During a recent student Town Hall, Sherwood High School students asked questions and raised concerns to Superintendent Joshua Starr and the Student Member of the Board of Education Dahlia Huh.
Among the topics discussed was the issue of class size increase. Dr. Starr explained that some schools, including elementary schools, receive priority in keeping class sizes small. However, Dr. Starr noted that because of county budget cuts, “right now [MCPS] is not going to be able to do anything significant,” and that “it’s a money and resource issue.”
With new technologies coming to many MCPS high schools, a Sherwood freshman named Puja wondered about the roll-out of new devices. Dr. Starr informed students that MCPS has the largest Chromebook roll-out in the country, with 44,000 Chromebooks being brought into MCPS students for educational use. This marks an important and positive addition to Montgomery County Public Schools as the technology allows for a much more fluid and intuitive learning experience.
A junior named Helena inquired about MCPS’s plan for moving start times later for high schools. In response, Dr. Starr noted that “students were split 50/50 regarding the change,” and that the $20 million cost was “frankly irresponsible” due to the limited budget going to MCPS. Although the proposal may have met a dead end, Starr will present a new plan with a lower cost to the Board of Education in January.
Q & A with SMOB Dahlia Huh
Dahlia: At last week’s Town Hall, so many great questions were asked! But if I were to choose just one issue that was the most relevant, it would have to be the the uncertainty of receiving state funding for school construction from the state. Last year, there was a 2,800 increase in student enrollment – that’s the size of a large high school. This continuous influx of students into our school system begs the question – how will our buildings and classrooms be able to accommodate the growth? To help with the issues of crowded hallways, cramped classrooms, and teachers without permanent classrooms – the Board of Education has been preparing for the upcoming legislative session and how to acquire more funds from the state.
Dahlia: Having served on the Bell Times Work Group for seven months in 2013 (before becoming the student Board member), I was able to get a first-hand look at the compelling data that supported the idea that starting school later benefits students’ health. I had a chance to speak with health specialists from the Children’s Hospital in DC and also superintendents of other school system that made similar changes. The movement for this bell times change stemmed from an issue of students’ health and not one of student performance. Therefore, the official Bell Times Report does not include too much information on student performance, since that was not what was asked to be studied. Much of the controversy behind changing the bell times is rooted in the potential cost. The recommendation proposed at the June 2014 Board of Education meeting had a price tag of around $20 million – and the Board voted unanimously that the cost was too exorbitant (since this would mean $20 million less from other programs in the budget). But the Board pledged to look further into the issue and narrowing the cost to under $10 million. We will get to see this new proposal sometime this winter. As SMOB, my goal is to vote in the best interest and to best represent the 154,000 students in MCPS. Before a decision is made, I plan to launch an extensive feedback/survey network so students can tell me what they think of a new proposal.
Dahlia: MCPS is the largest school system in Maryland and the 17th largest in the nation. We have 203 schools and counting! The student town halls have thus been extremely helpful in hearing directly from students. As a senior in high school myself, it is hard for me to visit every classroom in every school all the time – but what the student town halls allow me to do, is hear the concerns that many students share. From town hall to town hall, questions about school lunches, technology, and funding for programs seem to crop up often – indicating that these are important areas for students. Through social media (www.facebook.com/SMOBDahliaHuh) I’ve also been able to reach out to large numbers of students, but face-to-face conversation is still always the best way to communicate concerns and ideas.
Dahlia: Out of all the questions asked, the most challenging task to accomplish would, again, be locking in state construction funding for our schools. Questions regarding the roll out of technology or increasing the number of after school clubs are simpler to answer because these issues remain within out MCPS system. School construction funding, on the other hand, is given to us from the state of Maryland. In this way, this issue is “out of our hands” and we have to lobby and convince legislatures of the importance of funding the renovations and expansions of our schools. I look forward to working with all the new delegates, senators, and our new governor to ensure that our schools get the funding we need this year.
Student Town Halls occur every month at different high schools in the county. The next Student Town Hall Meeting will be at Herbert Hoover Middle School on January 22.
Article by the MoCo Student Staff Writer Ardeshir Hakimi of Richard Montgomery High School