Well, aren't you a parasite for sore eyes.
The school system in Montgomery County, Maryland, is one of the nation’s largest, and its schools are among the top performing. But like many jurisdictions in the Washington region, as Montgomery County grows — and as its student population becomes more diverse — its schools face a series of challenges: overcrowding, a persistent racial and socioeconomic achievement gap, and sticky questions about redrawing school boundaries.
As part of a series of events marking Kojo’s 20th anniversary on the air, we hosted a town hall discussion to hear what parents, teachers, students and school officials think about school boundaries and the achievement gap in MCPS.
This conversation has been pre-recorded and edited for air.
Produced by Margaret Barthel
Student Debate: Diversity In Schools And the Achievement Gap
To kick off the Kojo Roadshow on diversity in Montgomery County schools, students from the Springbrook High School debated whether greater student body diversity could affect the achievement gap. Listen to the debate here.
KOJO NNAMDIWe're coming to you from the civic building in Silver Spring, Maryland. We're here as part of a series of events marking my 20th anniversary on air. So welcome.
KOJO NNAMDIWe've got a full house. The most we've ever had. So this is clearly a hot topic. We have a number of local officials, school leaders, students in the room with us tonight to shed light on these issues. We'll begin tonight talking about school boundaries and overcrowding and then zoom out for some more general questions about the achievement and opportunity gaps in schools.
KOJO NNAMDISo like you to meet the facilitators of our conversation tonight. Maria Navarro is the Chief Academic Officer of Montgomery County Public Schools. Maria Navarro, thank you so much for joining us.
KOJO NNAMDIMontgomery County School Superintendent Jack Smith, was supposed to join us, but he had a family emergency. So Maria has kindly agreed to take his place. So thank you very much for doing that. Shebra Evans is the president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, Shebra Evans.
KOJO NNAMDIAnanya Tadikonda is the student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Her resolution calling for a county wide study of school boundary lines was approved by the board last month, Ananya.
KOJO NNAMDIAnd Oscar Alvarenga is a parent and PTA Leader at Summit Hall Elementary in Gaithersburg. Oscar thank you so much.
KOJO NNAMDISo if you support or do not support a countywide boundary study, are you a parent student or teacher, is your school overcrowded and you'd like to talk about it; step right up to the microphones. But I'll start with Ananya, you're the student member of the school board and your resolution to require a countywide study of school boundary lines is one of the main reasons we're here this evening. Can you explain what exactly the resolution does and why you thought it was important?
ANANYA TADIKONDAAbsolutely, good evening everyone and thank you for being here tonight. I think this is a very important conversation that we have to have with our community and I'm really glad that this show and event provides that opportunity and extends it across our county today. So again thank you for being here.
ANANYA TADIKONDAThe resolution that I proposed and was passed by the board last month calls for a countywide boundary analysis of options that we have to focus particularly on two factors, school facility utilization and student body diversity. Essentially I thought it was really important to do this comprehensive look at the school boundaries, because we are massive, as we are going on 207 schools at this point. And we never really have looked at the county as one big picture. Really we've addressed needs when the arise, but we haven't necessarily said how do piece A and piece B fit together to provide the best facility and environment for our students.
ANANYA TADIKONDASo I talked to a few students, who are very engaged with this issue particularly and they recommended to me -- and I engaged in conversation with them and they kind of, you know, kind of sparked the idea in my brain to conduct a study to really just look at the picture as a whole. So essentially I think, what the study will give us an opportunity to do is to actively make this attempt, ensure that we're looking at facility issues and student body diversity issues in schools that don't have a boundary study going on right now. And really the analysis just gives the board a presentation of the data and the options. And the board then can decide how to use that analysis to take steps forward. So again, just something to inform us of the situation right now.
NNAMDIThank you. Shebra Evans, you, as a school board member, supported the resolution to study school boundaries countywide. What are the issues as you see them?
SHEBRA EVANSSo similar to what Miss Tadikonda said, but first of all I do want to thank you for having us here, Kojo, and for everyone being here today. So we definitely are growing by leaps and bounds. If you think back to 2010, we have had an increase in enrollment by 20,000 students. So definitely want to be able to take an opportunity to see, based on our over utilization of some of our schools, where we can relief some capacity. So for me it's really all the indicators, not one or the other.
NNAMDIRebecca Smondrowski, are you here? Oh, there you are. I'm coming to you, because you are a school board member in Montgomery County and you voted against the school boundary study resolution. What are your concerns?
REBECCA SMONDROWSKISo, thank you. First, I want to start by saying that diversity is something that has always been a concern throughout Montgomery County and on our board of education. It is something that we've always taken into consideration when dividing our boundaries or deciding on boundary lines. For me personally, I felt that this just needed to wait a year. We've made some significant changes this past year in terms of how we look at rating our facilities and their viability for and sustainability. We've changed the way that we are looking at our enrollment numbers and I thought that was the most significant thing that we needed to take a year to really look at whether or not we are looking at the numbers in the right way.
REBECCA SMONDROWSKIThe other biggest problem that I had was that the resolution didn't included programs. And I think, programs in our schools is something that we spend a lot of time focusing on. It's something that we really need to make sure that we are, you know, contributing to any look that we take as to what kind of capacity issues we're going to have in our schools.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Oscar you're a parent and a leader -- the PTA at Summit Hill school. You're not sure changing boundaries is necessarily the answer. What are the issues as you see them?
OSCAR ALVARENGAThank you all. And I just wanted to say it's true I don't think that boundary changes is necessarily always the answer. If we are doing boundary changes to make one school look different and that's the goal I don't think that that's a solution. I don't think tearing communities apart, busing students from one neighborhood to another neighborhood just to make it look better on paper is good. I think that Montgomery County for a long time has talked about diversity and has wanted to make schools diverse. But I don't think that that's necessarily the solution just to make a school checkoff on a box that okay now this school is diverse. That's not necessarily the right answer.
NNAMDIIs Pat O'Neill here? Here you go. Pat O'Neill, you're a member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. The school boundaries study, some counties look at them regularly, boundary lines, every decade or so. So when did Montgomery County last undertake this and what do you see as the best approach given how contentious the issue is?
PAT O'NEILLWell, in 20 years on the board I can tell you that every single boundary review is contentious. People dig their heals in. But we have not done a countywide boundary analysis as far as I know, since the late 80's, when the county closed 65 schools and consolidated them. As we've opened new schools or had extremely overcrowded schools we've done targeted boundary studies. But we've never done a comprehensive boundary review. And this will be an analysis of the total county.
NNAMDISo this would be the first time in your 20 years on the board?
NNAMDIMaria Navarro, the school boundary study would look at two things, facility utilization and school diversity. Give us some context. What do those mean in practical terms and where is MCPS on those issues?
MARIA NAVARROWell, I mean, I think in facility utilization we look at, you know, the space. How much room we need and that varies depending on meeting the needs of students as we think about classroom space, open space and opportunities. I also think that as we look at this concept of looking at opportunities that may appraise themselves and we haven't done that as a county in 20 plus years. It's important to focus on the communities coming and talking to us about what that would mean for each of them.
MARIA NAVARROI like to point out that our head of -- the work around our facilities engagement in MCPS, Dr. Zuckerman is here, as well. And a lot of the work that has happened in building up the requests from the board is going to be through his office looking carefully at what the board has put forward for an outside consultant to come in and take a look at it. And the outside component is an important one, too, that I just want to point out. It is important to bring outside eyes to look at our current state.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned Andrew Zuckerman. Andrew Zuckerman, I'm going to direct the next question to you, because as Oscar pointed out, the county and school system have experienced significant population growth during the past several decades. And also a good deal of demographic change. So, can you talk about what that meant in terms of enrollment and the makeup of the student population?
ANDREW ZUCKERMANWell, as you've heard -- thank you, Kojo. As you've heard a number of the panelists speak, the county and our demographics are quite different than they were 30 or 40 years ago. And we in Montgomery County, many residents, we talk about this being an asset. There's so much strength in that, and the cultural awareness that comes with that is so valued in our public education system. At the same time, there's been significant growth, and that has strained our facilities. We’ve added new schools, new classrooms.
ANDREW ZUCKERMANAnd so this is an opportunity to take a look at how that growth is spread across the county, where there might be availability of space and how that connects to diversity.
NNAMDIWhat should the focus be now that the county is undertaking the boundary study?
ZUCKERMANWell, the good news is that the focus right now is actually hearing from the community on developing the scope of this analysis.
NNAMDIAnd we're at the Civic Building in Silver Spring, where quite a few members of the community are represented here and would like to have a say in this conversation. So, you, sir, are next.
MATT LOSACKThank you, Kojo. My name is Matt Losack. I'm the chair of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, and I'm also the cofounder and executive director of the Montgomery County Renters' Alliance. One thing that has not been mentioned in the demographic discussion is that the county has migrated toward a higher volume of people who live in rental housing than ever before. In 2007, there were 23 percent of the county living in rental housing. Today, that's nearly 40 percent. And if you look around at every green space in Tacoma Park, Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville, there's an apartment building being built on it.
MATT LOSACKAnd yet we see an instability in that rental housing that is disproportionately affecting people of lower income and people of color. When students cannot be stable in their homes, when they're not sure where they're going to live, where, in some schools -- as my colleague Jill Ortman-Fouse has often reported -- see a mobility rate of upwards of 30 percent, where some students have to move from school to school, academic achievement is going to be severely impacted.
MATT LOSACKWe have raised this issue with Superintendent Smith and with the school board, and yet we have not seen a desire by the school board to see the relationship of stable housing, i.e., the holistic view of how students achieve from their community and in the classroom. And we are asking that the school board and the school officials see that relationship and join in the discussion of stable, quality, affordable housing. (applause)
NNAMDIMaria Navarro, how important is it to address school diversity when redrawing school boundaries?
NAVARROWell, I think one of the things that we need to think about -- and we think about it in education -- is the opportunity and the options for opportunities. And that needs to be available across all of our schools. That is fundamental. That is at the core of how we are approaching the decisions we make about having -- rerolling out a curriculum and instructional materials to program placement decisions, which I know we'll get into a little bit later.
NAVARROBut the idea, and what we heard loud and clear from our communities, was that every community wanted to make sure they had viable academic programs in all of our schools. At the same time, I would say that school districts across the country are always dealing with the question of utilizing and maximizing their facilities and interest in students being in classrooms that are going to mirror the reality of this room. This room is highly diverse. It has all points of view, different points of view. And there is an interest in making sure that we offer students an opportunity to learn in these kind of settings, as well.
NNAMDIWe're coming to you from the Civic Building in Silver Spring, Maryland. Your turn.
DENISE YOUNGHello. My name is Denise Young, and I am a mother of three children. All three of them are, or have gone through MCPS. Thank you, Mr. Nnamdi, for allowing us to be a part of your 20-year celebration. I'm also the cofounder of the Montgomery County Education Forum, which many of you probably have heard of. We've been around for a while, really looking at this issue of equity.
DENISE YOUNGSo there are a couple of things that I'm a little bit concerned about with this discussion. The first thing is if we're looking at boundaries and talking about school utilization and capacity, I think that's one issue. What I am concerned about is that we might be using that as a way to mask what is really behind the achievement gap, okay? (applause) Black families, Latino families, families of color know struggle. That is not new to any of us. So, the idea that we cannot continue to persevere in today's climate facing the various struggles that we continue to face is not something that I am willing to cosign.
DENISE YOUNGThe second thing is, when we're talking about the achievement gap specifically related to black students, this county has been doing studies since at least 1978 and has spelled out, given us a blueprint about what needs to happen. School Board Member Judy Docca, if I'm not mistaken, was part of those early studies and has been talking about that during her tenure on the school board.
DENISE YOUNGThe third thing that I'd like to say, and I'm not sure how much time we have but...
YOUNG...we would be remiss if we do not say specifically the role that institutional racism plays (applause) in this achievement gap and this issue of student boundaries. One of the things that we must be able to say and recognize is whether or not we have the political will and the community will to support all of our students. (applause)
NNAMDIAnanya, I have to ask you, now that your resolution has been approved, what happens next?
TADIKONDAAbsolutely. So, as we continue to frame the scope of the resolution, our staff will issue a request for proposal after we gain adequate community feedback. And the staff will bring that request for proposal back to the board for approval. And from there, we'll again go into the process of engaging in the analysis itself. I do want to clarify on one point...
TADIKONDA...while I have the mic. There was a comment regarding this analysis not being the solution to the opportunity gap. And I could not agree with you more, because unfortunately, the opportunity gap is not something we can close with a snap of our fingers. But I do want to go back in the student body diversity piece to the commitment that I echoed at the board table on January 8th. And, you know, as we talk about, you know, some inequities that we've seen in our facility reconstruction and renovation, which our staff is again looking at with the key facility indicators, separate is inherently unequal. That was decided in 1964. Separate is inherently unequal.
TADIKONDASeparate is inherently unequal. And that's why it would be a shame for us not to look at this through this lens, when we're taking the opportunity to look at other issues, as well.
NNAMDIThank you very much. (applause) We have a number of other students here in our front rows tonight, and I'd like to hear from you about what you think about all of this. Would you like to see your schools get more diverse, even if it means having your friend group split apart, or having to take a longer bus ride? Just raise your hand, and I'll be happy to have one of you respond. Here you go. And your name.
UMA FOXHi. I've Uma Fox. I'm part of the countywide MCRSGA, and I'm also helping plan the countywide racial equity forum that will be going on in the next few months. And I have to say, as a resident of Silver Spring and also a member of a variety of magnet programs over my educational career, I've attended a variety of diverse schools. But, like many of the people on the panel have mentioned, these schools were only optically diverse. And so I've seen the despite, the diversity and the numbers of my school system and the numbers of the schools I have attended, friend groups have still been extremely segregated and have been extremely bias and also extremely prejudice against each other.
UMA FOXAnd so I think something we really need to reconcile as a county going beyond simply optical diversity is changing our cultural view of who can be excellent and who can achieve. (applause) And in addition, if you think that, you can close the achievement gap. (applause)
NNAMDIAnd you are...
CRYSTAL FERITIAHi. I'm Crystal Feritia. I'm a senior at Richard Montgomery High School, and I'm a third year member of MSP. (laugh) Thank you. So, I couldn't agree more with the idea that we need to address diversity at a much more deeper level. And one of the things I feel like has not been addressed yet is intraschool diversity. And what I mean by that is this.
CRYSTAL FERITIAYou'll see schools like Richard Montgomery and Blair High School, which are ostensibly diverse, right, and they're really large schools. However, it doesn't mean much that they're ostensibly diverse when you look at the magnet programs that they have. (applause) And you see that those magnet programs, AP, IB, Honors, all those courses have predominantly white and Asian students. And so how meaningful is it just to call your school diverse and have, like, a lot of FARM students when those FARM students and those low-income students and those people of color are not in those challenging courses? (applause)
CRYSTAL FERITIASo, my question to you, panelists, I have to ask, like, will this boundary study address the issue of intraschool diversity, and to what extent can intraschool diversity be addressed by the county board? Thank you. (applause)
NNAMDIMaria Navarro, do you know?
NAVARROFirst and foremost I think, our students are amazing. (applause) They just say it the way it should be said, so kudos to you for speaking your truths and your realities. I think the boundary study is not the area that I, as a chief academic officer, would focus on in addressing those issues. We are a learning organization. Each one of us is responsible -- I mean in MCPS -- for the overall learning of our students. And part of that learning goes beyond mathematics, English, science, social studies to really talk about and learn about the world that they're going to engage in once they leave us.
NAVARROAnd part of what we are in a trajectory of is, instead of thinking of a table with six chairs only and this concept of scarcity, and what we have begun to do in the district -- we are not done yet -- is to expand the table and add thousands more chairs. And that means that there are options of rigor in every single school in the county, that there is access to programs. And programs look -- you know, there just can't be one in a county of a million residents and in a school district of 163-plus thousand, almost 164,000 students, there can't just be one or two programs scattered over a large geographical area.
NAVARROAnd then, more importantly than that, if we prepare our students adequately, then they choose where they go. And we have to shift that mentality about how to think about whether you're worthy or not to enter our programs. Instead, developing our students so that they can actually make choices based on their interests. And then we continue a responsibility to give them that education all the way through. So, I just want to thank our students, because they can say it much better than we ever can. So, thank you.
NNAMDIOscar Alvarenga, you have seen a school district go through a boundary evaluation. What do you think about that process, and did it change anything?
ALVARENGASummit Hall, we went through a tri cluster. First time, we did a tri cluster boundary study for capacity. And, at the end of the day, after 13 or 14 weeks, we came back and figured out that nothing was going to work, that the schools that are most affected, the way they were going to benefit from capacity issues was going to be built to where they need to be built. When you have a school that's built for 471 students and there's 700 students in that school, you can build it to 701, and now your capacity issue is fixed without breaking that community.
ALVARENGAThat communities aren't interested, again, to going outside of their boundaries, there's no reason to bus these kids halfway across a town because one school is underutilized. There's a lot of schools in our communities that are just underbuilt. There's a lot of rules and laws and guidance that MCPS has that are outdated, saying that a school can't be looked at or money can't go into a school that has been already looked at within 15 years. We've already touched that school, so we can't touch that school again for another 15 or 20 years. That's ridiculous. Why don't you go in your car or your house and don't touch it for 15 years, and see how that looks like, right? (applause)
ALVARENGASo, two things, the cookie cutter thing doesn't work. We have to be very attentive. We have to be -- know when we’re going into a community and say, this is exactly what this community needs. Let's figure it out and work it. The last thing I wanted to say, or the next thing I want to say real quick about the magnet program. So, I talk to a lot of parents, right. I don't spend a lot of times in board meetings or amongst other people that are into decision making. But I'm with a lot of people that are saying, hey, my kid doesn't want to go into this magnet program because they don't want to be pulled away from a school.
ALVARENGAA lot of parents believe that in a school district like ours, magnet programs should be in all the high schools. (applause) There's no reason why kids should be taken away and bused away. There's a lot of parents that don't have the economic resources to be busing or taking their kids to other schools. And when you put that burden, there's a lot of great kids out here that could be taking advantage of programs, but they can't, because the system is not designed for them to win. So, we need better programs in all of our schools.
NNAMDIGot to get back to members of the community who are here. I'm going to ask you to try to make your comments or questions as brief as possible, because time, of course, is of the essence. But you, sir, are next.
BRIAN KRAMERSo, my name's Brian Kramer. I'm a senior at Northwood. Almost done. Just three more months. And I lead the Association for the Advancement of Maryland Public Schools, which is a student-led advocacy group throughout the state of Maryland. And so I'll come out and say we supported a Ananya's resolution. We support school diversity, and we support redrawing boundaries. Because, frankly, my personal experiences -- and I'll just preface this by saying I'm from Charles County, originally. I grew up in Waldorf, and I went to a high-poverty school that was not diverse. It was not socioeconomically diverse, it was not racially diverse.
BRIAN KRAMERAnd you had, because of how the boundaries were drawn -- where I lived, I went to that school, and as somebody who is in poverty still, and was then, I was essentially isolated in that community that was high-poverty and was not diverse. And then, across the street, people would go to a different school that was low-poverty. They got more resources, more books. And so what I like about this resolution is it takes a look at the county, and it says, you know, if the consultants agree, let's redraw the boundaries. This is how, this is why.
BRIAN KRAMERAnd it takes a whole look at the whole system, instead of doing gradual changes. And it incorporates diversity racially and socioeconomically, which is important not only for, you know -- obviously, it looks good on paper. But when it comes to students like me who are in poverty -- concentrated poverty, completely -- it's not good. It's not good for schools, it's not good for communities.
NNAMDIByron Johns, director of the Parents Council NAACP, what do you want to say?
BYRON JOHNSHi. I just wanted to bring a context for this conversation. One of the things that seems to be lost, this isn't a new issue. I mean, this issue started, as Ananya pointed out, back from '54, with the Board and Brown, it took the Board six years to desegregate. We had two dual systems, one for colored, and one for white, in this county, and people often forget that. And the rooted -- when you look forward to the practices, boundaries were exactly how the de facto segregation was maintained. We were never under court order to desegregate in Montgomery County.
BYRON JOHNSAnd so, as a result, we can even go back -- I looked at a study Harvard did in '94, 24 years ago, and it lays out exactly these same issues of how the lack of bussing was going to prevent the actual access for minority and less-advantaged students to have advantage. The other thing I would point out, it's not only about the resources that the school provides. It's also the parents and the quality of teachers. The reality is, when you have a high educational load -- meaning a very high density of lots of socioeconomic issues -- the more experienced teachers migrate from those schools to more advantaged populations.
BYRON JOHNSAs long as that continues, the quality of teaching that students in disadvantaged schools will have is going to be less. And so, if we're talking about closing the achievement and opportunity gap, we've got to -- it's a multifaceted problem that's going to take many, many issues.
NNAMDILet me just talk to another student. (applause) Michael Solomon, this is not the first time Montgomery County has taken a look at school diversity. You attend school in one of MCPS's consortia areas in the Downcounty and Northeast parts of the county, that allows students the flexibility to choose among a number of different high schools. The history of the consortia is relevant to the school diversity issue. Can you explain what you've learned?
MICHAEL SOLOMONSure. So, I'm the co-president and co-founder of Montgomery County Students for Change, which is a student advocacy group here in the county. And when we decided that we wanted to take a look at this issue of not just diversity, but the achievement gap in our schools, in our research and in our readings, we found the problematic history of the development of consortiums in our county. They were decided to be made in the late 1990s.
MICHAEL SOLOMONI go to school in one of those consortiums. I'm a student at Spring Brook High School. And there are two of them right now. There's the Northeast Consortium and the Downcounty Consortium. When those two consortiums were decided to be built, they were initially supposed to include Sherwood High School in the Northeast Consortium and Bethesda Chevy Chase High School in the Downcounty Consortium. And what's important to remember about this is that one of the intentions, one of the goals of these consortiums was to actually combat the achievement gap and promote diversity in those consortia schools.
MICHAEL SOLOMONWhat ended up happening is that neither Sherwood High School or Bethesda Chevy Chase High School (applause), two very advantaged schools, ended up being included in these consortiums. And so what you have now is students like me, who are in these confined areas with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged and minority students who are not getting the same quality of access.
MICHAEL SOLOMONAnd one more thing, I'll keep it brief. In, I believe, 2014 the county Office of Legislative Oversight published a study revisiting that decision to build those consortiums and whether or not it actually met that goal of combating the achievement gap and increasing diversity in our schools. And what it found is that by confining these minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students to these areas, it actually did the worst, and both of those things have drastically gotten worse. (applause)
NNAMDII'm losing control of this crowd here. (laugh)
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERThank you. Thank you for hosting this. Thank you everyone, and thank you, Board of Education. When we talk about the history, and we talk about where we're going, we really have to accept there are a couple of fundamental things that should be part of the study. And that is in 1982, we had a anti-busing ward. And so the last time this work was done, it as done with the Civil Rights Commission, the Maryland Rights Commission actually recommending that the US Civil Rights Commission come and relook at what was done with the establishment of the consortia, because there was a disproportionate impact. They found it was just not right.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERThere was a letter to Regan, which stopped that, but this -- it's not that we're starting from a clean slate. We're starting from a slate that was designed to segregate. And as Byron mentioned, I mean, there were reports that told us back in the '90s that if we did go on as we were, we would end up with a gap. Thank you. (applause)
NNAMDIThank you. You, sir.
SCOTT SCHNEIDERMy name's Scott Schneider, and I'm a parent of two graduates of MCPS, both of whom were bused to a school in the neighboring neighborhood. But what I wanted to point out is we're talking about history and Montgomery County has a long history of redlining. And as a result, we have these segregated neighborhoods, and as a result, our schools are segregated. And, in fact, they're more segregated now than they were 30 years ago. So, the question is, what do we do about that?
SCOTT SCHNEIDERAnd it seems like the only way you solve that problem, since people are not going to be moving, is either through boundary changes or through busing. And I think boundary changes is the much more rational and sensible way to think about this problem. We went through -- I was on the Boundary Committee for Blair High School, when the new Blair High School was openedHigh School when the new Blair High School was open. And it's not easy, but I think it's very important. And I think it's important for all the reasons that were put before us. Thank you. (applause)
NNAMDIThank you very much. Now, sir, your turn.
WILLIAM HENLEYHello. My name's William Henley. I'm an 8th grader at Farquhar Middle School, and at that school, there's, like, around 30 kids per class. So, I think that may be leading to the growth of the achievement gap, because the teachers aren't able to have, like, very many one-on-ones with students to actually give them the help they need.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. (applause) Let's talk to a teacher, Michael Williams. You've taught in a few different high schools in Montgomery County. Some of them are more affluent schools. You're now at Kennedy High School. What are the differences you've seen in terms of the resources that have been available to you and to your students?
MICHAEL WILLIAMSThank you, Kojo. First, I want to start off by giving props to our students for (applause) breaking down doors in order to force people to look at the opportunity gap. I'm also appreciative of folks who are really calling it out like it is. I mean, this is an issue of race and class, and I'm glad that we're not afraid to confront it. (applause) But I do want to give a sneak preview into the life of a teacher.
MICHAEL WILLIAMSI used to teach at Walter Johnson High School. I now am the department chair for social studies at Kennedy High School. It is a school with a high number of FARMs, which is an indicator of poverty and a high number of English-language learners. All of the schools that have high numbers of English-language learners have a higher number of students who do not pass these HSA or these standardized tests. They then are subject to take these bridge projects. Those bridge projects are not something that just affects the students. So, then the teachers have to find time on their own in their own planning periods to work with students individually, which takes away from planning for the class.
MICHAEL WILLIAMSI have amazing students at Kennedy High School. We've got some amazing teacher at Kennedy High School, but we're constantly stretched thin by a lot of things that affect the opportunity gap, or that are examples of the opportunity gap manifesting itself, which is going to mean that we are not able to do as well in the classroom for our students. Just to give some numbers, I spoke to my peer at Walter Johnson High School, and he told me this past year, they had five students. And when I told him that we had 110 students with bridge projects, he nearly fell on the floor. (applause)
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us. And you mentioned FARMs. That's free and reduced meals. You, ma'am, are next.
TAMMY SHEPHERD ARCHIEHello. My name is Tammy Shepherd Archie, and I am a parent who came out of Twinbrook Elementary School. The issue with this consortium thing, why isn't there a consortium in the neighborhood I live in? Where I live, I do not have school choice. And now I'm a homeschooler, because I got fed up with all the issues with bullying in the schools, the issue with children teaching in classrooms in the elementary school.
NNAMDI(overlapping) What would it take to get you -- what would it take...
WILLIAMSWe need to end monolinguism. We need to end monolinguism. I sent my children to a French emergent school in Merryville, but I had to commute, and I had to commute to all of those other school choices.
NNAMDIWell, what would it take for you to get you and your children back into Montgomery County Public Schools, now that you're homeschooling?
ARCHIEI don't know that I would.
NNAMDIShebra Evans, what do you think will change that?
EVANSWe're making changes now. We are trying to make certain that we heard from our students that, you know, when they go into the advanced placement classes, when they go and take the international baccalaureate courses, that they don't see children that look like them. We're trying to be intentional and make certain with our equal opportunity schools that we are reaching out to students who are typically not in those AP and IV classes.
EVANSIn the 2017-2018 school year, out of the 6,000 students that took AP and IV courses, 4,000 of them were students that typically did not take them. So, we're just trying to make certain that we're not only having staff get the training and our counselors have the training to be able to identify those students, but we really are making a conscious effort. Are we where we could be? Are we the best? Are we perfect? Absolutely not, but we're always continuously striving to improve and to do better for our students.
EVANSI have two students here in Montgomery Public School system. I would not be on the school board if I did not believe in the school system. I have a child that is 12 years old in the 7th grade at Argyle Magnet Middle School. I have a daughter that is 16 years old in the 10th grade at John F. Kennedy High School. I went to one of the highest poverty schools here in Montgomery County, a Title One school, Harmony Hills Elementary School. And could I have taken my kids out of that school? Absolutely, I could've. But no, based on my upbringing, I believe that we are all here to help each other to bring our kids along. This is why I'm here on the school board.
EVANSYou know, you don't often have voices that are represented (applause) in this county on the school board. I'd like to say one more thing. Ms. Odessa Shannon, she was the first African American woman to be on the school board. She's probably going to kill me, but she is in her 90s. And I just want to tell you, she was on the school board over 37 years ago. When you believe in the struggle, when you believe in the fight, you just don't stop. She will be doing this until the day she dies. I do believe that. All the things that she's done from the time she was on the school board up until now have impacted our children's lives in a positive way. So, all I'm saying is we all can't do this alone, you know. (applause) We need your help.
NNAMDIThank you very much. The struggle that I'm having right now is to try to get everybody to be brief. So, what I'm going to do is for those people who are still lined up at the mics, I'm going to ask you to try to keep your statements to 30 seconds. And I'm going to go to you one after the other. You were first, sir.
SPEAKERSure. Thank you for having us. Unfortunately, this resolution today is incomplete and a bit deceptive. It seems to me that the real resolution here at play seems to be how best to counter de facto segregation and create more socioeconomic equilibrium. And somehow, school boundaries have come into the equation. My question is, why today, when a county with so many resources, is the school board fixated on reengineering communities as the means to close the bridge gap? I would think that there were other alternatives that the county has looked at, so that all students increase the achievement gap, rather than condensing it from the top to the bottom.
NNAMDIHold your response. You have one next. You, sir.
JOHN SILKYSure. Hi. My name is John Silky. I'm a parent at East Silver Spring, and you talk about Potomac or Bethesda. Let's talk about right here. I want to talk about three schools. One has 240 out of 660 white students at a K-2 school. Another has 270 out of 623 students at a 3-5 school. And a third school has 79 at a 539 white students, all within a mile of one another. All of them four-star schools. One of them -- two of them have magnet programs. You can imagine which one doesn't. And so, at the very least, if we're going to look at boundaries of schools, let's look at schools that are within the same community and make sure all schools within that community equally represent the community members that are there.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. (applause) Shebra Evans, we just heard about the concept of community schools. Is the issue of diversity, is that compatible with community schools? Because, as we heard in the case of Twinbrook Elementary, people just wanted to be close to their schools. How do you manage -- or how can the board manage to, if possible, merge those two principles, community schools and diversity?
EVANSYou know what? In some cases, we do that already in terms of the support that we provide to our schools, to our families. So, you can do that. I don't know about -- I'll include the voice of one of our other school board members. I don't know if Pat O'Neill has something that she would like to add to that, but I don't see where...
EVANS...that poses a problem for us.
O'NEILLThey're not exclusive. I think that we need to make sure that every school has what they need in terms of great teachers, great curriculum, great programs. It will be a challenge with the competing interests of balancing diversity and the desire for many for community schools. It is a challenge.
NNAMDII know we have a representative here from the Montgomery County Education Association. Would you raise your hand, please? Oh, there you go. What do you feel about the idea of community schools and diversity?
CHRIS LLOYDSo, we know that...
LLOYDYes. So, we know that economic and housing policy creates the communities from which our young scholars attend schools. I think we're using the term community schools just to be like that's the geographic draw, but in terms of a larger perspective, community schools include wraparound services, culturally relevant curriculum, restorative justice and restorative practices. Those community schools exist right now in this country. We have zero of those. That's something we need to do right away, because we know that's how we address the achievement gap. (applause)
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. Your turn.
SPEAKERThank you for having this program. I am a product of MCPS, and I have four children now in Montgomery County Public School systems. I went to Montgomery Blair High School in the very first year they offered the magnet program, and I graduated from Spring Brook High School. But I didn't move back to that district. When I moved, I moved to Churchill's district. Why did I do that, you know? Because I'm looking at SAT prep. I'm looking at my kids' ability to take the AP exams and be successful. I'm looking at resources.
SPEAKERI have three jobs right now, so I can't afford a private tutor for my kids still, but I know my neighbors can. And I know the teachers want to be there. The teachers aren't overworked. So, is everybody going to self-bus, like I did, their four kids into Churchill school district? And is there rental unit availability in Churchill and Walt Whitman school systems? I don't know.
NNAMDIThank you very much. (applause) Thank you. Your turn, ma'am.
SPEAKERYou can't end this meeting without hearing from a very irate Wooten High School parent. It's outrageous that Wooten High School was built in 1970. It's overcrowded. There are 2,300 students. It is literally crumbling. How many of you three have been to tour Wooten High School? You're failing us. Have you seen the wretched, horrific conditions? Literally, pieces are falling down from the ceiling. Literally, there are leaks. There's lead in the water. There's asbestos.
SPEAKERAnd somehow, it was ripped out of the budget for this year when it was scheduled -- it was scheduled in 1990, originally, I believe. And it's ridiculous that we're paying these high taxes, and I'm all for diversity. My parents are first...
NNAMDI(overlapping) But it is my unders...
SPEAKER...I am first generation. My father was a war refugee. My husband is from a different country. He came here with $600. So, don't say that, oh, we shouldn't get any money because we're wealthy, so we shouldn't have anything. It's not true. And a lot of my neighbors are like that, too. (applause) It's outrageous. You're failing us.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Wooten High School has the reputation of being one of the famous, or infamous, W schools...
SPEAKERIt's resting on its laurels. It has a very good reputation of resting on its laurels.
NNAMDIWe have someone who said Northwood High School is in the same position. Obviously, we won't be able to solve that problem tonight. We can solve the problem of having you speak, though, so go right ahead. You, sir. (applause)
SPEAKERJust like to touch a little more on interschool diversity. So, Ms. Navarro, you mentioned the expansion of programs like IB to more schools. And I think that's a good idea. It's just that, as another student mentioned, the programs are not very diverse. My school is 7 percent white, yet there are a lot more white students in IB classes than there would be, normally. So, my question being, what resources are you going to provide with this expansion to make sure that these students can get the support they need?
NNAMDIIs this a question you can answer before a study is conducted?
NNAMDIWell, go right ahead.
EVANS...I think I'll point to the work around the middle schools. Twenty of our middle schools expanded their course offerings for rigorous course options to students. And a lot more students and diversity of students, representation of the student bodies at their local schools are taking those courses now, because we have localized them. We have opened options at their school. And when you open those options at schools, lo and behold, students are seeking rigor, they're seeking courses that are of interest to them and that are rigorous. And we have a lot more students taking those kind of courses when we provide them locally.
SPEAKERA lot of us hear about achievement gaps. So, there's a lot of research that talks about ACEs, which is adverse childhood experiences. So, our schools are not trauma informed. It's a problem. When you say, sir, gracias -- so, I have a French accent, but that's from immigration, because I'm on the right side of immigration, I guess. So, the thing is that our communities are absolutely rich, so why can't we reach there in their richness? So, I would like to ask you guys to define diversity.
SPEAKERI have schools that people tell me they're diverse. It's 99 percent Latinos. How can you be diverse, then? How is it that my kids go to an emergent program, how come there's no bilingual programs there at those schools? How come if you want to bus kids to schools that don't want them, how are you going to make them feel safe? If you don't feel safe, you don't learn. If you're not trauma informed and you don’t take into consideration all the history of your students -- and I am talking homeless, historical trauma, I'm talking immigration journey -- I'm only representing 27,000 ESO students in this county. So, I'm saying if you want to do the achievement gap, please look at trauma-informed practices. (applause)
NNAMDIMichael Williams, you said earlier that this is a discussion that has to look at race and class in the face and discuss it. Years ago, you founded something called the Minority Scholars Program, clearly intended to address those issues. (applause) We had a graduate of that program on our broadcast recently, but can you tell us what the program is and why you think it matters?
WILLIAMSYeah, the Minority Scholars Program is a student-driven initiative aimed at tackling the opportunity gap. It is based around the concept of student voice, student leadership and student activism. And it has grown like wildfire. And we've been pretty much doing it on our own time and our own dime as a collection of students and staff members to help positively impact the schools and our communities. But can I seed this?
NNAMDIYeah, because we have a few Minority Scholars here tonight. Would one of you raise your hand and tell me what your experience being an MSB has been like? Your name?
AMBRIANA MCDONALDOh, Ambriana McDonald. I'm a senior at Walt Whitman High School. I guess these past couple years, I will be honest, I'm from Walt Whitman. This conversation wouldn't be even happening in Bethesda. It's a predominantly white neighborhood, and I am probably one of two minority students in a majority of my classes. These past two years, I myself and many of my friends have faced racial prejudices. Some kids have been called the N-word. We previously had a black student union assembly. And that same day, there was an Instagram post made, when Walt Whitman has a Black History Month Assembly, but there's no black students.
AMBRIANA MCDONALDAnd MSP is so important to me, because it's so personal. If I had known what I know now, I would've transferred from Whitman. There's no amount of equity and wealth that that school can provide me from what has left me with trauma. Because those students are not exposed to diversity, and because of their wealth and Whitman being a predominantly white environment, they do not care and don't have to talk about race. They don't have to be worried about if a police officer will come up to them. They don't have to worry about those kind of things.
AMBRIANA MCDONALDSo, MSP is so important to me, because it provided me with a safe environment that Whitman never did. It provided me with family. It provided me with sisterhood, brotherhood. It provided me with a voice that I never knew that I had. (applause)
NNAMDICan we hear it for all of our students here tonight? (applause) Yes, you rock. We've heard a lot, tonight. Thank you all for showing up and participating. We hope you'll continue to engage with us on this topic. This conversation is part of a series of events marking my 20th year on air at WAMU, getting out of the studio, talking about issues affecting this region. And we hope you will join us for some of those future Kojo Roadshows. Next up, arts and gentrification in Washington, DC, next month. You can find more information at KojoShow.org/20.
NNAMDIBefore we go this evening, we'd like to say thank you to the Silver Spring Civic Building for hosting tonight's program. (applause) Thank you to our wonderful engineers, our superstar volunteers, the Kojo Show team, marketing and events, and to the rest of our colleagues at WAMU for taking this show on the road. We're especially grateful to WAMU's General Manager J.J. Yore, as well as Andi McDaniel and Diane Hockenberry for their support.
NNAMDIKojo 20 is presented by Chase. Thanks to VP of Global Philanthropy Dekonti Mends-Cole for being with us this evening. And thanks to everyone for coming out. Please give yourselves a warm round of applause. (applause)
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