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Oct. 19, 2008

MCPS Community Forum held at Einstein High School

by Rose Wynn, Online Sports Editor
Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) staff, students, parents and community members appeared before six members of the Board of Education (BOE) Wednesday evening at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington to raise awareness about specific issues to be considered for the 2010 MCPS budget. With the economy in a downward spiral, the focus of the forum was to suggest ways in which MCPS could improve student achievement without spending more money.

Speakers from schools throughout the county confronted the board on a variety of issues, such as the differentiation of learning material for students with disabilities, parent involvement, environmentally friendly energy sources and discipline policies. Groups such as the Least Restrictive Environment Access Group and Identity spoke before the board to communicate their specific wishes for disabled and Latino students, respectively. Latino leaders from Identity spoke of their deprived childhoods of drug abuse, poverty, unprotected sex at early ages, a lack of education and inconsistent parental support in order to encourage MCPS to continue support for these specialized groups.

Because of the variety of specific student programs like these, the event was targeted toward a wide audience. Earphones were available for those who wished to hear speeches translated in Spanish, and students from eighth to twelfth grade in schools throughout the Downcounty Consortium participated. Aggie Alvez, an event coordinator from the Office of Communication and Family Outreach, emphasized the importance of this diversity and openness. "We try to make it very accessible," Alvez said. "It's a chance for people to let the board know about resource priorities, and they look for everyone's input."

Blair social studies resource teacher George Vlasits attended the forum in an effort to call attention to the issue of increasing class sizes, a problem viewed as extremely significant by both Vlasits and other members of the community. "When I entered the teaching profession 45 years ago, the one maxim that was almost universally accepted was that reducing class size was critical if we were to improve education," Vlasits said in his statement to the board. "Many fads in education have come and gone in the last 45 years, but, as far as I can see, this is one tenet that has stood the test of time."

Sue Katz Miller, writer of a school column for the Takoma Park-based Takoma Voice, brought up the lack of writing instruction in early education, which she believed fails to prepare students for future AP and IB classes. Vlasits attributed this problem to crowded classrooms. "A teacher would be overwhelmed with grading essays from 150-plus students," he said.

Many of the forum's attendees, such as Mary Griffin, representative for the BCC cluster of MCPS, and BOE member Sharon Cox, appreciated Vlasits's comments on the increasing number of students per classroom. "We try to put resources in those initiatives, and it is especially gratifying to hear from people like Vlasits who are in the classroom everyday," Cox said.

BOE President Nancy Navarro also recognized the issue as significant. "Class size is definitely a big-ticket item," she said.

BOE members agreed that the forum was a success, especially due to the participants' thoughtful ideas and enthusiasm. BOE Vice President Shirley Brandman appreciated the selfless manner in which speakers communicated their issues. "It was really about where we as a county need to go - as a collective effort," she said.

Navarro pointed to an increase in student participation over the last three years as a factor in the forum's success. "It's amazing how many more students participate," she said. "That is absolutely the way it should be."

Navarro also appreciated the courage of Latino students from Identity in revealing their troubled pasts. "I absolutely love the fact that we have members of the Latino community to express themselves," she said.

Vlasits also commended the Identity representatives. "They were very heartfelt presentations," he said.

While Vlasits's accomplished his personal goal to publicize his experience with swelling class sizes, he understood that BOE has many hurdles ahead. "They have a lot of really difficult decisions to make," he said. "And they need to be made [while considering] the best situation for students."



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