In the race for the at-large Board of Education seat, Sharon Cox, the current board president, says that her record of leadership speaks for itself. Challenger Tommy Le says that the board — and the school system — are in need of a change.
Cox, of Germantown, is a first-term member of the board. She was vice-president in 2003 before taking over as the president this year. Under her watch, performance indicators are up, Cox says, and the board is functioning effectively.
“I have a proven record of independent thinking and an ability to work effectively with elected officials,” she said. “We have seen improvements in trends in basic skills and improvements in the recent data of Maryland school assessments in third grade.”
Cox also noted a 30 percent jump in kindergarteners reading at benchmark levels, an increase in performance among African Americans in poverty and “the highest ever SAT schools in the county,” with a record number of students taking the test.
Le took issue with Cox’s assessment of Montgomery County students having never done better on SATs. “That may be true,” he said “but it doesn’t mean that our school district is doing better compared to other districts.”
Le, of Kensington, says that Cox has long-term political aspirations that influence her decisions and that she leverages her incumbency unfairly, appearing on MCPS’s cable television channel.
He acknowledges student gains, but Le says that when he looks at the school system, he sees a persistent performance gap between whites and minorities, a shortage of vocational training options, and a lack of fiscal accountability. And change for the system, he says, starts with change at the board.
“I think they need at least two or three new people in there to change the course of what MCPS is doing,” he said.
LE LAYS OUT his plans for the school system on his website, www.tommyle4boe.org. The plan calls for more community involvement, more attention to special education, and more extensive teacher training. Like many of the BOE candidates, Le is encouraged by the success of the county’s early childhood program, but feels the improvements need to extend to higher grades.
“The current problem is the academic gap is still there, especially in the level from second to fifth graders… We see improvements in the first grade, but the second to fifth grade didn’t follow up,” he said.
“The composition of students in Montgomery County has changed,” Le said noting that numbers of low-income, immigrant, special education, and learning disabled students are all up.
“The school system should … assist these students, providing with extra school on Saturday and help them to be more capable in their learning,’ he said.
Better vocational training and newer textbooks were other priorities.
ADDRESSING THE achievement gap is also important in Cox’s vision. “Identifying strategies to close the achievement gap [is] for not only minority students but also disabled students and students with limited English proficiency,” she said. “We’re rolling out curriculum that has an assessment component attached to it that allows teachers to address individual students’ needs.”
“One of the areas we’re going to address in the near future is middle school.”
Asked how she differs from her opponent, Cox said that it’s up to voters to decide for themselves about Le’s positions. “What I can speak to is the difference in terms of experience,” she said. “I have a lot of current experience, in that I have two children who have recently graduated and one who is still in the school system.”
POTOMAC SCHOOL SITES
One place where the candidates’ attitudes contrast sharply is over the board’s decision to build a new school on Kendale Road in Potomac and the accompanying issues related to the future of the Seven Locks Elementary School site. Residents have said that the board did not adequately seek community input on the decision and are concerned that MCPS is considering releasing the land to the county to be used to build affordable housing.
“I think [people] have the right to be upset,” Le said. “The school should serve the community and not the other way.”
Cox says that the board did seek input. “The actions of the board followed the processes … that are required by our policy,” she said. “Actually, the recommendation to use Kendale came from area vice president for the PTA.”
The vice president Cox referred to is Rosanne Hurwitz. “They’re saying it was my recommendation. It wasn’t my recommendation to do this. It was my recommendation to look at it … see what works for the students. … I wasn’t saying this is the way you have to go, I was saying think outside the box.”
Hurwitz spoke as an individual, and not as a representative of MCCPTA.
Cox did not take a position on eventually surplusing the Seven Locks site. “I don’t have an opinion on that because I don’t have enough information,” she said. “It would be precipitous of me to say something like that without having all of the background data on what the potential uses of it might be for the system and what the benefits might be of leveraging it for the system.”
“I don’t vote for abandoning the current Seven Locks school,” said Le. “It’s a good location and it has enough capacity. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
“I wish she had a stronger opponent,” Hurwitz said. “I think running essentially unopposed has given her free rein.”