Montgomery County Board of Education, At Large – Jill Ortman-Fouse

1. What experience uniquely qualifies you for this position?

I work hard for efficient, common sense solutions, and I have a proven track record of success. I believe in building bridges with those who are committed to achieving the best outcomes for our kids and our county, and have worked together with teams of students, parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials on myriad school issues over the last 10 years in many different roles on the community, county, state and national level.

My positions in school service include PTA president, Instructional Improvement Team member and MCCPTA delegate. I was also appointed to the MCPS Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and have chaired several school PTA committees. As a member of the PAC, I sat on principal training panels, was a workshop facilitator and conducted welcoming environment surveys for schools, all with the goal of empowering families in their students’ education.

I also participated in the MCPS Study Circles program and have served on a national committee focused on schools as centers of community. When grassroots mobilization was necessary to get resources and affect policy for our local schools, I have helped form coalitions and ad-hoc groups to push for better outcomes. I’ve spent most of my adult life committed to making a difference with my career and in my community work, including serving as a full-time volunteer for Habitat for Humanity building homes in Central America and the U.S., on the board of our local YMCA and as president of my neighborhood association. I enjoy taking on challenges and I don’t give up, attributes that helped me complete an ironman-distance triathlon last year. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves, and collaborating with our residents for the brightest future for all Montgomery County’s students.

2. The achievement gap has been a never ending issue for Montgomery County. How do you propose finally closing it?

I believe Montgomery County could and should be a model for the nation, and yet so many of our disadvantaged kids and children of color are falling through the cracks.

We know many of the barriers to success in Montgomery County and have been talking about them for years. I was appointed to the MCPS Parent Advisory Council in 2008 and served as a member and an alumni until 2012. We hosted myriad workshops and made recommendations regarding language (jargon and non-native), service, expectations, support and policies to help decrease these barriers.

Still those barriers persist. Still there are waiting lists of struggling students who want extra support. Still students don’t have access to places to study and use computers after school.

We know small class sizes; healthy, adequate school facilities; challenging all students with high expectations; and keeping experienced teachers in our highest needs schools play a role in closing the achievement gap. But we are not meeting those goals. More than 30 years of research says family engagement leads to better educational outcomes for children. But at the largest high school in the county with the largest cohort of Hispanic students, no one in the front office speaks Spanish. We have a middle school actually successfully narrowing the achievement gap with a modified 8-period schedule (rotating classes that do not increase the length of the school day), which allows for additional class time for reading and math for the highest-risk students, additional arts electives, and much needed additional planning time for teachers, yet MCPS wants all schools to follow the same 7–period schedule. Teachers responding to MCPS’s own task force on Alternative Programs for students mostly likely to fail declared that a 7-period schedule does not work for all students, and students said electives were important for engagement.

I believe we must listen to parents, teachers and administrators in our schools. We must respond based on the unique needs, population, environment and history of each school. Without that flexibility we cannot adequately serve the wide spectrum of learning levels present in so many of our classrooms. We need to find more ways for our school system to say yes.

Finally, we must make the achievement gap a budget priority. Recently, MCPS proposed that the County Executive’s budget did not include the full supplemental funding for MCPS. MCPS responded that this shortfall would jeopardize initiatives to attack the gap. If the gap is indeed a priority, funds would be shifted to attack the gap first – not be the first to go. The school system budget must stand behind the values it purports – which include “equity.”

3. What are your positions/attitudes on Curriculum 2.0 and the Common Core?

The intent of Common Core to establish consistent standards across the country for competency on core subjects, and to strengthen literacy and encourage critical thinking and problem solving, is worthy, but the rollout has been a disaster. Teachers throughout the country including Montgomery County have been caught unprepared to a surprising degree receiving curriculum two weeks or less before they are expected to teach it, resources that are inaccessible and not fully developed, and too little professional training to understand the new standards and how to teach to them. And the enormous time suck of constant assessment restricts time to actually teach.

Our children have been part of a large scale educational experiment without the critical scaffolding that is essential to curriculum success. In addition, the high-stakes testing that ties a teacher’s evaluation to their students’ test scores is about the worst idea that could possibly have come from school reform. It’s a disincentive for experienced teachers to go to or stay at schools where disadvantaged students need them most.

We must create opportunities for more professional development and planning time for teachers, and the capacity to share and create readily accessible resources for teachers and parents.

4. What changes, if any, do you feel are necessary regarding physical education?

I am endorsed by the Whole Child Coalition because of my strong belief that we can’t ignore the critical physical, emotional, social and mental support necessary for our students’ development. For better health outcomes for our children we must make regular exercise an essential part of our children’s education. And I believe the more opportunities we give our children to get outside, the better.
5. How do you balance the budget while reducing class size and renovating facilities?
First, I would work closely with our state delegation for state funding for school construction. Currently we receive 12% of the funding but we have 17% of the state’s students. I testified in support of increasing funding before the House Appropriations Committee. I do strategic planning for organizations and believe we need to do a thorough evaluation of our programs to look for duplication, what’s working and what’s not working. We need to establish metrics to measure success of current and new efforts. Reducing class size should be a budget priority.

6. Are you satisfied with Montgomery County’s approach to special education and gifted and talented?

I am supported by Julie Reiley, who is the founder of the Maryland Coalition for Special Education Rights. I attended hearings in Annapolis and lobbied in support of shifting the burden of proof from parents to the school system in special education due process. I support enhancing collaboration between parents and the school system to achieve the best outcomes for our students. We must give our teachers the professional development necessary, and our schools the resources required, to meet every child’s needs.
The term “gifted and talented” has been a conversation stopper. We must meet our students’ needs at their level, and provide acceleration in order to keep our students engaged. We have a highly educated population, and 14 federal agencies and top-rated research facilities are here. For our county’s future, we must ensure we have a well-qualified workforce, and prepare our students well for any path they choose.

7. Are students getting adequate arts education?

I spent the last year helping build a coalition to save a school schedule that protected arts education electives. As I stated previously, I believe in whole child education. Arts allow students to make new connections and interpret the world in new ways. Students have different gifts, and we must celebrate all gifts—not just standardized test performance—for students to thrive in our schools. Engagement is key to students reaching their potential. I support increasing opportunities for arts education.

8. Are you satisfied with school lunches?

I support the goals of Real Food for Kids. Appealing, fresh and healthy lunches (and breakfasts!) contribute to academic success. I support working with the County Council on the development of an agricultural hub so we can have farm-to-table food from our extensive agricultural reserve in our schools. I believe if we provide better and tastier food at an earlier age we will have better health outcomes for our students.

9. If you could enact a single change to the Montgomery County school system, what would it be?

I would like to open the doors of the school system to encourage more collaboration between the community, parents and our legislators. I will support increased access to policy making. We have amazingly talented, knowledgeable and resourceful residents in our county who want to be part of the solutions. We should be grateful for their contributions to the issue discussions, and respectful of their ideas.

10. Please list endorsements:

The Washington Post
The Gazette
Brickyard Coalition
Hispanic Democratic Club
MD NOW PAC
One Montgomery
Progressive Neighbors
Sierra Club, Montgomery County
UCFW Local 1994
Whole Child Coalition
Jamie RASKIN, MD Senator, District 20
Sheila HIXSON, MD Delegate, District 20
Cheryl KAGAN, Former MD Delegate, District 17
George LEVENTHAL, County Council Vice-President
Marc ELRICH, County Councilmember
Tim MALE, Takoma Park City Councilmember
Seth GRIMES, Takoma Park City Councilmember
Ada VILLATORO, Vice-President, Long Branch Business League*
Lindsey PARSONS, Co-Founder, Real Food for Kids—Montgomery*
Diana CONWAY, Board Member, Montgomery Countryside Alliance*
Julie REILEY, Founder, Maryland Coalition for Special Education Rights*
Busy GRAHAM, Founder, Class Acts Arts*
Javel WILSON, Community Leader
Sue Katz Miller, Community Activist
… any many more community leaders

* organization for identification purposes only

11. Please provide contact information and social media links.

Phone: 301.379.9339
Web: www.Jill4AllKids.com
Twitter: @Jill4AllKids
Facebook: Jill4AllKids

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