The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For first time, Montgomery school board will be entirely led by women

The exact composition of Montgomery County’s next Board of Education won’t be known until the November election.

But this week’s primary made one thing clear: For the first time in its history, the board will be composed only of women.

Seven candidates, two of them incumbents, were nominated for four seats that are on the November ballot. They are all women.

The winners of those races will join three sitting board members — all women, too.

And the board’s incoming student member, who was elected by the county’s middle and high school students in April? She’s also female.

That means come December, the board, which oversees spending that makes up about half the operating budget in Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction — will be entirely female.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to make a little history here,” said Jeanette Dixon, who holds one of the board’s at-large seats. “Having women involved in public service and holding elected office is a very positive thing.”

Men hold many of Maryland’s top offices in Annapolis as well as the 10 seats in the state’s congressional delegation, although Republican Amie Hoeber is competing to succeed outgoing Rep. John Delaney (D).

And this week’s Democratic primary results mean that by December, all but one spot on Montgomery County Council will be held by a man.

“It’s not the norm to have all-female governing bodies, no matter what level you’re talking about,” said Jean Sinzdak, associate director of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. While the center doesn’t track female representation at the local level, Sinzdak said that the Mont­gomery board is likely one of the first of its kind to achieve that status.

Ananya Tadikonda, a rising senior at Richard Montgomery High School , and the board’s incoming student member, said she hopes the all-female composition will allow for a greater focus on issues such as affirmative consent and the high school dress code.

Tadikonda — only the 11th female student member since her position was inaugurated in 1978 — said “the fact that this entire board is female is a sign of leadership” that could inspire young women across the country.

The county’s first board of education, named by legislative enactments in 1817, consisted of nine men. (Three of them were named Thomas.)

A woman wasn’t appointed to the board until 1920, when Mrs. A. Dawson Trumble served a five-year term that subsequently led to a steady succession of female board members, according to archives maintained by Montgomery County Public Schools.

But Jill Ortman-Fouse, an outgoing at-large board member, said that the lack of men on the school board is as much of a problem as the lack of women in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t see it as a counterpoint,” she said. “Leadership should look like the population that you’re representing.”

Ortman-Fouse, who is white, said she declined to run for reelection after John A. Robertson, an African American man and an assistant principal in Clarksburg, announced his candidacy for her seat.

“You need to have a diversity of experiences and perspectives when you’re making decisions that impact children’s futures,” she said, noting that while Robertson lost, the two remaining candidates for her seat — Julie Reiley and Karla Silvestre — are both Latina.