Sunday, May 31, 2009

Takoma Park families fight to save neighborhoods

Tech-savvy parents in Takoma Park have taken to the Internet to discuss, debate and exchange information on MCPS' proposals to change school boundary lines. Parents have video of a MCPS Boundary Advisory Committee meeting that ends with MCPS Senior Facility Planner Deborah Szyfer stating, "Please turn that off for a moment because I think people are uncomfortable with the video taping."

Other parents have a blog to discuss these changes and multiple online discussion groups have sprung up to allow parents to rapidly communicate on this issue.

Here is the video with excerpts of the May 20, 2009, meeting of the MCPS Boundary Advisory Committee on the school zone decisions affecting Takoma Park and surrounding areas.

Glossary for video: "Options 4 and 5" would displace not only the 10-family Takoma Park neighborhood into East Silver Spring Elementary, but would also displace East Silver Spring (ESS) kids into Sligo Creek Elementary (which the ESS PTA doesn't want)."Option 1b": Nobody likes it as is, but everyone except Sligo Creek Elementary accepts it as the least-bad of the six options that the bureaucrats in Rockville developed."SC4" is the middle-class side of a 6-lane highway. "SC5" is east-of-New Hampshire Avenue: an economically disadvantaged, often ESOL neighborhood that did not have a representative at the table during the discussions about whether they should remain at the Math and Science Academy or get relocated.

Why have these parents taken to the Internet to advocate for their communities? One dad in the affected zone, Charles Thomas, said, "I love our rainbow community: immigrant families, gay and lesbian families, hippies, and professional and volunteer advocates for social and economic justice, world peace, and a healthy environment. We want to stay in Granola Park! Any neighborhood is at risk of having 10 families plucked away, with no seat at the table, for no justifiable demographic reason. It's like a computer generated these options randomly. The bureaucrats gave the community advisors six lemons and thwarted their efforts to make lemonade. It's time to stop the process and fix this problem, before it damages other communities like the six affected neighborhoods here."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

School Fees and Union Busting

I admit - I am no longer enamoured of Joel Klein, NYC Chancellor of Schools.

Last fall, while we were fighting to enforce our rights to a free public education in Maryland, through our battle to eliminate school fees for textbooks and gym towels, NYC schools were faced with a similar dilemma.

However, like everything else in the Big Apple, its on a much larger scale, as indicated in this article from the New York Post. From the article:
The powerhouse parent groups boldly solicit donations - some accept credit cards and PayPal online - to bypass Department of Education rules, a Post investigation found. The PTAs advertise on Craigslist or at colleges and put $12-an-hour assistant teachers on their own payrolls - violating DOE policies and skirting union pay and benefit scales.
In the article, some parents admit that paying upwards of $500 as a fee to send their kids to these schools is a bargain compared to private schools - especially in NYC. Read further and you will see that under Mr. Klein's tenure - where smaller schools are often co-housed in the same building, one school may raise significant funding, while the other occupants? Too bad, how sad.

What is really striking about this piece is that the practice bypasses the unions and the hiring system in the school system. Advertising on Craigslist for a teachers aide? I am a product of the NYC public school system and grew up with a parent who toiled away at a NYC Title I school and still proudly carries her UFT card.

Am I disappointed.

First, with the Unions for putting up with this practice without a fight.

Second, for lawyer turned school system administrator Klein, who so conveniently forgets that it is his obligation to oversee the largest school district with a free public education.

And, most of all, with the residents of NY - who tolerate this practice.

Equity and a free public education are obviously far from reality in New York City.

This makes our PTSAs with their budgets in the $40,000 range look very modest.

Artificial Turf: Made in Calhoun, Georgia

I just found this great video of a turf manufacturing plant floor similar (I assume) to FieldTurfTarkett, which has a monopoly in Montgomery County. This is from AZGrassman. This is where your millions of Montgomery County tax dollars are going: to manufacture artificial turf in Calhoun, Georgia. Here's how they make the artificial turf!

Thanks Ms. Brandman! Thanks Mr. Andrews, President of the County Council, and all the Councilmembers who voted UNANIMOUSLY on the Consent Calendar the other week. That would be: Marc Elrich, Duchy Trachtenberg, Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, Roger Berliner, Mike Knapp, and Valerie Ervin. I can't think of a better place for my hard-earned dollars to go. Oh wait, they COULD stay in our county and the money could go to our sod farmers in our wonderful Agricultural Reserve, and...wake up freestategal, wake up, it was just a dream!

Special kudos to Mike Knapp. The sod farmers live in HIS district, but really what's more important, his constituents or making sure FieldTurfTarkett, a Canadian Company, gets all the County business.

The money is going to Calhoun, Georgia. Named after John C. Calhoun. Of course as every schoolchild knows, Montgomery County is named after Richard Montgomery. Do some googling to check out the different biographies of these two men.

And here's how natural turf is made. No video, but on this beautiful Saturday you can go out and take a look in and enjoy your yard to see what our Montgomery County farmers have done.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Grass Growers' Plea for Turf Transparency!

...I am here tonight to ask you to reconsider your actions to convert all Montgomery County high schools into artificial turf fields. I will concede that many of the fields are in poor shape.

There are a lot of factors that this can be attributed to, one of which is poor design. It was poor design to hold down cost... You are comparing the lowest end grass fields to the highest end fields in the country when you go to the artificial turf fields. I would like to ask you to study the possibility of a sand based field with drainage, as a comparison to the artificial turf fields that you are putting in...You will find it is still cheaper than the artificial fields that you are putting in...

I am also concerned about the process here. I have not seen any open bids for these fields that you are putting in. I would like to see an open playing field for that.
Excerpts of testimony of Doug Lechlider, President Maryland Turfgrass Association to Montgomery County Board of Education on May 26, 2009. You can view the complete statement of Mr. Lechlider in the video below.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest Post - Questions from A Soccer Mom

Today seems to be my day for turf.

Blair HS began tearing up their football field in preparation for the turf installation by the Parks Department. That brings the total up to three turf fields in Montgomery County high school athletic departments.

And, the following You Tube clip below was left in a comment on this website.

Its very powerful. Very factual, and yes, very long.

Once again, its courtesy of our friends from Mount Sinai Medical School's Children's Environmental Health Center.

Note that the poster asked to remain anonymous - because the turf industry is powerful.

So is the message imparted in this clip.

Its time to get serious folks. Even if your child doesn't play sports, your child will be exposed. In high school, fields are used for pep rallies, fire drill waiting areas, and much more than just sports. Will MCPS ensure that our students "dust off" their clothing every time they use the fields for non-athletic purposes?

Start asking questions. Lots of them. Lets keep our kids safe and healthy.

NBC4 this evening - Barrie School kids quarantined

Some students from the Barrie School in Silver Spring took a class trip to China. One of them got sick on the plane, and now the Chinese authorities are concerned they all might have Swine Flu. So all the students have been quarantined. Not quite the trip they hoped for. Derrick Ward has that story tonight on News4 at 5 and 6.

Studies Show School Choice Widens Inequality

School choice programs which allow parents to select the schools their children attend deepen educational inequality and fail to yield consistent learning gains, according to nine studies of choice initiatives coordinated by researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The two-year long research project examined choice programs in Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Antonio, and Montgomery County, Maryland; African American and Hispanic families' views of choice plans; voucher initiatives in higher education and preschool settings; and the public and private school markets overseas.

From the summary of the report:

Choice Can Increase Racial Segregation

School choice also has the potential to further the re-segregation of public schools. For example, Montgomery County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., created magnet schools as part of its school desegregation efforts in the late 1970s. Researchers found that many parents choose magnet schools on the basis of racial composition and cultural similarity. White parents tend to choose schools with higher white enrollment, while black parents select schools with higher black enrollment. Only by using their authority to deny transfer requests have school officials kept the choice process from increasing segregation.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Turf Talk - Watch out for the Goose Poop!

Last night, during public testimony at the Montgomery County Board of Education meeting (May 26, 2009), several speakers addressed potential health concerns involved in artificial turf field. Note that recent concerns about problems with artificial turf fields include more than antibiotic resistant strep and overheating of the fields.

Here is what the manufacturers of the materials coming to the Walter Johnson Athletic field say about their product:

FieldTurf's grass fibers are surrounded and stabilized by a special blend of synthetic earth - FieldTurf's patented mixture of smooth, rounded silica sand and rubber granules.

The rubber granules are a key component. Tire rubber is cryogenically frozen,
shattered into smooth, clean, rounded particles, sized and shaped to stay in
suspension with the sand, which is of a similar size, shape and weight.

Rubber granules from tires?

Yes. Here is what the experts from Mount Sinai's Center for Excellence in Childrens Environmental Health say about these components:

The major chemical components of crumb rubber are styrene and butadiene, the
principal ingredients of the synthetic rubber used for tires in the United
States. Styrene is neurotoxic. Butadiene is a proven human carcinogen.
It has been shown to cause leukemia and lymphoma. The crumb rubber pellets
that go into synthetic turf fields also contain lead, cadmium and
other metals. Some of these metals are included in tires during manufacture,
and others picked up by tires as they roll down the nation’s streets and
highways. There is a potential for all of these toxins to be inhaled,
absorbed through the skin and even swallowed by children who play on
synthetic turf fields.
Lead was recently found in synthetic turf fields in New Jersey at levels so high that several fields were closed by the state Health Department.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were so concerned, they issued a Health Advisory, and recommended the following precautions for families with children younger than age six:

Children ages 6 and younger are most susceptible to lead’s harmful health
effects. To protect the public, in particular young children, consider
posting signs indicating that:
1. After playing on the field, individuals are encouraged to perform aggressive
hand and body washing for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm
2. Clothes worn on the field should be taken off and turned inside out as soon as possible after using the field to avoid tracking contaminated dust to other
places. In vehicles, people can sit on a large towel or blanket if it is not
feasible to remove their clothes. These clothes, towels, and blankets should be
washed separately and shoes worn on the field should be kept outside of the
3. Eating while on the field or turf product is discouraged.
4. Avoid contaminating drinking containers with dust and fibers from the
field. When not drinking, close them and keep them in a bag, cooler, or other covered container on the side of the field.

And the response from Dr. Weast and the Board of Education?
Dr. Weast assured the audience that Phil Andrews did a thorough evaluation and determined that artificial turf is safe for our county playing fields. You can find Mr. Andrew's assessment in the memos accompanying the County Council's Education Committee decision to approve the turf at Richard Montgomery HS. memo1 memo 2
And Pat O'Neill? As an alum of Walter Johnson HS and a mom of two MCPS graduates, she is very concerned about geese poop on the fields. Her recommendation? Post a sign that says, don't ingest the turf. Does this mean that our MCPS kindergartners can practice reading those signs to their younger sibs? What a bonus benefit.

Balt. Sun: Preparing for SAT may not pay big returns

The Baltimore Sun's Inside Ed column on a new report out from the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Two of the conclusions from the report:
Because empirical evidence suggests that the average effects of commercial coaching programs are small, students should be counseled to consider less costly forms of test preparation available by using books or the Internet. High school students and their families should be counseled to be wary of coaching rip-offs
As it has been found that even small test score increases may increase a student’s chances of admission at selective institutions, if money and time are no object, commercial coaching or private tutoring may well be worth the cost. However, this will primarily be true for students with above average admission test scores in the first place.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Parents' Coalition Receives Accolades

County Council member Marc Elrich presented the Gazette Award for Public Service to the Parents' Coalition (PC) at the annual Montgomery County Civic Federation Awards Banquet held May 15, 2009. Accepting the award was Bob Astrove, one of the co-founders of PC.

Additionally, Del. Brian Feldman (D-15), current Chair of the Maryland House Delegation, presented an official citation from the Maryland General Assembly congratulating The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County

"... in recognition of their receipt of the Gazette Award and honoring their dedicated service on behalf of our community by advocating for the highest possible educational standards and achievements by the Montgomery County Public Schools."
The citation was signed by Senator Richard Madaleno Jr, and Delegate Brian Feldman

Other attendees included many delegates from Maryland Montgomery County Delegation, County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council members Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich, Duchy Trachtenberg, and Roger Berliner. Parents' Coalition members attending were honored to have Del. Al Carr (D-18), Del. Kirill Reznik (D-39), and Del. Anne Kaiser (D-14) sitting at our tables. PC members had encouraged letter writing and had testified in support of Del Carr's bill, HB 841, mandating the Board of Education to make available a searchable website listing MCPS purchases of $25,000 or more. The bill was signed by Gov. O'Malley on May 7.
Sadly, there was one very important person missing. An inspiration to PC, the venerable activist extraordinaire
Wayne Goldstein, passed away on April 27.

Silver Chips: Tim Hwang voted next Student Member of Board of Education

Silver Chips reports on the next student member of the MCPS Board of Education in an April 30, 2009 article here.

...Hwang plans to discuss solutions to school issues such as the open lunch policy, High School Assessment (HSA) graduation requirement and Loss of Credit (LC) policy through SMOB 2.0, a coalition of student representatives from across the county. "It's a chance for students to get involved and actively participate in SMOB policy," he said.

Hwang has proposed altering the current exam policy to allow students who receive an "A" on both quarter report cards to complete a cumulative project that will count as their semester exam grade. He also hopes to work with Maryland Association of Student Councils (MASC) President David Murray to petition for a waiver of the HSA graduation requirement for disadvantaged students...

...Yang also identified pressing student concerns that he hopes Hwang will address as the next SMOB. "One area I want to see Tim work with is student advocacy. Issues like student parking, iPods and cell phones and open lunch," he said. "I want to see Tim be a voice for students and get these problems fixed."

UPDATE: Richard Montgomery's Tide Online report on new SMOB.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dr. Dancis questions Secy Duncan on middle school math

Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the Brookings Institute on C-Span Video. See Dr. Jerome Dancis' question to him on middle school math instruction at minute 19 to 22 on the video.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Artificial Turf: Found money!

How lucky are we! MCPS has found money for an artificial turf field made up of hundreds of tons of used tires that would otherwise end up in a toxic landfill!
What clever financial wizards we have in our county employ.

According to this memo of May 26, 2009 we have enough money to spend $1.2MILLION on ground up rubber tires for our children to play on. Of course, the tires are made of lead, arsenic, carcinogens, heavy metals, and will create a heat island that can be seen from space, but who cares!

Our progressive County Council thinks this is great. Given that Annapolis denied our 'waiver' request based on our sad financial situation, apparently not everyone is fooled, though.
Here is how YOU are going to pay for 57,000 square feet of ground up rubber tires that otherwise would end up in a pile like this:

First, you are going to do a 'lease-purchase' deal for $459,019. Then, you are going to repay the 'lease-purchase' over five years at $43,163 each year, and then a so-fun "balloon" payment of $335,000.

I am not a financial wizard like our county employees. I have read about "balloon payments" alot recently, though. I have heard they may be responsible in part for the global economic collapse, but hey, what do I know.

Ok, so let's continue.. wait, $43,163 x 5 comes up to $215,815. Plus the $335,000 equals $550,815. Again, hang on, somehow $459,019 is now $550,815. How did that happen? Now we are paying an extra $91,796.

As I say, I am no financial, or even math, wiz, so please read the memo yourself and if I am wrong comment here to correct. No worries.

Ha ha fooled you again! Of COURSE we have money for teachers and textbooks. We just don't want to spend them on YOUR children. The Board of Education has better places to spend our money, I mean THEIR money.

I calculate 269,800 pounds of the stuff for one football field measuring 57,000 square feet!! How lucky is that. This company sells it for 17 cents per pound, but you get it for only $1.2MILLION (that comes out to $4.45 per pound, so maybe financial wizards, not so much. oh well).

Got a turf tip for us? Send it to

WUSA9: Montgomery Teen Barred From Schoolhouse Door

In a follow up to the story reported on this blog here, WUSA9 reported on the plight of the child unable to attend Montgomery County Public Schools for the last two years. Read the report and see the video here.

UPDATE(5/26/09): USA Today is also running the WUSA9 video here.
UPDATE (5/27/09): momslikeme blog on this WUSA9 story.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Washington Post: Parents Take Pride In New Moniker

Washington Post staff writers Dan deVise and Miranda Spivack report today on the "new moniker" coined by MCPS BOE vice-president Patricia O'Neill.
Parent activists have been appending the title "PIA" to their names in e-mails and online postings in response to Montgomery County school board Vice President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), who last week suggested principals "might not pick PIAs" [translation: pain-in-the-you-know-whats] to participate in school governance.

UPDATE: Strollerderby - Schools Say No Pain in the Butt Parents

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

WUSA-TV: School Leader Wants To Exclude Pain In The *#&@! Parents

From WUSA-TV (channel 9) news:
A big controversy is brewing tonight in Montgomery County over a school board member blasting parents who take a little too much of an interest in their kids' education.

It started with a comment from Patricia O'Neill at the May 12 board meeting "If I was the principal working on this I might not pick the PIA's, the pain in the ass people to be at the table."
For the entire story, click here.

Gazette - Pat O Stands Behind her Comments

Today's Gazette is a must read. Thanks to Chris Curtis and Marcus Moore.

A recent comment by a veteran county school board member about "PIA" parents, or pains in the ass, has sparked a debate between elected officials and the parent-activists who felt the remark was directed at them.

Article continues at:

From the Gazette Reporter's Notebook:

On Thursday (5/14/2009), O'Neill said her comments weren't directed at any parents in particular, "but if it hit a nerve, then maybe some of them felt identified. If the shoe fits, wear it."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

MUST READ for parents! MCPS' plan for your school!

The MCPS Board of Education is in the process of revising their "Strategic Plan". What does this Plan mean to parents? More than any other document, this document governs how your local school will be run next year. Will there be certain programs (GT, special education, immersion, language, art), will there be combination classes, what will be the focus of the school, what will be the classes that will be pushed, what programs will be expanded, etc..?

It is a long document, but it is easily searchable. See the search box on the upper right side of the document. Search for what interests you. Note that this is a draft document and in the process of being reviewed by the Board of Education.
Strategic Plan Draft as of 5-20-09 Strategic Plan Draft as of 5-20-09 Parents Coalition of MC

Monday, May 18, 2009

Say Good bye to Summer Reading

Another county wide boutique program is apparently on its way out.

Summer reading. Who knew?

From the April 27th Whitman Student Newspaper, we learn that the county budget crunch is responsible for the elimination of yet another part of the Montgomery County Public School curriculum. Some of the reasons for eliminating summer reading:

1. Schools do not have enough copies to provide all students in the same grade with the same book. Does this mean that regardless of the class, all students in the same grade read the same material? What happened to differentiation?

2. Teachers think it will be a burden to collect the books at the end of the summer. Is this different from the end of the year when students turn in textbooks?

3. Students won't be able to annotate the copies of the books, so the learning experience isn't the same. Unlike college students, Whitman students must not recycle their books or pass them along to siblings and neighbors.

4. Libraries don't have enough copies of books for high school students.

I am once again amazed how a world class school system spins its money woes into a tale of gloom and doom and makes the students education suffer.

Here is the entire article:

No more summer reading?

by Victoria Scordato

Summer reading, as we know it, is changing. The English and History departments can no longer require students to buy any of their summer reading books, as a result of the new Montgomery County policy that eliminates student fees.

County officials have given schools two choices regarding summer reading: If teachers want to assign a specific title, the school must provide all students with a copy of that book. However, as a result of the economy and the current freeze on all county funds, schools won’t have the financial capabilities to buy class sets worth of books.

“We don’t have 450 books to give, and getting them all back—it would be simply impossible,” said English department resource teacher Suzanne Doggett.

So, schools must work with local libraries to compile a large list of potential options.
Departments haven’t decided on the changes they will make to comply with the policy, but they have come up with some promising ideas.

“We might have students read different books by the same author,” English teacher Marilee Roche said. “That way, when we read a book by that author in class, students will still have some background knowledge to bring to discussions and assignments.”

Advanced Placement courses will be hit especially hard by the new policy because teachers incorporate the summer reading books into the curriculum, especially during first quarter. The new policy puts her students at a severe disadvantage, said AP World History teacher Susan Olden-Stahl.

“We have our students read over the summer because it gives them a base of knowledge,” she said. “It would make the first weeks of the school year incredibly difficult if they didn’t have that coming in”.

Olden-Stahl also voiced concern about annotating, noting that students need to know this important skill before they enter the course. As a result of the new policy, annotations will essentially be eliminated because students can no longer be required to write directly in their books.

Students are also concerned about the possibility of more work if teachers assign former summer reading books during the year.

“It’s going to slow down the curriculum and make English less enjoyable if we have to catch up on all the summer reading during the year,” junior Vera Carothers said.

Most agree that while the policy is has definite benefits, its impact on summer reading will result in unfortunate consequences for students and teachers alike.

“It’s a shame we’re going to have to water down summer reading, but the county is caught,” principal Alan Goodwin said. “They can’t charge students more fees and there just isn’t enough room in the budget to purchase hundreds of new books for each school in the county.”


6/14/2009 Update - see to read the letter sent out to middle school parents in the Wootton Cluster concerning the rationale behind eliminating summer reading.

Board wants $67.5 million more for FY10 Capital Budget

This evening a unanimous Board of Education approved the following resolution in a "surprise" meeting at Rockville High School's choral room:

...Resolved, That the Board of Education request that the County Council increase the FY 2010 appropriation for the modernization of Paint Branch High School from $20 million to $87.5 million to allow Montgomery County Public Schools to accelerate the construction bid for this project to take advantage of the present market conditions...

Surprise Board of Ed closed session meeting tonight!

Apparently oblivious to the financial crisis that has struck the county, state and country, the MCPS Board of Education will be holding a last minute, off-site, closed session meeting this evening to vote on Superintendent Weast's brand new proposal to ask the Council for another $67.5 million for the MCPS Capital Budget.

Click here to read the agenda for this evening's "emergency", closed session Board of Education meeting.

UPDATE: 5/19/09 Board approves request for additional $67.5 million for FY 2010 MCPS Capital Budget.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

2007: "Kick My Butt," Weast urges

What happened between 2007 and 2009?

In a well-publicized article in 2007, Superintendent Jerry Weast touted his parent involvement policy as one that invited parents to "kick my butt".

Weast claimed in the article that "his" school system spent lots of money every year teaching low income parents how to kick his butt.

But now, in 2009, we have Pat O'Neill telling parents that "PIAs" need not apply to be involved in School Improvement Teams. (PIA=Pain in the Ass)

So what happened?

Navarro Board to U.S. citizen & county resident: No school for you.

"I want to go to school...Why me? Why are they trying so hard NOT to let me go to school?" asks child* in response to denial of Board of Education to enroll him in Montgomery County Public Schools.

The Examiner, Russia Today, WUSA9, USAToday, and Gazette (red indicates update to original blog article) have reported on the plight of a 14 year old Montgomery County resident unable to receive a free public education. That denial of a free public education has kept him out of school for the last two years.

Here are the facts:
  • The child is a U.S. citizen - born in California.
  • The child lives with his court appointed legal guardian.
  • The legal guardian is a resident of Montgomery County.
  • On August 25, 2008, Superintendent Weast wrote a memorandum to the Board of Education explaining his basis for denying this child a free public education.
  • On September 22, 2008, the Board of Education (President Nancy Navarro) in an unanimous decision voted to affirm the decision of the Superintendent.
Why is this U.S. citizen, living in Montgomery County with his legal guardian, being denied a free public education? In the words of Superintendent Weast:
"It is my belief that the documents forwarded, as best as I can read them, do not document a crisis that would prevent J- from living with his mother and attending school in Thailand. J- father's monthly salary of 4700 baht is about average in Bangkok, according to the Thai National Statistical Office."
Note that child's parents are divorced. 4700 baht's converts to $136 U.S. dollars. The full text of Superintendent Weast's decision is here. The MCPS Board of Education affirmed the decision of Superintendent Weast and "concluded that the matter could be decided without the conduct of an evidentiary hearing, referral to a hearing examiner, or oral argument." The Decision and Order are below.

Section 7-101 of Maryland's Education Article states that:
"...each child shall attend a public school in the county where the child is domiciled with the child’s parent, guardian, or relative providing informal kinship care..."
When contacted for a comment on this matter, District 16 Delegate Susan C. Lee and her colleagues Senator Brian E. Frosh, Delegate William A. Bronrott, and Delegate C. William Frick sent a letter dated May 13, 2009, to Superintendent Weast asking him to "please look into this matter and provide us with a complete report."

As of today, this is a Montgomery County child without a school.

UPDATE: Join the new Facebook Group - already over 700 members, to Support this child's right to a free public education!

UPDATE 6/18/09: Press Kit - relevant documents include child's US birth certificate, passport and documents detailing two year struggle to enroll in Montgomery County Public Schools.

UPDATE 6/25/09: Maryland State Board of Education decision in Armour v. Board of Education of Montgomery County, Maryland said,
...we reiterate that it is the educational policy in Maryland, consistent with the constitutional and statutory provisions for free public education, that all children within the borders of this State who are bona fide residents, are entitled to free public school privileges. Only such a policy will assure in this age of great mobility that all children, regardless of the income of their families, will be provided an uninterrupted opportunity for public education.

UPDATE 6/26/09: Governor Martin O'Malley's office inquires about this child's inability to enroll in Montgomery County Public School.


*The child's name is not being released by the Parents' Coalition and the documents have been redacted to protect the identity of the child.

Board Denial
Board Denial Parents Coalition of MC

Saturday, May 16, 2009

School staff survey results a secret in MCPS

MCPS generates many reports for parents each year, but a critical and revealing report that is not released to parents is the annual School-Based Staff Survey report. The anonymous survey asks teachers and school staff for their opinions of their school in 52 areas.

Survey participants are asked to give each statement on the survey a ranking between "Strongly Agree" and "Strongly Disagree". Some of the statements are:
  • For the students I teach, I have enough instructional materials.
  • The number of students assigned to me is managable.
  • Teachers in this school motivate students to learn.
  • The school leadership treats me with respect.
  • School staff members consistently enforce school rules.
A copy of the screens showing the survey questions is available here.

Even though the the survey results are summarized into aggregated statistical reports, where no survey participant can be identified, MCPS will not release the staff survey results to the public.

Meanwhile, over in Prince Georges County, the results of the Staff Surveys are published on the PGCPS web site for anyone to read. For example, the results of the parent, student, and teacher surveys for High Point High School are all available in this report.

MCPS also stands for . . . Music Choral Programs Slashed

Another boutique program bites the dust - now its Music and Choral Programs Slashed by Dr. Weast and Co. Sorry, I just couldn't resist the irony.

Thanks to Kay Romero, MCCPTA President, and our activist friends in MCCPTA who are helping sort our the curricular fees issue, we now have insight into what curricular fees MCPS will request this September.

Big news - music and the arts have been slashed. No more fundraisers for oranges, cookies, magazines, concession stands, hot dogs, music videos, and the like because music festivals are now optional. Here is the language from the new MCPS Guidelines for curricular fees in high schools:

Please note the following for music students:
  • A music festival is considered a field trip and students may be charged transportation and other associated fees but not in advance as a course fee.
  • Students cannot be required to go to festivals.
  • If a performance before an audience is needed to assess mastery, a concert should be held at the school.

What middle or high school music director wants to spend countless hours directing fundraisers for transportation to the county festivals? More class time for real instructional goals.

My kids middle school music director did not go willingly to the county festivals, now he can keep the kids home and only go to those festivals - Disney, Williamsburg, NY, etc, that he feels have greater benefit.

And - congrats to the high schools that can now tone down their fundraising efforts too. At least one high school that recently sent out a fundraising appeal because MCPS only provides $1000 of the $18,000 needed to run the program can now reassess its needs.

As many of us suspected all along, the value of these festivals was pretty negligible, after all, if participation had a true educational value, like the textbooks, MCPS would have found money in its budget to support participation by all students, not just the ones with the fatter checkbooks.

Guest Post - I'm Proud to say . . . I'm a PIA

Here is a post from another member of the Parents Coalition.

This person has requested to remain anonymous - while many of us on this blog use pen names, this person is concerned about retribution from the staff at his child's school.

As one who's child is personally held responsible for all the budget scruntiny at his school, I understand.


I’m proud to say…I’m a PIA

Does place me in good company though, after all, wasn’t George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and many others all PIA’s to King Jer…oops…George the III of England?

The biggest difference appears to be the PIA’s are trying to uphold the laws and rules of a Democracy against the infiltration of a Monarchy, whereas our Founding Fathers were rebels trying to bring democracy to a Monarchy and overturn the current Laws of the Land.

Over 10 years ago a frustrated and retiring high placed Director in Montgomery County Government forewarned me that MCPS was going Corporate, which at the time I didn’t understand. Now it is more than obvious.

History does tend to repeat itself in perhaps a smaller venue as a Revolution is taking place with our children’s future at stake between Weast And Co., Inc. ( WACI’s ) and the rebellious Pain In the Asses. ( PIA’s ) I quess history will be the judge of its outcome.

Time for a Change in Fiscal Authority?

Given the State BOE's decision this week on the Montgomery County request for a waiver of Maintence of Effort, perhaps it is an ideal time to start discussion on changes to the fiscal control structure of schools in Maryland.

The State BOE has effectively eliminated the County Council's legal standing as the School Systems "Fiscal Authority". The Local BOE has also engaged in legal challenges to this relationship through its actions over the past several years, laying its stake in the ground as a "State Agency" as opposed to a "local" one, then using this status to dodge scrutiny of our Inspector General.

Maybe it's time we abandon this worthless system of Government checks and balances. Separate MCPS from County Government. Give the BOE fiscal authority and property tax rate setting authority. This is the case in much of the Country, just not in Maryland.

While it sounds out of character for me to be proposing this. I'm willing to admit I might have been wrong.

Maybe giving the BOE taxing authority is just what we need to impose fiscal responsibility on our Board of Education. Bond referendums and millage rate setting are things school boards all over America have to do.

Why do we let Pat O'Neill escape from having to ask the community for funding, while she calls community members who care about our schools a "Pain in the Ass"?

Bob Astrove

Weast: Board will do "damage to children"

Gazette: School board policy mandates heads-up on major program changes
by Marcus Moore

The county school board approved a policy on Tuesday that requires the superintendent to alert them to any major changes to school programs proposed in the budget before it is released to the public...

Under current practice, the school system's three employee unions and the County Council of PTAs are included in Weast's preparation of the operating budget, but the school board does not know what is in the budget until December...

In approving the new plan, the board also rescinded an older policy adopted in 1961, which required the superintendent to submit a list of proposed policy changes to the board by Sept. 30 of each year. Board members say that policy had not been followed.
Imagine...our elected Board of Education members want a role in determining MCPS program changes. Bravo!

Under two term President Nancy Navarro* the Board of Education was happy to be left out of the formulation of the MCPS budget and sat silently by as major program decisions were made in secret by staff, the three employee unions, and MCCPTA. But apparently the Shirley Brandman Board of Education wants program change decisions back at the Board table!

But will this new Policy be a meaningful change or will Superintendent Weast violate it just as he did the previous policy? Remember that Superintendent Weast said to make this Policy change would "do damage to children"!

*Ms. Navarro was not present at the Tuesday Board of Education meeting to vote on this Policy, and did not take advantage of the ability of Board members to participate in meetings via conference call, an innovation developed when she was Board President.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Northwest High School parents dismayed over counseling department reorganization

Parents and students at Northwest High School (Germantown) have learned that a new system for assignment of guidance counselors is quietly being put into place, and some parents are questioning whether the changes are really in the best interest of students.

Whether the proposed new assignment system is unique to Northwest or is also planned for other schools is not known.

The following announcement is being circulated within the Northwest High School community.
Northwest Parent Alert: Possible Changes to Guidance Counselor Assignments

If you are the parent of an underclassman, you should know that the school is considering changes to the counseling department which will affect your child/children.

The school is considering a reorganization of the counseling department so that each grade level will be assigned two counselors for all students in that class. Under the arrangement we have now, each counselor has a lettered cross-section of each of the four grade levels (one counselor is responsible for all students whose last names end in A-E for each grade level), and that counselor follows the same students through all 4 years of school.

For rising seniors: The change could mean that most of next year's seniors would be assigned a new counselor that they have never spoken with in their 4 years at NWHS. It would also mean that each of the two senior counselors will now have 250+ letters of recommendation to write, many for students they have never met with before. Under the current arrangement, counselors are responsible for about 70 senior letters, and because they follow our students for all 4 years, they have a chance to get to know our children, the types of classes they are taking, their interests, etc. and write a recommendation letter that is somewhat personal and not simply a form letter. Nearly all colleges require a letter of recommendation from the counselor.

For other classes: The change could mean that families with special needs (academic, social, emotional, divorce, substance abuse, grief, financial), will now have multiple counselors at school instead of just one to oversee the students' family.

The proposed change does not seem to be in the best interest of our students.

This issue has been added to the May 19th PTSA meeting agenda. Please consider attending to share your concerns.

Breaking News: Waiver DENIED

UPDATE: Washington Post 5/15/09 Md. Education Board Denies Cuts, Counties Face Layoffs
UPDATE: Examiner 5/15/09 State Board denial means more cuts for Mont Co., PG
UPDATE: Washington Post 5/16/09 Md Rejects Requests to Cut Funds for Schools
Commentary: Time for a Change in Fiscal Authority?
Montgomery County PDF The Maryland State Board of Education decision with regard to Montgomery County's request for a waiver of Maintenance of Effort.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Teachers Beg on DonorsChoose.Org

Our 'world class' school system with its $2.1 BILLION budget has teachers begging for money for school items on (see below). Many of the items requested are curriculum related - things that should be supplied by the MCPS.

Oh wait - those Pain in the Ass parents are supposed to cough it up through 'curricular fees'.

How is it MCPS always has a SURPLUS for Textbooks and Instructional Materials, yet schools do not have these materials?

Textbooks and Instructional Materials Surplus

2009 $5,000,000
2008 $6,800,000
2007 $ 200,000
2006 $ 400,000
2005 $1,500,000

Besides noting what the teachers are asking for, please note the interesting teacher comments copied from their DonorsChoose pages.

These are not all the requests. I will note requests for special education supplies in another post. There's even a request for a Gifted Center.


Twinbrook ES Gr 3-5 $566 81 subscriptions to "TIME for Kids Magazine - News Scoop Edition". The cost of this proposal is $566, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment."

Twinbrook ES Gr 3-5 $572 My students need reading comprehension centers, 14 different vocabulary centers, a poetry listening center, and privacy partitions. The cost of this proposal is $572, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment."

Twinbrook ES Gr 3-5 $565 My students need 6 cases of multipurpose paper, 3 packs of easel pads, and 1 chart pad. The cost of this proposal is $565, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment."

Twinbrook ES Gr PreK-2 Mrs G $642 My second grade students need 3 sets of guided reading kit books. The cost of this proposal is $642, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment."

Twinbrook ES Gr PreK -2 $544 Mrs G "Have you ever tried to teach students who were learning math on 2 or 3 different grade levels in the same room? It's not easy! ...Help my students read WHILE mastering their math skills with these math centers. Also, help me keep my sanity teaching 30 kids with different needs. We would really appreciate your generosity! My students need 10 math centers resources, including 2 Magic Function Math Machine sets and a set of Stamp & Solve Math Activity Boxes. The cost of this proposal is $544, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment."

Thurgood Marshall ES PreK-2 $1004 My students need 20 leveled book sets, from levels D-M. The cost of this proposal is $1,004, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment."

Meadow Hall ES Gr PreK-2 $373 "I teach second grade in a school where the neighborhood has a low socio-economic status. There are many immigrant families who do not speak any English and have limited resources. A major obstacle in our classroom is a lack of supplies. With families who have to work multiple jobs to support their families, there are not many donations from parents... My students need a mailbox organizer to put their papers in. This is a good way to keep us organized and to save time. Also, we always run out of school supplies like glue sticks! We need 30 glue sticks. Please help to keep our classroom running in an organized way. The cost of this proposal is $373, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment."

Meadow Hall ES Gr PreK - 2 $405 "... My students need supplies. It is as simple as that. We are not a Title 1 school, ...My students need pencils, glue sticks, glue bottles, Crayola crayons, Crayola markers, Scotch tape, highlighters, Expo dry erase markers, and other craft supplies. The cost of this proposal is $405, which includes shipping for any materials requested and fulfillment."

Corrected: How to look for Montgomery County Schools: go to, click on "See Projects" upper right, or 'All Projects' in middle of page. Search State (Maryland) --> County (Montgomery)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Needed in MCPS - Gracious Professionalism

Montgomery County schools are in a battle - at least that is the takeaway from the May 12 Board of Ed meeting in which those at the table discussed what type of parents are invited to prime school planning events.

According to BOE member, Pat O'Neill - PIAs need not apply. Chris Barclay, a new BOE member and former MCCPTA elected type, used similar, but not so colorful language. Role models?

Not in my house.

One of our revered role models is Dean Kamen, who may sound familiar to many of you as the inventor of the Segway scooter we see around Rockville town center. He is an inventor, entrepreneur, and advocate for science and technology education.

But more important than all his inventions, Dean Kamen is a staunch believer that all kids can achieve. From his company's website:
You have teenagers thinking they're going to make millions as NBA stars
when that's not realistic for even 1 percent of them. Becoming a scientist or
engineer is.
His proudest accomplishment is not the patents or inventions. Remarkably, its an organization called FIRST, (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization dedicated to motivating the next generation to understand and enjoy science and technology.

When you go to a FIRST competition, you will hear the kids and the adults talking about Gracious Professionalism, a term coined by Woodie Flowers, an advisor to FIRST and an emeritus professor at MIT. What does this mean?
Gracious Professionalism is . . . a way of doing things that
encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects
individuals and the community.

With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are
not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but
treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating
anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes
either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.

In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a
meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing
one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.
I'm a supporter of FIRST, and have long thought that more MCPS should financially support the kids in our schools who do participate, and encourage other schools to join. As indicated by the ethos instilled in the FIRST participants, the adults in charge of our school system may learn from our students about blend the diverse needs of many different populations of many different abilities in a respectful and compassionate manner.

Take This Quiz!

Are you a "Team Player" or a "Pain in the Ass?"

1. Do you think a $10 million dollar Department of Communications budget is not enough?
2. Have you bookmarked the "Seven Keys To College Readiness" website as one of your "favorite places?"
3. Has your principal invited you to be on a "School Improvement Team?"
4. Do you happily pay the charges for your child's textbooks, lab fees, and classroom supplies?
5. Did you buy a table at the "Champions for Children" gala?
6. Do you keep a copy of the Strategic Plan on your nightstand?
7. Did you keep silent about the decision to phase out the Secondary Learning Centers?
8. Did you ride the Union Bus to the County Council to "support the budget?"
9. Do you think that the people advocating for GT education are just a bunch of elitists or racists?
10. Do you always think every decision made by any administrator at MCPS is automatically the correct one?

Count the number of "yes" answers.

0-3 "yes" answers: Sorry, you are a "Pain in the Ass." You will not be permitted to be on the School Improvement Team (S.I.P.).

4-6 "yes" answers: Team Player in Training. You can still become a "team player", and hence on the S.I.P., by donating to your school's "Educational Foundation" or showing up at a PTA meeting to pack the room to elect the principal's preferred candidate.

7-10 "yes" answers: Congratulations! You are a Team Player! You should be hearing soon about the next SIP meeting!

This would never happen in MCPS - oops!

Baltimore Sun: Inside Ed article on Baltimore City Board of Education meeting comments by Mr. Gittings, head of the city schools' administrators union.
Gittings alleges improper spending

Jimmy Gittings, known for his colorful comments at school board meetings, was back at it last night as he called for an investigation into spending practices at North Avenue. No expense over $25,000 is supposed to go through without board approval. The PSASA president said he has a "strong feeling" -- but no proof -- that protocol is not being followed. He said that if he had gone against board procedure during the years he worked in the system's Title 1 office, "I'd have been taken out of here in handcuffs." Dr. Alonso said he's not sure what Gittings is referring to, but he's asked a staff member to look into the concern.

Hey, Mr. Gittings, here in Montgomery County we have proof of procurements that did not get Board approval. But no elected officials, government officials, or the Maryland Attorney General care! So good luck getting an investigation of this issue in Baltimore City Public Schools.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Board Bids Bon Voyage to Baldrige

At today's Montgomery County Board of Education Meeting (May 12, 2009), the BOE once again reviewed its policy on its Strategic Planning for Continuous Improvement.

The previous posting on this list showed a clip of the BOE discussing whether parents should be involved, and whether parent involvement means all, some, or only well behaved parents.

Whew. I must be among the privileged, or at least a member of the well behaved category, because I've been invited to participate on two SIP programs at my kids elementary schools, and one Accreditation for Growth Committee at the high school. Lucky me, I got to use vacation time from my paid job to sit in a room of school personnel and talk about the schools mission plan and overall strategic growth for the school community.

But the discussion of who is in and who is out, who can be invited to the table because they are good team players, and who must stay home because they don't know how to play well with the principal, made me curious - remember, I play well with others according to Ms. O'Neill and Mr. Barclay's rubric for who gets invited. My kids have encountered 10 principals plus one principal trainee during their MCPS careers (and we're not done yet), so that's a lot of principals to please.

Here is my question - what does this discussion about strategic planning, and limiting parent involvement mean for the well regarded Baldrige plan in MCPS? According to the MCPS website,

The Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence is an exciting system-wide initiative. It has added rigor to school and office improvement planning focused on continuous improvement to achieve results for all students.

All stakeholders – students, parents, staff, and community members – are invited to participate in all phases of this school improvement process.
Another part of the web states that:

Parents Can Help Their School By...

  • joining the principal’s school improvement team
  • providing feedback about what they believe is important
  • learning as much as they can about the school’s plan and the responsibilities of staff, students, parents, and others in helping to improve student performance

Have we thrown the highly regarded Baldrige out the window with our boutiques and our foreign language classes too? Perhaps its relevant that although the website says this is a "work in progress," the website hasn't been updated since February 2006. Actions speak for themselves, so it looks as if Baldrige is no more, along with its fancy slogans, quality tools, and acronyms that never really caught on with parents - oops, I mean the taxpayers footing the bill.

Who knew? This just demonstrates the continuous learning process in MCPS - even for a well behaved parents "in the know."

But, what I'd like to know - if we've dropped Baldrige as a systemwide tool for continuous improvement for all children, does this mean that MCPS isn't interested in all children?

Finally, how much did we spend on Baldrige before it was dropped, and how much is our replacement system going to cost?

And one more note - for Dr. Weast and Ms. Navarro - perhaps you should have been at the table during this discussion where the BOE decided to gut the Baldrige plan. After all, can you really complain if you are invited but don't show up?

O'Neill: No "pain in the ass" parents

At the May 12, 2009, MCPS Board of Education meeting, the Board discussed which groups of parents are represented on School Improvement Plan committees. Board member Phil Kauffman attempted to include policy language that would make sure all parent communities (including parents of special education students, and parents of gifted and talented students) are represented on School Improvement Plan committees.

Board of Education Vice-President Patricia O'Neill responded that she understood principals excluding people from School Improvement Plan committees if they are "PIAs". She clarified to explain that "PIA" stood for "pain in the ass". View the clip of her statement below at minute 7:30.

UPDATE: May 13, 2009 - Washington Post's Maryland Moment Blog is reporting on this exchange at the Board meeting.

UPDATE: May 15, 2009 - Gazette reports that Pat O'Neill is standing by her statement.

UPDATE: Pat O Stands Behind Her Comments

UPDATE: WUSA9 School Leader Wants to Exclude Pain in the *#&@! Parents

Take this quiz to determine if you are a "team player" or a "PIA".

Please note this video should be rated PG. Please remove small children from the viewing area.

988 people were right!

988 people signed a Petition to Save the Secondary Learning Centers in February of 2007. Those 988 people were opposed to the sudden, surprise announcement to close these special education programs in Montgomery County Public Schools.

Turns out, those 988 people had valid concerns.

The closing of the MCPS Secondary Learning Centers DID violate MCPS policy.
Read the State Board of Education decision here.

The closing of the MCPS Secondary Learning Centers DID evidence a lack of preparation. Read the MCPS report here.

Those 988 people are a problem! They did a better job of understanding MCPS Policy than the Board of Education, and a better job of understanding how important preparation is to a major program change in a school system. And so, the MCPS Board of Education went on a "retreat" on Friday, May 8, 2009, to discuss how to deal with those 988 people. From the "retreat" agenda:
How can “reframing the terms of engagement” with our community, including both our vocal critics and our “silent” constituents, help us to move from where we are now, to where we want to be, in a way that is aligned with (“stays true to”) our core values?
Don't expect to read the minutes from this "retreat" to find out how the Board answered this question. The two year Navarro Board of Education didn't put out minutes from retreats, and the Brandman Board of Education hasn't put out any from its first January retreat either.

Maybe instead of "reframing the terms of engagement" the Board of Education should just start listening to what parents and guardians are saying, and start discussing program changes in public, at the Board table, before the changes are made.
Petition Slc Petition Slc subscriptions07774 Petition to Save Secondary Learning Centers, MCPS, Superintendent Jerry Weast, Board of Education, Nancy Navarro, Shirley Brandman