Saturday, October 31, 2009

MCPS Math and the Monocacy Madness

Our friends in the Gifted and Talented Association have agonized about Montgomery County School Superintendent Dr. Weast and math for years, stating that MCPS math is shallow on teaching arithmetic concepts needed to prepare our children to take their place in society.

Here is another demonstration of Dr. Weast's failure in math.

Dr. Weast announced he plans to close Monocacy Elementary School at the end of this school year because of declining enrollment.  

Wait - don't we have over 400 portables next to schools across the county?   Three portables are currently sited at Monocacy.  Are we hearing that the school population is rising?

So why close Monocacy now?  According to Dr. Weast, this will save $1 million dollars.  How?  He doesn't say.  Won't the kids still need to be in a classroom somewhere in the county?  Won't the teachers and staff  be placed elsewhere and paid?  And school buses?  What about that new roof?  Don't forget, we still need to keep a vacant building heated, so the pipes don't freeze.

Sorry, but the capacity is needed elsewhere - down the road in Clarksburg, where Dr. Weast plans on building two new elementary schools.  And yes, MCPS can always add on to Poolesville, with more portables in the short term and an addition at an estimated cost of $14 million - oops, that's not in the current plan.

Are Dr. Weast's projections all that accurate?  You need to look no further than Matsunaga ES, an overcapacity school that was supposed to be relieved by the opening of Little Bennett.  Matsunaga still has portables - so what happened there?

And Wootton High School with its mega additions a few years back is still over capacity.  Wootton manages by running College Institute classes in cooperation with Montgomery College and sending a signficant portion of its kids out on internships, so they get the staffing allocations without having the kids in the building.   Don't forget the monster development called Science City coming to the Wootton cluster with no new schools on the table.

I would be remiss to not mention the White Flint buildup.  Again, more building without more school capacity.

Dr. Weast doesn't get the math or the big picture.  Saving $1 million dollars in operating budget costs by closing Monocacy and then spending $14 million in capital costs for an addition to Poolesville ES does not make sense.  Given the Balkanization of our county by individual clusters, the budget makes even less sense - robbing from Poolesville cluster to satisfy new MoCo residents in Clarskburg doesn't make sense,  especially when the rest of the county has unmet needs too.

Closing any school in MoCo doesn't make sense, especially when we can't accomodate the students we currently have without the extensive use of portable learning cottages.  Dr. Weast's proposal is more than foolish  - it is almost unconscionable to continue to look at the cluster model as individual units without even considering the movement of programs or boundaries.

To repeat the mantra from the elementary school teachers across the county, its time to reteach and relearn the budget math.

Portables for Poolesville

Montgomery County Public Schools utilizes a long term planning process for determing school facilities needs.  The timeline for the long term planning process is shown here. Each spring, MCPS releases the Educational Master Plan that is used for long term planning.

Using the June 2009 MCPS Educational Master Plan, the image below shows what Superintendent Weast's surprise announcement to close Monocacy Elementary School and move those students to Poolesville Elementary, would look like for Poolesville Elementary.

Maybe this is why Superintendent Weast came out with "new long term enrollment projections" for Monocacy Elementary on October 23, 2009.  According to the MCPS June 2009 long term projections, Poolesville Elementary will be overcapacity by 2014. 
The new October 23, 2009, Monocacy Elementary long term projections greatly soften the blow on the overcrowding that would come to Poolesville Elementary School if the June Educational Master Plan projections were used.

Most important is that the 6 year MCPS FY 2011-2016 Capital Improvement Program released by Superintendent Weast does not include any funding for a capital project at Poolesville Elementary. 

Any overcrowding that results from the closing of Monocacy Elementary will be handled by the placement of portable classrooms at Poolesville Elementary. 

There's a lot riding on Superintendent Weast's brand new enrollment projections for Monocacy Elementary School. Let's hope they are accurate.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wash Post: " is being done very hastily...we were blindsided."

Washington Post:  Opposition to school closing gets organized
..."We have a lot of concerns that if it is being consolidated, it is being done very hastily," said Sarah Defnet, who coordinates parent activity for the Poolesville area's four schools. "In a sense, we were blindsided."
Several parents wondered what use would be made of the property, which is in the county's agricultural reserve. School system spokesman Dana Tofig said there weren't any plans.

"We can't make plans for the building until the board takes action," Tofig wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "It could be used for another purpose in the district or it could be used by an external group."...
Welcome to Montgomery County, MCPS's new spokesperson Mr. Tofig!

A little bit of history: Back in 2003, Superintendent Jerry Weast already had plans for school sites that he wanted to remove from the Board inventory way before the Board of Education took action.  The sites were the Kendale Elementary School site, Brickyard Middle School site and a parcel at Tilden Middle School. The sites were to be used for housing. You can read all about those plans in a November 21, 2003 Gazette articleFour of the parcels discussed in this article as "surplus county property" were actually Board of Education dedicated school land. Two of the parcels had not even been disclosed to the public, and yet, Superintendent Weast was ready to hand them over to the county for housing with no public discussion. One of the parcels had been surplused in a closed Board of Education meeting without notice to the public.

Superintendent Weast doesn't repair roofs on the buildings that have children IN them, so repairing a roof is a big deal. What are the plans for the Monocacy Elementary school building after the children are gone?

Gifted and Talented Girls

Remember those words that once tore through your heart and evoked unquenchable emotion? "But it's the same with all my friends, just fun and joking, nothing more. I can never bring myself to talk of anything outside the common round.... Hence, this diary.... I want this diary itself to be my friend." They were penned by a gifted young girl—Anne Frank. Once let in, those words ricochet through your soul, it seems, forever. The words transcend the boundaries of language, race, color, and creed. Is it right, may I respectfully ask, to pretend that such talent doesn't exist?

In his book, Alpha Girls, Dan Kindlon, a clinical and research psychologist at Harvard, quotes Simone de Beauvoir: "If a caste is kept in a sense of inferiority, no doubt it remains inferior; but liberty can break the cycle. Let the Negroes vote and they become worthy of having the vote; let woman be given responsibilities and she is able to assume them. The fact is that oppressors cannot be expected to make a move of gratuitous generosity; but at one time the revolt of the oppressed, at another time the very evolution of the privileged caste itself, creates new situations; thus men have been led, in their own interest, to give partial emancipation to women: it remains only for women to continue their ascent, and the successes they are obtaining are an encouragement for them to do so. It seems almost certain that sooner or later they will arrive at complete economic and social economic equality, which will bring about an inner metamorphosis."

If nothing else, recent events are a powerful indicator that the inner metamorphosis has occurred. The Baltimore Sun reported "Carol W. Greider, who on Monday became the 33rd person associated with the Johns Hopkins University to win the Nobel Prize, is a triathlete, a mother of two and a methodical and modest genetic researcher who colleagues say shuns publicity in favor of pursuing her passion: fundamental, curiosity-driven science." Sharing the prize was Elizabeth Blackburn, a professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco and Jack Szostak of Harvard. According to the paper, the Nobel Committee made history by awarding the prize to more than one woman.

The Chicago Tribune draws our attention to a little known fact: laureate Blackburn was an alumnus of Joe Gall's laboratory at Yale University, "which had gained a reputation as one of the few places where a female postdoctoral student could do more than wash the Petri dishes." Blackburn, in turn, mentored other women and a revolution continued. Ms. de Beauvoir was right.

That is not to minimize the unique difficulties gifted girls may face in classrooms across the nation. Joan Franklin Smutny, in Understanding Our Gifted, Winter 1999 Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 9-13, states "Gifted girls often face a range of social pressures in schools, causing them to shift priorities. In an accepting home environment, they may have felt free to be themselves, to pursue with energy and interest any subject that intrigued them. But in school, the desire for friends, a disinclination to stand out, fear of ridicule, along with the need for acceptance, often impel gifted girls to make their abilities appear ordinary or even nonexistent." Smutny continues, "Kerr (1994) observes: "A society that wastes female brilliance has made it the norm for gifted women to lead an average life, and gifted women have largely adapted to that norm" (p. 171). The subtle and not-so-subtle messages downplaying the value of female achievement often begin early and accumulate over time. By age 11, many gifted girls do not know they have talents. Others, who know, guard it as a well-kept secret. This means that the abilities they could use to develop their potential are instead wasted on adjusting others' expectations (Eby & Smutny, 1990)."

Others, like Linda Kreger Silverman, describe the exceptional moral sensitivity of gifted children: "Having observed the development of gifted children for over 35 years, I am continuously impressed by the moral sensitivity of this group."

Consequently, it is not a hypothetical argument to assert that by denying the existence of a gifted population, or insisting on preserving a label that has little association with being gifted and talented (GT), society may be doing irreparable harm to these talented and sensitive children—both emotionally and educationally.

I find Silverman to be especially apropos in stating that "In the substitution of a mosaic of talents for giftedness, we have lost the entire moral dimension of giftedness. Gifted individuals, because of their greater facility with abstract reasoning, have complex inner lives, early ethical concerns, and heightened awareness of the world. As we split our understanding of the interrelated intellectual/moral/emotional structure of giftedness into many fragmented talents, we risk creating more one-sided children. And as we place too much value on performance -- with competitions, media attention, external recognition and rewards -- we may be inadvertently teaching gifted children that they are valued only for what they do, instead of who they are in their totality." In the case of gifted girls, we may be denying them their total existence and being.

Remember in 2005, when the then president of a prestigious university, Lawrence H. Summers, famously "sparked an uproar at an academic conference Friday when he said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers?" What is true in Summers' comments, as reported by PBS, is that
"we do see gender disparity in the representation of young people among the highest performers on math achievement tests, standardized math achievement tests." It would be an interesting scientific experiment to follow the evolution of that disparity as more and more women take the stage that men once hogged, unencumbered by the stereotypes of a preceding generation.

Do I believe that such comments, however well-intentioned, have a negative impact on gifted girls? Well, at a recent event, I asked few. One looked at me with puzzlement, insisting dismissively "He needs to come to math class with me!" These gifted and talented girls don't seem to care if they are called "gifted." They are a secure, self-assured generation of girls who seem to take little umbrage at such unfortunate pronouncements. Is it possible that in the decade since Smutny wrote her paper some things have changed? God, I hope so.

Smutny also insists: "Gifted girls crave freedom. They long for someone to see who they are, open the often closed door of their minds and say, "Go, fly!" Since they cannot give themselves permission to fly, they need the aid of a discerning adult. For gifted girls, a sensitive, caring teacher may be all that stands between quiet resignation and the beginning of fulfillment of their potential. "

M. Katherine Gavin and Sally M. Reis, write in the Gifted Child Today Reader Series, that "The implications of these research results indicate that teachers need to recognize that all females are not alike and have different learning styles. They need to observe the females in their class and be especially aware of the needs of the talented females, some of whom may break the mold. They should provide some competitive, some cooperative, and some individual learning situations and allow choice whenever possible so as to maximize student interest and learning."

Sylvia Rimm, co-author of the The Rimm Report on How 1,000 Girls Became Successful Women, insists that among successful women, "Twenty-five percent skipped subjects and fifteen skipped at least one grade. Physicians, musicians, and artists had the most grade skippers." [Note: on page 110, the book expresses these facts in a slightly different fashion]

Gifted girls from minorities face even greater hurdles in having to shatter stereotypes, both inside and outside their community. Did you know that "A larger proportion of immigrant black high school graduates attend selective colleges and universities than either native black or white students in America, according to a study by sociologists at Johns Hopkins and Syracuse universities?" Gifted girls from minority communities enter college early and thirst for rigorous curricular choices.

In 2002, Sally M. Reis, in a piece titled Social and emotional issues faced by gifted girls in elementary and secondary school, writes "Kissane (1986) found that teachers are less accurate in nominating girls who are likely to do well on the quantitative subtest of the SAT than they were in naming boys who were likely to achieve a high score. Research also indicates that teachers like smart girls less than other students." Reis continues, "… even though teachers did not tend to engage in sex-role stereotyping in general, they did stereotype their best students in the area of mathematics, attributing characteristics such as volunteering answers, enjoyment of mathematics, and independence to males. Recent research has indicated that some teachers seem to expect less from females than they do from males, especially in regard to achievement in mathematics and science. Girls may internalize these lowered expectations very early in life."

Despite all the research, in the debate around GT, we find little, if any, reference to the needs of gifted girls. They don't even seem to be an avatar on the GT radar. Don't let these exceptional girls, who possess an "academic fearlessness and intellectual ability that will benefit their entire generation, become the invisible, the ignored, the forgotten few.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Father of Raped Teen Outraged at School, Justice System|ABC 7 News

Father of Raped Teen Outraged at School, Justice System - ABC 7 News

Schools settle suit over Public Information Act request - The Arundel Muckraker

Full story at: Schools settle suit over Public Information Act request - The Arundel Muckraker

Schools settle suit over Public Information Act request
Newly released internal data suggests racial gaps may be wider than reported
Monday, October 12, 2009
By Ryan Bagwell
Muckraker Staff Writer

The Anne Arundel school system has settled a 6-month-old lawsuit over a hefty fee it wanted to charge the public for the results of some internal countywide tests.

After demanding nearly $500 for the results of so-called benchmark exams taken during the 2008-09 school year, officials last month agreed to release the data for free and pay The Arundel Muckraker's court costs, which totaled $115.

Note: The Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent is former MCPS Community Superintendent Dr. Kevin Maxwell.

ABC 7: "Mr. Weast is arrogant to think he can just close this school..."

To date the MCPS Board of Education has not uttered a peep about closing Monocacy Elementary School. Can Superintendent Weast simply command the Board of Education to follow his artificial timeline for closing a school? In 1985 the MCPS Board of Education initiated a process that ultimately resulted in the closure of Woodward High School.  From start to finish, the closing of Woodward High School was a 2 1/2 year process.  Monocacy Elementary School? Superintendent Weast wants that closed in 5 months.

Monocacy Blue & White will FIGHT!

Washington Post:  Montgomery County Residents Fight School Closure

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, October 29, 2009; 12:18 AM

More than 100 northwestern Montgomery County residents began mobilizing Wednesday night to oppose the proposed closure of Monocacy Elementary School, arguing that the move would hurt their community and possibly backfire against the school system.
A standing-room-only crowd of parents, children and local officials packed the Poolesville Town Hall meeting room, with another dozen listening outside in an overflow room. Many wore the striped blue T-shirt of the Monocacy Bobcats, the school's mascot.

Under 300 students? Watch your back.

Superintendent Jerry Weast has decided to close an elementary school because it is too small. He says that it is under the Board guidelines of at least 300 students for an elementary school.  It isn't. The Board doesn't have any guidelines.

He says enrollment is projected to drop. Odd, since in June he said enrollment at the same elementary school was projected to stay the same and then increase by 2014.

A chart showing the difference between the June 2009 enrollment projection and October 2009 enrollment projection is here,  kind of a dramatic difference. What happened? Or, more important, who wants the 27 acres that Monocacy Elementary sits on?

So if you have a child at an "under 300" MCPS elementary school, watch your back. Weast sees those schools as facilities that he can close or consolidate with a neighbor as "too small". Then he can remove the land from the school system's inventory and turn it over to developers.

Here is a list of the MCPS elementary schools that showed enrollment of under 300 for the 2008-09 school year from the MCPS Master Plan dated June 26, 2009.

Carderock Springs

East Silver Spring
Monocacy (to be closed per Weast plan)
Oak View
Seven Locks

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Free meals or free exercise at MoCo agencies

It's hard to decide. Would it be better to work for Montgomery County Public Schools and get a credit card to use for free lunches and dinners - or - would it be better to work for the Montgomery County Register of Wills and get a free exercise class? Meals or exercise? Can't decide...

But either way, neither agency has to worry about dealing with those messy competitive bid procurement procedures! Phew!

Today's Audit released from the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits brings us the following in the report on the Montgomery County Register of Wills:


Finding 1

The Office paid $35,500 to a fitness instructor to provide training for the Office’s employees. We question the use of public funds for this purpose.


The Office paid $35,500 during the audit period to a fitness instructor to provide training for the Office’s employees, after normal business hours. We question the use of public funds for this purpose since such services are not routinely budgeted nor procured by State government agencies.
Additionally, this procurement was not competitively bid, a contract was not executed, and the purchase was not submitted to the Comptroller of Maryland for
approval, as required by State Procurement Regulations and the Procurement Procedures for Registers of Wills issued by the Office of the Comptroller. We were advised by Office management that, despite the requirement that all procurements exceeding $2,500 receive approval from the Comptroller, the procurement for this service was not submitted to the Comptroller for review and approval because the payments were individually less than $2,500 (generally $1,000 per month). However, the value of the services under this arrangement dictate whether approval is needed, not the individual payment amounts.
Update 10/29/09: WTOP's Kate Ryan reports on Audit

Past "edits" by Churchill's Principal Benz

Below is the Winston Churchill High School Advisory Report from September 2007. See page 8 with the "five high priority recommendations". Also on page 8, the statement that it is
"essential that a letter be sent out to the Churchill community at the beginning of the school year that outlines what has been done since February 2007..."
Was that done, or was that part of the report edited out like much of the school's current musical? Page 8 also refers to including students in decision making. How many students were on the secret Chicago censorship committee?

Please note that this report had to be obtained via a Maryland Public Information Act request as it was not made available to parents at the school.

Harvard needs to address credibility issues

A timely report in the DC Examiner, brought to the attention of our readers by Lyda, gives credibility to the questions raised about Harvard's book (see here and here).

According to the Examiner, Weast acknowledged that "the graduation rates of black and Hispanic students, which have decreased at faster rates than their white and Asian peers." This debacle was, as first reported on PCMC, predictable.

Far more troubling is Weast's statement that ""… we continue to lose students … ." How much of that is attributable to the strategies and interventions specifically described in the Harvard book?

With a tip of my hat to a fellow PCMC member who brought this piece to my attention, I note the Harvard Gazette of October 15-28, 2009, contains this statement from the authors: "In writing the book, recalled Thomas, "Weast made us an offer that was hard to refuse": providing the authors 'full access to the schools' data and materials.'" The book makes scant reference to the said "data." Indeed, last afternoon, via an email the school continued to stonewall a request for the data that Weast, allegedly, so willingly offered Harvard.

Isn't it time for Harvard to address the credibility issues and get to the bottom of this fiasco? PCMC, proactively, provided a blueprint of what needs to be done.

Harvard, the ball is in your court.

Weast forgot to mention...

On Friday, October 23, 2009, Superintendent Weast released a memorandum about his decision to close a MCPS elementary school (shown in the picture to the left).  However, he left out a few details. One was that the school just got a new $200,000 roof this summer. Next, he neglected to mention that the school building that he wants to shutter is valued at $10,253,000 in county land records. 

Superintendent Weast also forgot to mention that the school includes two parcels of land across the street.  Those two parcels were taken by MCPS through a condemnation proceeding in 1994.  Those two parcels were taken to expand the school property.  But instead of being used for the school, the land has been leased out to a farmer.  You can see the farmed MCPS land in the picture to the right (the brown rectangle).

Why weren't these parcels mentioned in Superintendent Weast's memorandum?  How much income is MCPS receiving as a result of leasing out this property? Why wasn't the land ever used for the benefit of Monocacy Elementary School? 

Maybe some pages of Superintendent Weast's memo fell behind the copy machine...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stetson replacing Bedford as School Performance Chief

The Parents Coalition has heard reports that:

Steve Bedford has announced that he is retiring as Chief School Performance Officer, effective Dec. 1.

He will be replaced by long time Community Superintendent Frank Stetson.

Former BCC Principal Sean Bulson will replace Stetson and be the Acting Community Superintendent

Bob A.

'Racy' High School Musical Causes a Stir|ABC 7 News

'Racy' High School Musical Causes a StirABC 7 News

Montgomery baffled by students quitting school | Washington Examiner

Montgomery baffled by students quitting school | Washington Examiner

Gifted, is a bad word only when misused

According to the LSU biography, Dr. Martin Luther King, "[b]ecause of his high score on the college entrance examinations in his junior year of high school, he advanced to Morehouse College without formal graduation from Booker T. Washington. Having skipped both the ninth and twelfth grades, Dr. King entered Morehouse at the age of fifteen." In 1964, this gifted young man went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yes, Dr. King was a gifted student who skipped grades. He would have been denied that opportunity had he been a student at MCPS. A website quotes an MCPS administrator as insisting, "The district's systemwide model for acceleration ensures that students can access an appropriate, above-grade-level curriculum every day without skipping a grade." I personally offered the administrator the opportunity to post her comments here and received no answer. Courageous conversations … .
In a review of a book on Lincoln, the New York Times wrote, "Having received almost no formal education, Lincoln embarked on a quest for learning and self-improvement. He read incessantly, beginning as a youth with the Bible and Shakespeare. During his single term in the House of Representatives, his colleagues considered it humorous that Lincoln spent his spare time poring over books in the Library of Congress. The result of this ''stunning work of self-education'' was the ''intellectual power'' revealed in Lincoln's writings and speeches. He relied, [the author] notes, on in-depth research and logical argument to persuade his listeners rather than oratorical flights." In Montgomery County, the AEI Advisory Committee, presently revising the gifted and talented policy, cares for neither. To quote the Committee notes, "One Board member asked what research the committee had conducted in preparation for policy revision. Members were silent." Yes, Lincoln wouldn't have felt at home with the MCPS AEI Committee.

Weast flop

You've heard of flip-flop? Well this is Weast-flop. 

On October 15, 2009, Superintendent Weast released a memorandum on his recommendations for Takoma Park area school boundary changes. In that memo Superintendent Weast stated the desired utilization range for schools twice:
1)...would remain within the desired 80–100 percent utilization range...
2)...within the ideal utilization level of 80–100 percent...
But just 8 days later he would announce that he was proposing to close an elementary school that is within the exact same range of utilization.

Monocacy Elementary School is within the "desired 80-100 percent utilization range" at 86%. 

Are there different utilization standards for schools in different parts of Montgomery County?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Footloose comes to Potomac

Did you see the play or movie Footloose?  Footloose is the story of a young man from the city living in a puritanical small town where dancing and rock 'n' roll are forbidden. In the story, he ends up confronting the Town Council over their policies.

Does that remind you of Potomac? No? Well it should!  This week the Churchill principal, Joan Benz forbid the musical Chicago to run. Already in rehearsals since September, the musical was set to open November 13th. The principal pulled the plug when her edits of the play were not approved by the owners of the play. Edits

That would make Principal Joan Benz the Reverend Shaw Moore character in Footloose.
But where is Ren (played by Kevin Bacon in the movie)?  

Here is Churchill's Ren. He, and what looked to be the entire cast, crew and parents of Churchill's Chicago production, showed up at the Town Council Meeting...well...that would be the Board of Education meeting on October 26th.  And here is what happened:

I just wish they had put it to music! Bravo, Ren...I mean Churchill theater students! 

Janis Sartucci
Proud Thespian Mom

Update: October 27, 2009 2:30 PM - The show will go on! Principal Benz reverses her decision. "Break a leg" Churchill students!

Churchill Pulls Curtain on "Chicago . . .

. . . the Musical

Late this afternoon, here in ever so politically correct Montgomery County Maryland, Winston Churchill High School Principal Joan Benz cancelled the fall musical production of Chicago.  The opening performance is scheduled for November 13, less than three weeks from today. 

Apparently, despite the listing of the show on the MCPS website and the guidelines for selecting a musical performance, the students and staff were allowed to begin production before the final script edits were negotiated between the school and the licensing agency;  late last week, neither party would agree to edits that would maintain the integrity of the production without violating the community standards.

Who did the edits?  A team of teachers from the school edited the language, violence, and totally eliminated one lead performer from the script.   According to the MCPS policy:

If plays or musicals under consideration are otherwise suitable but contain minor themes or language which is unacceptable for secondary school performance, deletion of certain words can be made without altering the meaning of most plays.  However, major editing is in violation of copyright laws governing specific plays, and the director should seek permission of the leasing agency.

What was left?  Not enough according to the agency.  Play cancelled. 

Churchill performed the play a few years back - so why didn't they pull out the scripts previously used and approved under the policy?  Yes, some school drama has  questionable content, but that's theater.  Rent and Les Miserables worked because the licensing agencies came up with a school approved version.  Guys and Dolls seems to be enough of a vintage piece, despite the sex, gambling, and drinking themes, because it's scheduled for a middle school this fall (Pyle MS in December) and played at Fallsmead ES a few years back.

Bigger question - why didn't anyone notice earlier that the material was questionable?   Who is paying attention to what happens in our kids schools and shouldn't this have been worked out BEFORE the kids set foot on the stage for a rehearsal? 

Stay tuned.  Given that the high school is in Potomac, where the usual rules don't seem to apply, this is just the beginning.  Something smells foul, and it isn't written down in the script.

Update: October 27, 2009 2:30 PM - The show will go on! Principal Benz reverses her decision. "Break a leg" Churchill students!

Sharon W. Cox: AASA Executive Consultant

Former Montgomery County Board of Education Member Sharon W. Cox is highlighted as a consultant with the American Association of School Administrators "Executive Consultant" program.

Thanks to the biography provided by AASA, we now know that Ms. Cox was the only Board of Education member who attended the Harvard Public Education Leadership Project for four years, at the Superintendent's request. (See Frieda Lacey's Testimonial about PELP HERE).
Ms. Cox's areas of expertise are listed as Board/Superintendent/Community Relations, Managing Change, Planning/Facilitating Board Retreats, and Systems Thinking.

Just a few questions:

1. Did MCPS pay the airfare, hotel, and tuition for Ms. Cox to attend Harvard's PELP all four years?

2. Is Ms. Cox using the "Secondary Learning Centers Closings" as an example of what not to do with regard to Community Relations?

3. Does "Facilitating Board Retreats" include making minutes of Board retreats available for the public to review?

Fixing Harvard’s Gaffes

According to the MCPS gifted and talented screening data, in 2006-2007, schools identified a minimum of 16.7% of their second graders as "gifted and talented." While the exact formula by which a student is "identified" remains undisclosed, the data in the report shows that the number identified can go as high as 86.5%. About 86 schools identified 50% or more of their second graders as GT (out of about 115 schools for which GT identification figures were released).
Marty Creel, Director, DEIP, who leads the MCPS GT program, is quoted as saying, "We're not identifying these kids as geniuses, but as ready to work above grade level," adding "the county has made remarkable progress in getting students to that mark."
Taking Mr. Creel's pronouncement for granted, we must accept that the system is claiming that ~75% of their schools have 50% or more second graders "ready to work above grade level." Obviously, the grade level curriculum is not sufficiently rigorous, at least for our second graders.
Childress, et al., on page 134, of Leading for Equity, claim "Effective differentiation of instruction requires diagnosing student needs, developing potential solutions, putting them into practice, and reflecting on their effectiveness. This is a professional endeavor, not a technical task. The strategy of differentiation respects and elevates teachers' roles as critical to the learning of all of their students."
Before we begin to elevate "differentiation" as an effective teaching practice, shouldn't a competent "diagnosis" of "student needs," have led the charge for a recalibration of the curriculum? Childress et al., continue in the same paragraph, "As we saw in several instances earlier in the book, principals used a variety of tactics to accelerate the learning of African American and Hispanic students, including abolishing on-grade-level courses and putting data in students' hands." Isn't the data pointing to the reality that "on-grade-level" courses at all schools are failing to meet the academic needs of our students?
As, for "putting data in students' hands," how does that happen?
Childress, et al., insist that "In the end, the strategy in MCPS was based on the assumption that every single child is capable of meeting rigorous standards, but each child starts from a different place." If true, why doesn't the book advocate for tougher standards?
Since "every single child is capable of meeting rigorous standards," and most of our second graders are capable of performing "above grade level," the failure to provide a curriculum recalibrated to student abilities is a serious problem.
Harvard, if it has a genuine desire to promote leadership and excellence in public education, needs to establish an independent, peer-reviewed means of assessing the progress of participants in its PELP program.
Harvard needs to retain an independent accounting firm, with no ties to Montgomery County, to perform an audit of school expenditures before claiming "Money has been important to the success in Montgomery County, and it is true that the district is well resourced. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, at $12,000 per student in 2005, MCPS was in the same range as many other large East Coast districts with similar cost structures, such as Washington, D.C. ($13,000), and New York City ($13,500), and much lower than Boston ($16,000) and Newark, New Jersey ($20,000). These urban districts have much higher percentages of minority and low-income students than Montgomery County overall but are very similar to some of the schools we saw in the Red Zone." Incidentally, the numbers are for 2005 and recent figures are available. The comparison fails to state how the expenditures in other school systems were distributed. For example, do the other school systems support a multi-million dollar PR division? How much do the other systems pay their administrators?
Harvard also needs to undertake an independent assessment of MCPS performance data before claiming any success or failure on the part of our school system.
Any bona fide academic institution is aware that research papers must undergo a stringent per-review process before being accepted for publication in respected scholarly journals. The process often results in several revisions and re-revisions of the paper. The Harvard PELP needs to embrace that paradigm before making any claims about any school system participating in the project. Absent such a process, Harvard's PELP is simply a part of the school system's PR machine, albeit with a mightier printing press.

MCPS form of the week: Fee Waiver Record

As with many large businesses school systems, MCPS has lots of forms.  Today we feature a form developed just this year, the Fee Waiver Record, MCPS form 260-1.  Teachers submit form 260-1 whenever a student does not pay a course fee.

"It is every educator’s responsibility to identify students who may need adjustment in the course fee and not depend on student self-identification," according to instructions on the form.

Teacher don't ask for financial statements from students parents, so it's not known how teachers identify which students "need" an adjustment in a course fee without subjecting the students to embarrassing questions.  Teachers aren't allowed to know which students participate in the "free and reduced meals" (FARM) program, so they can't possibly be using participation in FARMS program as a way to determine who "needs" a fee waiver.

(Please note:  If any teacher can tell me how they determine which students "need" a fee waiver and which students don't "need" a fee waiver by just looking at them, please let me know.)

Instructions on form 260-1 state that "it is intended for the school’s financial records ONLY and should NOT be given to a student or parent/guardian as an application form."  Teachers are busy, though, and there's nothing that says that a parent can't fill in form 260-1 and send it in with their child.  In fact, the form can even be filled in online, then saved and sent to the teacher as an email attachment.  Wow, MCPS thinks of everything!

Weast missed deadline

 Are the procedures different for Takoma Park than for Dickerson & Poolesville?

The Montgomery County Board of Education Handbook (Page 27) spells out the process to be followed when the Board recommends the "closing or consolidation of a school". The Board process provides for the community to submit "proposed solutions, priorities, or concerns" to a recommendation to close a school by June 1st.

There is no "June 1st" in Superintendent Weast's timeline for the closing of Monocacy Elementary School. Superintendent Weast has the decision being made by March 2010. If the school is to be closed for the 2010-11 school year, the "June 1st" would have been 5 months ago. 
Each spring the superintendent of schools reviews all Board of Education facilities decisions and capital budget requests. The capital budget includes construction and planning funds for new facilities, modernizations and renovations; furniture and equipment associated with these projects; and countywide maintenance efforts. Facilities issues include building utilization, educational program capacity, enrollment projections, boundary changes, and school closings/consolidation. During the spring, cluster, school, and community representatives meet to discuss feasible school program and facility alternatives and, by June 1, cluster representatives send the superintendent of schools proposed solutions, priorities, or concerns the cluster has identified for its schools.
Here is what the timeline looked like for the Takoma Park area boundary changes that will be taking effect for the 2010-11 school year.  (The same school year when Superintendent Weast wants Monocacy Elementary closed.) Why isn't the Monocacy/Poolesville area accorded the same procedural guidelines and safeguards as the Takoma Park area?
...On November 20, 2008, the Board of Education authorized a boundary study to review the boundaries for East Silver Spring, Piney Branch, Sligo Creek, and Takoma Park elementary schools...
The boundary review process begins with a community advisory committee—that will meet from March 2009 through June 2009—followed by a superintendent recommendation in mid-October 2009, followed by Board of Education review and action in November, 2009. Any boundary changes would be implemented in August 2010...

“Academic fearlessness and intellectual ability that will benefit their entire generation”

Yesterday, Johns Hopkins University hosted a ceremony honoring "elementary-and middle school students from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. who distinguished themselves through special testing as among the most academically gifted young students in the country."

The deliberately blurred photo is testimony to the fact that the "best of the brightest," hail from a spectrum of races. Every color and community, it seems, graced that stage.

In a statement to the Press, JHU stated, "With our annual award ceremonies, we're committed to giving these exceptional young people a stage on which to recognize their academic achievements, just as we celebrate achievements in athletics or the performing arts," said CTY executive director Lea Ybarra. "Their performance places them in the top tier of students taking these tests, and they certainly deserve acclaim." Who gets the credit for success? "The students," said Dr. Ybarra. "They possess an academic fearlessness and intellectual ability that will benefit their entire generation."

In Montgomery County, we select students "ready to work above grade level," label them "gifted," and incessantly argue about gifted and talented education. How many of our bright minds are being denied the opportunities they deserve by the absence of a robust, rigorous, gifted and talented program?

To our kids, who continue to surmount the challenges that adults throw in their path with "an academic fearlessness and intellectual ability that will benefit their entire generation," we should offer our accolades. Congratulations!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Annapolis - we have a (lunch) problem

While Dr. Weast and his associates are traveling across the country courtesty of Mo Co taxpayers, students are still going without.

This past week, according to Leah Fabel of the Washington Examiner

Local school officials faced with growing populations of low-income students are petitioning Congress for more federal dollars to fund free and reduced-price school lunches.

. . .
"We need help," said Montgomery schools Superintendent Jerry Weast, speaking Tuesday to Gov. Martin O'Malley and asking him to mobilize Maryland's members of Congress on behalf of a favorable reauthorization.

As part of the act, the federal government reimburses school systems $2.68 for each free lunch provided to eligible students, and $2.28 for each reduced price lunch. Other provisions in the legislation provide money for breakfast, snacks, and summer lunches.

. . .
"For every free meal, we lose about 70 cents," said Montgomery County food and nutrition director Kathy Lazor. "We have to rely on a la carte sales and food sales through other activities to help recover those costs."

Thanks for the concern, Dr. W - but the taxpayers would like to see some leadership by example.  Why not cut the travel and food tab for the administrators, and start brown bagging your own healthy lunches?  Yes, money is tight, all around.   Federal money is still public money - so do your part.  Spend the money on the kids, remember, they are the customers of public education.

Monocacy ES's new roof!

On Friday, October 23, 2009, Superintendent Weast released a memorandum announcing his surprise plan to close Monocacy Elementary School in Dickerson, Maryland. Superintendent Weast left out a few details in his memorandum. 

Here is one of the details he left out.  This summer Monocacy Elementary School received a new $200,000 roof courtesy of Maryland State Public School construction funds.  
Here is a picture of the Monocacy Elementary School roof from Google Earth:

Please thank Governor Martin O'Malley for the new roof, too bad it won't be on a school that is in use.
(And thank youself, too! You paid for it.)

Update: Total cost of new Monocacy Elementary School roof was $509,135 as shown in Board of Education minutes.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

10/28/09 Monocacy ES Meeting

The Poolesville Town Commissioners have set up an emergency meeting for Wednesday, October 28, 2009 to discuss the closing of Monocacy Elementary School.  The meeting will be held at the Town Hall from 7 to 9 PM.

Saving Money with the Seven Keys

In February 2008, back before the recession was in full bloom, a Montgomery County Public Schools entourage went to the American Association of School Administrators "National Conference on Education" in Tampa, Florida to tout their "Professional Learning Communities Institute."
That was then, this is now: The next stop for the Jerry Weast Road Show is Phoenix, Arizona in February 2010.

Hesitant about spending your taxpayers' money on airfare and hotel in Phoenix, AZ, during the "High Season?" Never fear! Jerry Weast explains that attending this multi-day conference will actually save your school district money! Watch his testimonial HERE!

Not only will attendees be actually saving money, but school administrators will be learning other important skills as well, according to Mr. Weast: "You will learn how to make education less painful for the adults who are delivering it and the children who are receiving it." Pass the Pedagogical Percoset Please!

In any event, the Seven Keys are being served up in Phoenix for the school administrators who don't seem to be able to watch the MCPS-produced video on the MCPS website. SHHHHH! Whatever you do, don't let the taxpayers in other jurisdictions know that school administrators can learn about the Seven Keys for Free, on the MCPS Website, without travelling to Arizona! Why spoil their fun? But seriously, folks, I really do think we should draw the line on paying for the Hot Air Balloon Ride.

Silver Chips: Loss of credit policy to be revised

Silver Chips, October 23, 2009

A Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) work group will submit a formal report to the Board of Education (BOE) within the next couple of months recommending a repeal of the Loss of Credit (LC) policy for the 2010 - 2011 school year, according to Suzanne Maxey, a consulting principal at the Office of Organizational Development who heads the committee.

... Despite widespread acknowledgment that current LC procedures constitute a broken policy, many teachers are concerned that the new proposal will be difficult to implement or prove ineffective in application. Social studies teacher and academy coordinator Kevin Moose raised doubts about the discipline recommendation at Thursday's meeting. "I see recommendation number two as a problem with a school so large," he said. "It's difficult to do that and implement it in a way that is fair."

Who wants supersized elementary schools? Jerry Weast

In the second sentence of Superintendent Jerry Weast's recommendation to close Monocacy Elementary School he misstates an important fact.
Superintendent Weast states:
"Enrollment at Monocacy Elementary below the Board of Education desired minimum enrollment level of 300 students." 
That statement is inaccurate. The Board of Education has not set a "desired minimum enrollment level".  The Board of Education gutted their Long Range Educational Facilities Planning Policy in 2005 and deleted all references to desired school facility size.  The Board of Education has not taken a position on "desired minimum enrollment" since that time.
But Superintendent Weast has.
His personal opinion is that elementary schools should be between 300 and 750 students and that is what he put in the regulation that he wrote. 
Under the old Board of Education Long Range Educational Facilities Planning Policy (the one that was gutted in 2005) the standard for elementary schools was as follows:
  • Elementary, middle and high schools should operate in an efficient utilization rate of 80 to 100 percent of program capacity...
  • A preferred range of enrollment for schools, provided they have program capacity is:  (1) Two to four classes per grade of students in an elementary school...
Under the old Long Range Educational Facilities Planning Policy, Monocacy Elementary would be right on the mark.  They are operating at above 80% of capacity and have utilized the entire school building (they are currently using 3 classroom trailers). 

Maybe this is why the late Councilmember Marilyn Praisner didn't want to see the Board of Education Policy on Long Range Educational Facilities tossed aside in 2005. Under the old Policy, it would have been clear that Monocacy Elementary School was operating within Board guidelines established through an extensive community involvement process.  Now, without Board guidelines, Monocacy Elementary School is on the chopping block based on the personal opinion of one Superintendent from out of state.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Crystal Ball or What Happens to Closed Schools

 Do you wonder what happens after Dr. Weast and his crew surplus a school site?

Its not really about the enrollment.  That was the cry when MCPS closed numerous downcounty schools in the early 1980s.  As a result of that lack of oversight, schools in Silver Spring and Wheaton are currently overcrowded, with the Board of Education reopening several schools, including Arcola, Roscoe Nix, and Sargeant Shriver. 

The school sites never truly leave the MCPS list of real property

Starting with page 13 of the 2008 document, you will see what public entity owns the property.  Some properties are leased, some are reopened, and some morph into something else.  Once land has another use, its impossible to reclaim for public school uses. 

Examples?  Look at page 15.

Have you heard of Bradley Middle School?  Probably not, and its not likely that you ever will.  Bradley MS's property was surplused in a closed Board of Education meeting, and SOLD by the county council to a developer.  Its now the home of Victory Housing, a senior living community.  Four Corners ES was also sold and developed into housing.  Lake Normandy ES became the Potomac Community Center, Georgetown Hill became a private school, so did Tuckerman ES.  Glen Hills ES is a park.  Great Falls ES and Potomac HS now have private homes on their sites, and Olney HS has plans for development.

But - here is a secret that Dr. Weast doesn't know yet - our kids are still in portable learning cottages - or trailers, as they are affectionately known in the real world.   Is that acceptable?

Wake up Poolesville, and ask - can your community afford to have one of its schools closed?  What caused the sudden shift in enrollment projections that prompted Dr. Weast to recommend closing the school?

Monocacy ES takes a dive

What happened to Monocacy Elementary School this summer?

On June 26, 2009, MCPS published its annual Master Plan showing long term enrollment projections for all schools.  The June 26, 2009 projections for Monocacy Elementary School are shown on the chart below. They are the blue plot line.
Then, on October 23, 2009, Superintendent Jerry Weast announces his plan to close Monocacy Elementary School based on enrollment projections.  But look at the long term enrollment projections now being used by Superinentdent Weast, see the red plot line below. What a difference!
What happened between June and October that radically changed the long term enrollment projections for Monocacy Elementary School?

Praisner: "I don't think the board appreciates the history of the policy"

Here is an article from the April 20, 2005 Gazette about the MCPS Board of Education's plan to gut their long standing Policy on long-range facilities planning, also known as Policy FAA.
Councilmember Marilyn Praisner had been involved in the creation of the policy in 1986 when she was on the MCPS Board of Education.  She was concerned enough about the 2005 changes to write to the Board of Education.  The changes made to Policy FAA in 2005 are now going to impact the families that are about to lose a neighborhood school in 2010.

School board plans to address criticism
A proposed change to the school system's long-range facilities
planning policy could stifle the public's voice in the planning
process, county PTAs and civic leaders charged this week.

But school officials said they are working to address community

Cluster coordinators from the county council of PTAs and civic
leaders are expected to attend a meeting Thursday to discuss the

Sharon W. Cox (At large) of Germantown, who heads the board's policy
committee, said the committee would offer a new version of the
policy change that was proposed earlier this year.

The policy guides the planning process for school facilities, taking
into account enrollment trends and academic needs.

The new version will identify when the board will seek community
involvement, such as in drawing boundaries, closing schools and the
school system's six-year construction plan, Cox said. It also will
identify groups that could provide input, including PTAs, homeowners
associations and civic groups. That level of specificity was lacking
in the original revision.

PTA and Civic Federation members said they are concerned that the
earlier changes would limit parents' and taxpayers' opportunity to
weigh in on school planning issues.

The changes being considered by the board would change the policy
into a regulation.

Regulations do not require the same public input as policies, so
they can be amended to react quickly to specific needs, said George
Margolies, the board's staff director.

But it is precisely that lack of public comment that worries some
PTA and civic leaders.

It would leave no guarantee that community members could be
consulted, said Mark R. Adelman, chairman of the Civic Federation's
education committee.

"When you put stuff on the regulatory side, you put it in a place
where the superintendent decides," he said. "We don't elect the

"There's a fear that there would be less accountability"
and "shortcut" planning decisions, said Cindy Kerr, president of the
county council of PTAs. "Quick decisions are what lead to the most
major headaches in the community."

County Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton was
a school board member when the current policy was adopted in 1986
after a series of meetings with the community and the council of

"It was a real concerted effort on the part of the board to place a
great deal of clarity and transparency into the facility planning
process," she said.

Praisner said the "overarching implications" of the policy -- which
can affect issues from land use to budgets -- prompted her to write
a letter to the board.

"I don't think the board appreciates the history of the policy," she

The policy was written when the county was closing schools and
community input was just as important as it is now, as the county
builds new schools and reopens some of the very same schools it
closed in the 1970s and 1980s, Praisner said.

The council of PTAs has called on the board to establish an advisory
committee to consider any changes to the planning policy and asked
that the board not make any changes before autumn.

The board's policy committee set out to revise the planning process
to address changes in the way the state calculates school capacity
and the creation of consortium middle and high schools, which
require the board to consider boundaries and capacity in order to
balance enrollment, Cox said.

Thursday's meeting will give people a chance to see how the board
uses their input, she said. "If you are not involved in the process,
it is not easy to see how your input is utilized."

Community members wonder if their input is heeded at all, Adelman

"Right now, there's not a great deal of trust in the civic community
and the PTA that the Board of Education will listen to comments of
the community," he said.

Valerie Ervin (Dist. 4) of Silver Spring acknowledged the mistrust.

"From what I can see, as one of the new board members, is that the
board is struggling very hard to change that perception," said
Ervin, a member of the policy committee.

It can do that by listening to the public on the proposed policy,
she said.

"I don't see this as a problem," she said. "I think it's an

Weast to close elementary school

Those that watched in 2005 as Superintendent Jerry Weast pushed the Board of Education to gut MCPS Policy FAA: Long Range Educational Facilities Planning knew that this day was coming.

Superintendent Weast has been on a quest for years to super-size elementary schools. In order to secure his goal in 2005 he had the Board of Education turn over to him the decision making for determining what size elementary, middle and high schools should be in Montgomery County.

Prior to 2005, the size of elementary, middle and high schools were laid out in a 22 page policy.  In 2005, that policy was gutted to 5 pages and turned over most major school facility decisions to the Superintendent.  Thus, taking the decisionmaking away from the Board of Education, and more importantly, eliminating the ability of parents to appeal a school size decision to the State Board of Education.

Here is today's news:
A small elementary school in rural northwestern Montgomery County would be closed under a plan presented by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast to the Board of Education, school officials said Friday.
Citing declining enrollment and the need to save money, the plan would send Monocacy Elementary School's students eight miles south to Poolesville Elementary School for the beginning of the next school year. That would be the first school closure in Montgomery County in more than 20 years...
*Updated link to Washington Post. Original article here.

Full recommendation from Superintendent Weast here.

Monocacy Elementary School's long term enrollment projections have changed to support Superintendent Weast's recommendation to close the school. 

All Parents' Coalition blog posts on the closing of Monocacy Elementary School here