Suzanne Peyser's candidacy for the Montgomery County Board of Education is her first try for political office for herself, but not her first campaign.
She has coordinated and run campaigns all over the county, from handing out pamphlets for Royce Hanson's unsuccessful bid for Congress 16 years ago to chairing Scott Fosler's campaign for County Council in 1978.
Now she's campaigning for herself and Marian L. Greenblatt in the race to fill three of the Montgomery County Board of Education's seven seats on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The two are running on a slate with a "Stand up for Traditional Education" platform that would continue the board's policies of the last two years, emphasizing rigid attendance requirements, countywide exams, mandatory homework and small classes.
The other candidates are incumbent Blair G. Ewing, Sandra M. King-Shaw, Marilyn J. Praisner and Michael Goodman.
Peyser, 40, has taught English and history in Montgomery County since 1963, but has worked half time for the past 10 years. From 1975 until she resigned this year to run for the board, she taught English at Einstein Senior High School. Before that she taught at Argyle Junior High School.
Peyser has come under fire from some parents for moving her two daughters out of public school and into Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, a private girls' school. The two girls attended Bel Pre Elementary School, Georgian Forest Elementary School and Col. E. Brooke Lee Junior High School.
"I took them out of public school for the same reason I am running for the board," said Peyser. "The public schools must raise academic standards, strengthen discipline, enforce drug and alcohol regulations and trim the top-heavy bureaucracy.
"As a member of the board, I would have the courage and confidence to do these things and when that happens, I'll be happy to put my children back in public schools."
Peyser said public school classes were too easy for her daughters and that there is less that is "artsy-craftsy" at Holton-Arms.
"When my daughter was in the eighth grade, I was forever driving up to Dart Drug to buy clay," she said. "Now this is the eighth grade!
"I think we can do as good a job in public schools as they do in private schools, and better in certain areas. That's why I want to be on the board. I want to make sure the liberals don't reverse the policy."
Peyser was referring to the split on the board between members who call themselves conservatives or traditionals and those who have been labeled "liberal" but prefer to call themselves middle-of-the-roaders or moderates.
Greenblatt, Joseph R. Barse, Carol F. Wallace and Eleanor D. Zappone are in the former group. Daryl W. Shaw, who is not running for another four-year term, Ewing and Elizabeth W. Spencer are in the latter.
Peyser said she supports the high school policy passed earlier this year by the "conservative majority" on the board, although she prefers a seven-period day over the six-period one included in the new policy.
"It's a problem of equity. Last year about half the schools had six-period days and half had seven," said Peyser. "I think we should make every effort to provide even periods in every high school."
Greenblatt supported the six-period day as a money-saving measure. Peyser said Greenblatt told her, "Sue, you haven't been on the board. You don't know what it's like to work out a budget. It's tough.'
"But I'm a tough person," Peyser said.
Peyser said the board must crack down on drugs and alcohol.
"Some teachers walk down the hall with tunnel vision. They don't see anything. They don't hear anything. And students know this. They know which bathrooms teachers never look into," she said.
"For too long the board has had a permissive attitude which filters down. Obviously we can't be responsible for all the social ills of society, but it shouldn't be allowed on school premises."
Peyser, who grew up in Hampton, Va., and graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, emphasizes her teaching experience as a qualification for serving on the board.
"As an insider, in the school system, I can see every day what our problems are," she said.
She was active in the Montgomery County Federation of Teachers, serving on the executive board. She testified before the state legislature two years ago against a proposal by the Montgomery County Education Association (MECA) to require all teachers to pay a representation fee to the association. The education association has the sole bargaining power for teachers in the county.
The MECA proposed the bill again this year and the current board voted last week to oppose it.
Peyser was among a group of citizens advising the Board of Education a year ago on a Comprehensive Facilities Plan to deal with school closings. At that time Einstein Senior High School was among those being considered for closing because it needed major renovation, according to the facilities plan.
Peyser said she disagreed that the school needed major renovation, and found a report from a school system engineer to prove it. The school no longer stood out as a candidate for closure, she said.
She also thought Harmony Hills Elementary, another school being looked at for closing, should not be closed simply because its students went on to several different junior highs instead of just one.
Enrollment and total capacity of the building should be key factors, she said. "When an elementary school becomes so small that there is only one teacher per grade, the school should be closed, particularly when there is a nearby elementary school. We are spending a lot on overhead," she said.
Peyser's husband, Alan, is chief operating officer of TDX Systems, Inc., a telephone communications system. He was recently among 16 persons appointed by the county executive to serve on a Montgomery County cable television advisory committee.