Commentary: Elected to the Board of Education

Dec. 18, 2006, midnight | By Jordan Fein | 17 years, 2 months ago

Shirley Brandman (At-Large) and Judy Docca (District 1) will join current Board of Education members Stephen Abrams (District 2), Patricia O'Neill (District 3) and Sharon Cox (At-Large), Student Member Sarah Horvitz, as well as Nancy Navarro, who was elected last month for the first time but appointed in 2004 to fill the District 5 seat.

Chris Barclay was also appointed this week to fill Valerie Ervin's District 4 seat. She resigned after she was elected to fill the District 5 seat on the Montgomery County Council.

In its next term, the Board has a long list of issues to address, such as eliminating the achievement gap, decreasing the number of portables, reducing gang activity, preparing for the High School Assessments (HSAs) and, perhaps most importantly, helping county schools, Blair included, to meet No Child Left Behind standards.

The following are condensed responses from Silver Chips interviews with Brandman and Docca via e-mail.

Judy Docca

Judy Docca, a Montgomery Village resident, has 38 years of experience in public schools. After receiving her B.A. in Romance Languages and Literature from Pennsylvania State University, she earned a M.A. in the same field and a Doctorate in Educational Administration from George Washington University.

Docca has served as a principal, foreign language teacher and central office administrator. Docca, who is black, Puerto Rican and Asian and fluent in Spanish and French, pledges to represent minority students.

Shirley Brandman

Shirley Brandman, mother of a ninth-grader and a fourth-grader in MCPS, is a former teacher and PTSA member.

She graduated summa cum laude from Yale University and then earned her J.D. at Yale Law School before acquiring an M.A. in Special Education and Learning Disabilities from American University.

Brandman, who lives in Bethesda, has advocated for Montgomery County students in the PTSA for 10 years and has testified before the Board of Education regarding budget and policy issues many times.

Question 1

The achievement gap between white and Asian students and black and Latino students is often considered a pervasive problem in public schools today. How will you address this issue?


I will seek policies or programs that will address these issues directly. We will need effective support programs in the schools, after school, on Saturdays and in the summer, if necessary, to address specific deficits. We have to continue to encourage parent and community groups to meet with parents to apprise them of honors or special programs which exist in MCPS. A more concerted effort may be needed to rectify this issue and to help us as a community to maximize the potential of all students.


We must be candid about the achievement gap in minority student performance and examine it school by school, class by class and student by student to determine the obstacles. Critical steps for the school system include: ensuring high expectations for all students regardless of race and culture, supporting multicultural training for teachers and staff to make classroom instruction relevant to all students, establishing greater connections through mentoring minority students, and removing unnecessary barriers to support motivated students.

Question 2

Beginning with the class of 2009, students will be required to pass all four HSAs or earn a minimum cumulative score. At Blair, only 3.2 percent of ESOL students passed the English 2 HSA last year. How should the county prepare students, especially ESOL and special needs students, for the tests?


The superintendent has produced a "white paper" (to me this is a trigger expression — white is good, black is bad as in blackball, blacklist, etc.) on the HSAs in which the Maryland State Department of Education is being requested to provide study guides, item analysis, better turnaround time and individual analysis for each student, in order to make the necessary corrections in instruction. We, as a Board, as a County Council and a State Delegation must join together to move the testing frenzy in another direction, one which does not injure students but enhances their ability to progress. The after-school and other support programs are short-term attempts at solving the problem. The superintendent has also requested accommodations for ESOL students and special education.


The school system must identify students in middle school who will need remediation and support to catch up and keep up. We must also ensure that we provide remedial instruction before and after school and during summers to all students identified as needing this support. We should create slots to fit the need rather than limit support by the number of slots available. In addition, the Board of Education should continue to advocate that HSAs serve as a measurement tool for school improvement — not a barrier to students' graduation at least until we have in place all the supports necessary to give students a chance to succeed in their schools. The Board should advocate for spring HSA test scores to be reported more quickly to allow students to enroll in summer school.

Question 3

There is gang graffiti on Blair's bathroom stalls, and gang violence involving students occurs throughout the Silver Spring community. Countywide, gangs, drugs and violence disrupt learning and harm many students. How should the Board address these problems?


We, as a society, need to provide engaging activities from 3 to 6 p.m. in which students may do a combination of studying with participation in arts, sports, music or other skill-building activities. Meetings with parents to help them to navigate the school system and the county system to their and their student's advantage should be part of the effort. The Board must also explore the possibilities of providing more activities for students and should work cooperatively with county agencies to effectively use resources. Board members have met with the Federal Task Force on Gang Activities and will continue to be involved in programs developed by members of Congress to combat gang activities.


To better ensure the physical safety of teachers and students will take a community effort. Working cooperatively with Health and Human Services, with neighborhood-based service providers like Identity and IMPACT and with our police, we must acknowledge these issues. First, many of our older school buildings offer ready access through doors that cannot be locked, and most of our portables lack a connection to the school's main communication system. These needs must be addressed. Second, we must engage school communities in dialogue about safety risks to acknowledge the threat of gangs. Solutions will involve better use of our buildings as after-school community centers where we offer safe activities.

Question 4

A September report from the MCPS Department of Shared Accountability revealed problems with the correct implementation of the county's grading and reporting policy and discontent with reteaching and reassessment. Teachers complained that students don't study for reassessable assignments and that they themselves don't always understand the guidelines. What should the Board do to address this issue?


Sometimes academics forget that they are prescribing testing and re-testing for youngsters who sometimes have a short attention span! I understand that some students may take advantage of reteaching and re-testing. It would take the entire community — teachers, students, administrators, parents, elected officials — to come together to inculcate a sense of honor and obligation for the few students who would take advantage of this policy. Reteaching is really the heart of this. Reteaching does not mean presenting the material again in the same way. It calls for teachers to reach into their considerable bag of tricks to present material to meet the varied modalities of learning — visual, tactile, auditory or all three together. This requires a commitment by students not to take advantage of the teacher's desire to reach mastery for students. Perhaps this is something the whole staff would be willing to tackle by themselves or with appropriate consultants.


The grading and reporting policy represented an enormous change in practice for our schools. Change of this magnitude requires much training as well as time to be implemented correctly. The critical issue is to focus on learning — this is the spirit of the policy. The Board should reinforce the message that the policy is designed to promote learning and to support all students to reach mastery. Reteaching practices were conceived so that students who do not grasp concepts or acquire skills are given additional opportunities to learn. Indeed, the Reteaching and Reassessment Procedure provides that opportunity for reteaching and relearning that may continue even when regrading does not. Similarly, by requiring students to complete additional learning activities in order to be eligible for reassessments, the procedures reinforce the emphasis on learning. The Board should continue to periodically review the implementation of the grading and reporting policy to ensure that these goals are consistently being met.

Jordan Fein. Jordan Fein is a magnet senior (woot!) who is enamored of politics and journalism. He is very politically active and enjoys talking politics with whomever is willing. Politics, politics, politics. He is looking forward to his second year of writing on Silver Chips and especially … More »

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