Because members of the Montgomery County Board of Education are nonpartisan, not identified by political party, there is only a primary if there are more than two candidates for a particular seat. This year, there are four candidates for the one at-large seat that will be on the ballot in November. Voters of any party can vote for Board of Education, and choose one in the primary. The top two vote-getters will appear on the ballot in November.
There are seven members of the Montgomery County Board of Education, plus a student member. Two members serve at-large, while the other five members live in their geographic districts. But all members are elected county-wide, and serve staggered terms. Members of the Board of Education are non-partisan and elected without identifying as belonging to any political party.
As candidate for Board of Education my top two priorities are to: 1) finally begin closing the achievement gap with common sense solutions that are simple but powerful; and 2) bring order and accountability to the budget process.
I can do both because my background combines 15 years experience as an operations auditor and improvement consultant to local governments, with seven years experience as a classroom teacher in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and D.C. I know by personal experience what makes a successful classroom. I also understand budgets and how government agencies can run more effectively.
As an operations auditor and consultant, I helped cities and counties as big as Cleveland, Providence, and Contras Costa County, as well as dozens of regulated utilities improve their operations and service to their customers.
As a teacher, I accepted assignments in the most challenging schools in suburban Maryland. I consistently had among the highest performing classes, and I never had to lower standards or expectations in my diverse student populations. I was a content-driven science teacher, who helped students to master materials and concepts beyond the required curriculum. In other words, I closed the achievement gap in my classroom every year. I also observed other teachers and schools throughout the U.S. that succeeded in closing the achievement gap. It can be done, but not with top-down approaches such as No Child Left Behind, “teaching to the test,” or with new curriculum fads. Improvement can only come through what these teachers and schools succeeded in doing.
My priorities are:
ACHIEVEMENT GAP/EDUCATIONAL QUALITY
Free administrators to utilize their best teachers and reward them accordingly. If they can teach more children, or are better with challenged students, give them more of these students and pay them. We want our best teachers in front of as many students as possible.
Free teachers of unhelpful bureaucratic requirements so they have more time to plan lessons, and to work directly with students and parents.
Promote individualized teacher-to-teacher mentoring, so the most effective teachers are raising up the newest or less effective teachers.
BUDGETING AND FISCAL STEWARDSHIP
Conduct a long overdue full-scale audit of the budget and operations.
Get the BOE involved in the budget process at the beginning of the budget process
Institute budget reform for effective cost control and demand that all programs are measured against educational objectives.
Introduce basic business, personal finance, and entrepreneurship in HS.
Introduce foreign language earlier.
Make certain that all students master “life math” concepts.
Establish Student Internships with local business/non-profits so students gain workplace exposure.
OVER-CAPACITY/AGING OF FACILITIES
Conduct a comprehensive review of options including: low-cost construction options (such as pre-fab buildings); virtual learning; and four-day weeks for upper class HS, among others.
Demand a fair share of State funding for construction for Montgomery County.
Merry Eisner-Heidorn, 22-year Montgomery County resident and 19-year Potomac resident, has continuously endeavored to listen to a broad cross-section of stakeholders, believing as she did when she was a PTA and PTSA president in the Churchill community, VP Legislation of MCCPTA and VP Legislation of MD PTA that we are all best served when parents, teachers and students come together for the good of education. Eisner-Heidorn augmented her advocacy experience with three years work experience as a legislative aide in Annapolis, providing legislative research and constituent service support to two delegates in the Maryland General Assembly. Currently, Eisner-Heidorn is serving as legislative director of Start School Later both nationally and in Montgomery County, working to affect change both in our local school system as well as to pass legislation in Maryland and other states. She also serves on the MCPS Math Assessment Work Group, examining failure rates on exams in the county, and continuing the work she began when she participated in the Math Work Group and served on the Assessment Team.
Merry Eisner-Heidorn believes that we are fortunate to have one of the best school systems in the U.S. However, significant gaps remain, and we have a host of issues that need addressing (math assessment failure rates, the elementary school report card, ensuring gifted and talented students opportunities for placement within the new curriculum, shifting the focus from litigation to collaboration when addressing the needs of our special education students, etc.) Eisner-Heidorn has identified three key focus areas for improvement – and believes that if the Board of Education works to enhance their performance in these areas, our issues stand a better chance of being resolved in a manner that works for all of the county’s stakeholders. These three focus are:
Time: Every teacher talks about the time crunch. One of the first areas to take a hit when budgets were cut was planning and collaboration time. As MCPS has introduced new curricula over the years, and as the system continues to roll out the common core, the MCPS equivalent — C.S. 2.0 — and the new state assessments, time for teacher planning and collaboration is critical.
Talk: The Board of Education should be doing all that it can to encourage participation from individual parents and diverse parent groups. It should serve as a representative and advocate for every stakeholder involved in the county’s education system. No group should feel that their input isn’t welcome, or that a particular issue isn’t worthy of discussion. No group should feel that their role is more important that any other, or that one group has an advantage over others. In a county as diverse as Montgomery County - where the objective of our Board of Education is to ensure the best possible outcome for all students - every voice should feel heard.
Transparency: MCPS creates a number of documents that are essential reading for parents if they want to understand how our school system works. These documents range from curriculum guides to the Capital Improvement Program (the allocation of budget dollars to school construction) to the Annual Operating Budget (the allocation of budget dollars to the day-to-day running of our school system). Given that all of these documents are public, Eisner-Heidorn believes that it's incumbent upon the Board of Education to request that MCPS provide them in a manner such that they're transparent and easy to understand. If stakeholders can understand how the Board of Education and MCPS are allocating resources, it’s more likely that we can ask for accountability, and integration of school spending with county funds that also benefit public school children.
Eisner-Heidorn has been endorsed by the Montgomery County Public School Retirees Association (MCPSRA) and the Sierra Club. Her website is: http://Merry4BOE.wordpress.com; her Facebook page is http://facebook.com/Merry4BOE and she tweets as @merryeisner.
I have been an active education advocate for the past six years serving the students of this county in many capacities. As an elected officer with the Montgomery County Council of PTAs I served as vice president for programs and vice president for educational issues. These positions allowed me to spend time learning the needs of the community. In addition I represented the Wheaton Cluster for many years and am intimately familiar with the challenges facing our schools with serving populations with high rates of poverty and a growing population of students for whom English is not their first language.
My experience and leadership with the local and county PTAs have enabled me to build strategic alliances that are critically important in moving MCPS forward in educating students. My priorities will be to continue engaging the community to make a difference in the academic success of students. I believe we can strengthen our school system by creating more opportunities for career education beginning in middle school to provide students with options such as being assigned a career mentor. Students would get access to real life experiences and exposure to the work environment prior to graduation and hopefully think about their skills and their passions and how to build upon that understanding to follow their dreams.
Work to close the achievement gap. Continue expanding our community partnerships in support of our schools and students with families, community members, the county government, and public and private partners. I am deeply committed to equity and excellence and was honored to be selected as a co-chair of the African American Student Achievement Action Group where I am helping to lead a critical community conversation about the urgency of closing the achievement gap. In addition, I have a degree in economics and finance, which will serve me well on the school board. In my role with MCCPTA, I served for two years on the MCPS Operating Budget Review Workgroup, which has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the development and preparation that goes into the operating budget process. Finally, my endorsements by the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), The Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats of Maryland (CAPAD-MD), Casa in Action, SEIU Local 500, and the African American Democratic Club of Montgomery County reinforce the organizations believe in my leadership and the work I continue to do on behalf of all of our children.
Upon graduation from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.A. in media communications, I produced and hosted television programs at network affiliates on issues of importance to the community. To fulfill a desire for direct public service, I volunteered for a year with Habitat for Humanity and built homes in Central America and the U.S. I met my husband who was also a volunteer, and we moved to D.C. We have lived in Silver Spring for the last 23 years. I worked on a variety of advocacy issues professionally and as a volunteer over the years, including lobbying and education efforts for environmental justice. When our first child began kindergarten, I turned my advocacy efforts toward the schools. Our son is now in 7th grade, and our daughter is in 9th grade. I want to serve on the board to ensure that we are using our resources to best meet the needs of all our students; and that the voices of the parents, educators and the community are informing the policy of our large and growing school system.
What does my candidacy mean to voters?
As a longtime school and community activist in Montgomery County, I will bring an independent voice to the Board of Education. My priorities are building a more responsive, accountable and transparent school system, attacking the growing achievement/engagement gap with proven strategies, and supporting whole child learning.
Over the past 10 years I have served as a PTA president, MCCPTA delegate, MCPS Parent Advisory Council member, YMCA advisory board member, and neighborhood association president. I have seen just how wonderfully talented, intelligent and resourceful the residents of our county are — many of them eager to help with our schools — and I know from experience that working with our knowledgeable residents and their local communities makes far more sense than keeping them out. I am a collaborator and relationship builder at heart, and when it comes to a large school system that can have such a powerful impact on all residents — a school system that consumes about half, or $2.3 billion, of our county tax dollars — I think it’s critical that parents and all community members be brought into the policy and decision-making processes.
Unfortunately that has not always been the case, as the residents of the Potomac area know all too well. Only a few years back, an organic farmer working on a school-leased plot on Brickyard Road for over 30 years suddenly lost his lease under the watch of the Board of Education. The lease was given to the county for the purpose of a soccer complex without adequate process and in violation of the open meetings act. Hundreds of frustrated local citizens turned out at the first meeting to oppose the plan when it was publicly announced. I congratulate the residents of this community for paying attention and organizing. The school system is an integral part of the community, and must demonstrate good faith to be a trusted community partner.
I would like to see Brickyard Educational Farm as a centerpiece of experiential learning for MCPS. This type of outdoor education is part of whole child learning, which needs to go beyond standardized tests and include arts, music, field trips, bilingual education and needed emotional support structures.
I am proud that the Washington Post has endorsed me for the Board of Education, citing my “common sense approach” and emphasis on parent engagement. I have also been endorsed by The Gazette, elected leaders such as County Councilmembers Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, and a host of advocacy and community organizations including Montgomery County NOW, the Sierra Club, and most importantly, the Brickyard Coalition. I hope to have your vote and support in the primary this coming June 24.
Candidate, Board of Education At Large