline are secondary issues and that more attention should be paid to curriculum.
"I hope the high school policy will be reconsidered, and some important changes made," he said.
"A lot of people move to Montgomery County because of the reputation of our schools," Greenblatt said. "We must be able to demonstrate that we can do great things. There is a lot of pressure for special-interest classes, but we must preserve a sufficient amount of money for the average student. This is the battle of the budget."
Greenblatt said the new board will have to find ways to trim expenses, but that she will place high priority on keeping a ceiling on class size and not cutting back on teachers or textbooks. Under the $309.1 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, the board took money-saving measures such as consolidating the system's administrative areas from five to four, making school days six periods long instead of seven, and reducing the number of school employes and teachers consistent with the drop in enrollment. This year 227 fewer teachers are working in the system.
"We are getting a more diverse student population and we have to make sure they are getting the same quality of education. There's pressure from both ends. A lot of people are forgetting about the middle. How are we going to fulfill the expectations of the parents? We need a highly structured program and more emphasis on the basic skills."
Greenblatt received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland last year.
She wrote her dissertation on how political cartoons in social-studies texts could help students read and think more critically. As a school board member, she said she wants to improve the reading skills of Montgomery County students and said one of the ways to do this is to assign quiet reading time.
Greenblatt is running on a slate withSuzanna Peyser in the campaign because, Greenblatt said, they have similar views and together would help strengthen the majority. Peyser, an English teacher whose only previous experience in school politics was as a member of the executive board of the Montgomery County Federation of Teachers, can only benefit by the tieup.
The school board election is nonpartisan and at-large. In a county as large as Montgomery, with its 331,000 registered voters that the Board of Elections hopes will reach 350,000 by the Oct. 6 registration deadline, candidates have a lot of area to cover and no political party to help them.
School board elections are held every two years, but voter turnout is much greater during presidential election years. A total of 78.5 percent of those eligible voted in 1976, compared with 54.8 percent in 1978, according to Board of Election figures.
In addition, although about 70,000 more persons will go to the polls this November than two years ago, some will simply not vote for school board candidates. The Board of Elections calls this phenomenon the drop-off rate, and is trying to reduce it this year by the new "Datavote" system, a punchcard ballot that replaces voting machines with levers.
Greenblatt's campaign is picking up momentum now with a steady round of forums and coffe meetings, and is gaining volunteers along the way.
"I know it's trite, but it's democracy in action and it's exciting," she said. "It's like building a political party from scratch."
She decried the lack of interest of the school board election, saying she is lucky if she can get 1,000 to 1,500 people to turn out for public forums and coffee meetings. "How do you inform people about what's going on?" said Greenblatt. "It's their taxes. They hire our graduates."