Three seats on Board of Education to be refilled in 2009


Feb. 10, 2008, midnight | By Charles Kong | 12 years, 9 months ago

Top two candidates for each seat will advance to general election


Montgomery County voters will cast their ballots in the Board of Education primary election on Feb. 12, narrowing the field of five candidates in the At-Large race to just two. Two other seats - for District Two and District Four - are also up for election but will bypass the primary as there are two or fewer candidates running in each race. Students who will turn 18 on or before Nov. 4 will be able to vote in accordance with recently passed legislation.

Candidates Carey Apple, Phil Kauffman, Tommy Le, Alies Muskin and Rob Seubert are running for the At-large seat; Stephen Abrams and Laura Berthiaume are running for the District Two seat; Christopher Barclay is running unopposed for the District Four seat.

Montgomery County is divided into five districts, each represented by an elected member of the Board, Student Member of the Board (SMOB) Ben Moskowitz said. Two additional members fill the At-Large seat and represent the entire county. Members of the Board serve four-year terms, and elections are staggered every two years, according to Moskowitz.

The recently formed Montgomery County Student Government Political Action Committee (MCSGPAC) has already endorsed one candidate in each race: Alies Muskin, Laura Berthiaume and Christopher Barclay, according to MCR-SGA President Ben Elkind. "All three reflected a commitment to working with students," he said. "They have great individual merits, are highly intelligent and have an underlying commitment to progressive values." The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) also endorsed these candidates, according to Moskowitz.

The Board of Education is the policy-making body of the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) system, according to Moskowitz. It is responsible for hiring the Superintendent of Schools, approving and allocating a $2.1 billion dollar budget and hearing appeals, according to Vice President of the Board Shirley Brandman.

The Board works hand-in-hand with the state legislature, actively looking for bills that support our education. Its members spend time reviewing correspondence from constituents, examining data and attending meetings and public forums, Moskowitz said.

The upcoming election is especially crucial for students, who are most affected by the outcome. "There is not a government entity that has more of an impact on our daily lives than the Board of Education," Moskowitz said. "It's extremely important that the entire school Board be held accountable by us as students, citizens and voters."

Brandman urges citizens to participate in the elections. "Voters should select those candidates who they feel will provide appropriate oversight, who will be responsive to community concerns and who are willing to put in the time and energy to serve effectively...with a strong commitment to the success of every student," she said.


Current Occupation: Technical recruiter of Tandem Search Group of E.G. Jones Associates

Political Experience: Vice President of Wexford Homeowner's Association; Community Advisory Board, District Five

Photo: Photo courtesy of Carey Apple.

Carey Apple is running in the Board of Education race for the first time, but he has seen the Board work with the PTSA and its constituents. He says that his views regarding school policy are similar to the views of Montgomery County citizens.

Apple's biggest concern with MCPS is that the current school boundaries are inadequately drawn. "Our neighborhood is located near Clarksburg High School, but the Board says we have to be bused to Seneca Valley High School," he says. "It seems that some of the boundaries were gerrymandered to meet certain statistical averages." He proposes urging the school Board to redistrict the schools so that students would go to the closest school.

Apple believes that overcrowding is another problem, partly as a result of the current boundary issues and partly because of busing issues. He insists that MCPS should plan ahead to address the problem. "We should know where buildings are built ahead of time," he says.

Apple supports the use of household data to know the number of homes in each district and the average number of children in each home. This way, MCPS can plan to build a school large enough to handle the load and also ensure that there are enough classrooms and teachers, he says.


Current Occupation: Deputy Assistant General Counsel, Department of Veterans Affairs

Political Experience: Former area Vice President of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, Northeast Consortium and Sherwood Cluster; former coordinator of Blake Cluster; former president of Farquhar Middle School Parent Teacher Association; Chair of MCCPTA High School Committee member, MCCPTA Grading and Reporting Committee; and member of numerous MCPS committees, including School Improvement Plans, Boundary Advisory, School Naming, Principal and Community Superintendent Selection and Curriculum Advisory at the elementary, middle and high school level.

Photo: Photo courtesy of Phil Kauffman.

After a loss to current President of the Board Nancy Navarro in the 2006 Board of Education general election for the District Five seat, Phil Kauffman is now running for the At-Large seat, and is confident his personal experiences make him a well-qualified candidate.

As a father of two recent MCPS graduates, Kauffman believes he has learned from his children's experiences as students; as a husband of a MCPS teacher, he thinks he understands the challenges the staff face; and as a long-term PTSA activist, he has worked with various communities, school leaders and stakeholder groups and says he understands their concerns about how best to meet the needs of all students.

Kauffman assures that his education in economics will help him manage the budget. His position as an attorney allows him to understand the process of making policy and providing due process rights in appeals, according to Kauffman. The perspectives of his constituents are important to him as well. "I believe in listening to the views of all parties, treating people with respect and trying to build consensus," he says.

Kauffman's most urgent priority is middle school reform. "The gains resulting from the initiatives implemented in elementary schools are at risk if middle schools are not strengthened," he explains. He favors a strong, content-rich curriculum where teachers use their time to teach instead of grading unnecessary tests. He agrees with extended-day learning opportunities and after-school programs that provide students with additional reading, writing and mathematics instruction.

Kauffman's second priority is parent and community outreach. He states that there is a correlation between actively involved parents and successful students, and therefore supports efforts such as the new Parent Academy to increase parent involvement. He believes the Board of Education should listen to all community members and understand the challenges that face families and students. "We need an open communication between parents, teachers and administrations that value the perspectives offered by each of these stakeholders," Kauffman says. As a solution, he would arrange regular town meetings for the Board so members can hear concerns directly from the community.


Current Occupation: Senior Project Manager Engineer of Federal Government Nuclear Reactor Commission

Political Experience: Community activist; citizen advisory council for MCPS; engineering instructor for Montgomery College education technology; member of citizen advisory board for Montgomery County; Montgomery County Public Library advisory council; member and vice chair of MC board of electrical examiner; member of PTSA; chair of cultural minority of MCPL

Photo: Photo courtesy of Tommy Le.

Two years ago, Tommy Le lost to current member of the Board Shirley Brandman in the general election, but this year he believes his unique knowledge from his science background makes him an excellent candidate for the At-Large seat. Le is familiar with the world of technology, which he thinks will help him make changes in the MCPS curriculum in science and math. He also encourages MCPS to explore the techniques of school systems in other countries exceptional in math such as Singapore and Japan. Because Le has worked with professors, power plant workers and electricians, he believes that he can help MCPS plot the future for its students by bringing a view from the outside.

A major issue facing MCPS is the quality and efficiency of teachers, Le says. He believes that the current curriculum requires too many tests in order to graduate high school. He holds that if teachers spend more time focusing on the content of the curriculum, and if students are mastering the subject at hand, the number of tests a student takes will make no difference. "The teacher should deliver the lesson in such a way that the student can grab, understand and retain the information," he says. Le says he would ensure that teachers efficiently accomplish the goals and objectives of the curriculum.

Le is also concerned with the decline in students' personal accountability, especially with drugs and alcohol. For him, a viable approach to this problem would be to teach students morals at an early age. "We need to instill a sense of morality and good citizenship in the elementary level curriculum," he says. The vision he has in mind is a daily, thought-provoking proverb announced on each school's loudspeaker system.


Current Occupation: Chief Operating Officer for Anxiety Disorders Association of America

Photo: Photo courtesy of Alies Muskin.

Political Experience: Cluster coordinator for Einstein cluster; area Vice President of Blair, Einstein, Kennedy, Northwood clusters; Chair of High School Committee; Co-chair of Downcounty Consortium Committee; PTSA President of Einstein High School; Co-chair of the Johns Hopkins National Network of Partnership School at Einstein High School; planning committee member for the Conference on Designing High Schools for the Next Generation; member of High School Plus workgroup, Academic Eligibility workgroup and the Guidance Advisory Committee;

With more than 23 years of experience serving in nonprofit administrations, working with elected boards to advance organizations, overseeing governance and implementing change, Alies Muskin is confident that she possesses the qualities of a capable Board member. She believes that her participation in various leadership positions and membership on various committees has given her a perspective focused on the success of the students.

The first step in achieving this success is providing students with opportunities, Muskin says. "In recognizing that all students need to have opportunities, I founded the Einstein High School College Fair eight years ago," Muskin says. It is now the largest school fair in the county, attracting over 110 college representatives, according to Muskin. If elected to the Board, Muskin's primary focus will be on student achievement and plans to use multiple strategies to address it. "We must be ambitious and persistent in supporting students academically by engaging parents and forging partnerships with teachers, parents, staff, students and community groups," she says.

In fact, Muskin believes middle school and high school achievement is the most important goal for MCPS. "Middle school reform is essential because we can no longer afford to pass on middle school students who are not ready for high school," she states. "But for many students, high school is the last chance to establish a solid foundation for college and the workforce."

The number of students who are academically ineligible to participate in after-school activities is growing, according to Muskin. She says that national research suggests that ninth grade students failing two or more classes are at high risk for dropping out of school. Muskin hopes to increase the efforts to help them succeed through active communication between teachers, students and community groups.

Muskin also plans to improve the developmental and social support systems provided in schools. There are many problems that students are facing, including bullying, gang involvement, pregnancy and substance abuse, according to Muskin. "We must address these needs, assist students and families to find help and support, and train teachers, administrators and staff to cope with these stresses," she says. Muskin says she will strive to bring innovative approaches to schools, encouraging distribution of resources to all who need it.


Current Occupation: Loan officer for local mortgage company

Political Experience: Elected union representative of teacher union at Brook Grove Elementary School and Parkland Middle School; Grand Knight, ran local knights of Columbus (charity organization), elected MCEA delegate to attend convention

Photo: Photo courtesy of Rob Seubert.

Rob Seubert believes he posseses both the knowledge and commitment to be on the Board of Education. As a teacher and trainer in MCPS for 10 years, Seubert is confident that has a comprehensive understanding of the system. He insists that he is not a politician – instead he says he is an educator.

Seubert wants to restructure the time teachers spend with students in the classroom, as the current testing system is faulty. "A lot of time is taken for busy paperwork. Teachers have to administer the test, grade the tests and report the scores," he says. To increase efficiency, he would remove unnecessary tests, such as the Measures of Academic Progress-Reading (MAP-R).

If elected to the Board, he will use the time to focus on the curriculum content. "In the past teachers knew how students were doing," he says. "Now in a data driven society, numbers are needed to back everything up. These extra tests just create a lot of extra work."

Seubert looks to give the citizens of MCPS a voice. "A lot of times the Board of Education will have meetings open to the public so it seems like everyone has a say, but the truth is the big decision has already been made," he says. He plans to change this by including his colleagues and constituents in the decision making process.


Current Occupation: Attorney, Farthing and Farthing, P.C.

Political Experience: member of Board of Trustees for National Center for Children; President of Rockville branch of Friends of the Library; cluster coordinators for Rockville cluster MCPTA; delegate from Beall Elementary School MCPTA; member of Beall Elementary School PTSA

As a candidate with experience serving on multiple committees, Laura Berthiaume believes that she is a good listener and will always be open to other groups and perspectives. She brings a parent perspective to the race, which gives her a consumer's view of the school system, she says.

Communication between the school and the parent is paramount to a student's success, and Berthiaume believes that the current amount of interaction is not sufficient. If elected to the Board, she will look to promote the idea of open and constant communication. "I will make sure that everybody has a voice when it comes to making important decisions for the school system," she says.

In addition, Berthiaume would push for schools to continue handling and adapting to diversity. She says she is aware of the varied success rates in terms of academic performance of different socioeconomic and racial groups and will ensure that the county will be able to educate every child to his or her fullest potential. "We can bring a more focused and aggressive intervention to students who are having trouble in the classroom at an earlier age," Berthiaume says.


Current Occupation: Project Manager for Verizon

Political Experience: Cluster coordinator for Blair; NAACP parent representative; chaired nominating committee 2005-2006 for MCCPTA; member of Down County Consortium Base Area study committee; Deputy Superintendent, Committee on Gifted and Talented

Photo: Photo courtesy of Christopher Barclay.

Filling the District 4 seat for Valerie Ervin when she was elected to the County Council, Christopher Barclay is now running in his first Board of Education race. Barclay is very concerned about the achievement gap. MCPS is accountable to the citizens, parents, students and staff, and must ensure that all students have access to a quality curriculum, he says. He believes that the school system should continue to focus on how to support disadvantaged students, while also ensuring that students who are proficient have their needs met. "We need to meet the needs of all students, and we need a conscientious Board to ask the right questions," Barclay says.

While Barclay does support initiatives to improve student performance, he sees the High School Assessments (HSAs) as a burden for graduating students, and thinks it presents a real challenge to each school. Although Barclay does not think that the HSAs should determine if someone can graduate, he recognizes that importance of preparing students for life after graduation. "These tests are not predictors of any kind of academic success," Barclay says. "But it's a requirement that could end up being an impediment to some students." For now, he urges the county to continue giving its support to students and communicate to parents that their children need to pass the test to graduate.

Barclay also believes that the Board needs a constantly working leader that is willing to dig into the issues that affect the county. "We need leaders that are willing to speak up and ask the difficult question, folks that are capable of working with all communities to ensure that the school system can provide excellence for everyone," he says, and asserts that he will fulfill these requirements if he is reelected.




Charles Kong. Charles Kong loves to play tennis. Actually, he likes to play sports in general. He tries not to procrastinate, but his success rate varies. He likes listening to music and using the computer, and loves Jackie Chan movies. He is super excited for Chips, even … More »

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