Henry Lee, who joined the Montgomery County school board in July, resigned last week, citing the demands of the position and a need to spend more time with his family. His resignation, effective immediately, creates a vacancy that the school board will fill through an appointment until the election in 2006.
Lee, a dentist who has been active in Montgomery schools as a parent, represented District 5, which includes Olney, Burtonsville, Brookeville and parts of Silver Spring. He spoke with staff writer Rebecca Dana.
QWhat considerations did you weigh when deciding whether to leave your seat on the school board after only four months?
ABasically, the first thing I weigh is what impact does it have on my family, most specifically my children. The second thing is the impact it has on my extended family, my friends. The third thing is what impact does it have on the community that I represent. That's both the community I live in, as well as the Asian American community. After that, the impact on the people I work with, [who] are the teachers, the principals, the staff and my fellow Board of Education members.
When you first joined the board, you said one of your primary concerns would be working to involve families who come to the county with little experience in education, as your parents did when they came from China. How much did you get a chance to focus on this, and what work is left to do?
That was my prime focus, one of the first initiatives I tried to push. The school system already has community outreach specialists, but you try to do it for specific communities -- the at-risk communities . . . specific schools that have not only ethnic minorities but socioeconomic and racial minorities. That's where you have to raise the achievement level. . . .
Our idea was to give each community superintendent one community outreach specialist [who] would be assigned just to one school and to work with the parents and the families in that school to see if they can bring them into the school milieu, so to speak, and to learn what they need to do to make their children and their families more successful. Basically, I'm talking about academic achievement. If they achieve academically, their families will achieve in every way, socioeconomically, even after the kids grow up.
What's the status of that effort now?
It's in the system. Hopefully, after I leave, they won't forget it. Basically, now it's up to a member of the Board of Education to make sure this happens.
What do you think are the big issues facing the board now and in the near future?
I think it's to make sure they have the leadership in the schools, the administrative leadership to drive all the programs they have through, to make sure they have enough quality teachers. Doesn't matter how well designed these initiatives are -- unless you have a leader in each school trying to drive the programs through, it's not going to work.
They've been collaborating with principals and teachers to try to raise the level of expectations and competence across the board.
What do you wish you'd had a chance to do while you were on the board?
I really wanted to see, and I think it'll still probably happen, is a higher sense of customer service across the board for the students, parents and teachers. Basically, you have a huge number of people in the school system already that really care about what they're doing, care about the people they interact with. Just to bring that to a higher level. The way I look at it, everyone's there to do a job. It doesn't take a whole lot of extra effort to be nice to people, to make them feel better about the service you're providing and they're receiving. Bottom line, education is a service the county is providing, and people sometimes forget that.