Montgomery County Board of Education, At Large – Merry Eisner-Heidorn

1. What experience uniquely qualifies you for this position?

In addition to my lengthy experience an education advocate at the local, county, state, and national level, I have worked as a Legislative Director in Annapolis, and collaborated with state representatives to get legislation passed (i.e. this year’s study of healthy bell times for Maryland public school students).  Having provided constituent service to residents in need, I understand what it means to represent people when they’re faced with problems.  I believe this concern is lacking in our Board of Education – as evidenced by their behavior with their credit cards, their land use policies, their treatment of advocates when they raise issues, and when they claim that they are just a “policy body,” incapable of making a decision in advance of Dr. Starr.  All four of the At Large candidates want MCPS more transparent and accountable, benefiting ALL students.  I want one where stakeholder representation is where that all begins.

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

Some of the causes of the achievement gap in Montgomery County can not addressed by our public schools.  We need the county to ensure that all children have healthcare and access to federal, state and county services they need.  We need to ensure that their parents have the same as well as job training and parent education services.  We must ensure that the county remains committed to expanding the availability of affordable housing and public transportation to maintain our vibrant multi-cultural society.

MCPS needs to provide transparent, bottom-up budgets that dovetail flexible public education services managed by strong, unbiased building leaders with services managed by the county.  We must engage all community stakeholders to meet each child at the point they enter the system, and guide them to the best future they can obtain. It is only through collaboration and targeted, accountable, spending that we can impact the gap.

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

The Common Core state standards and the MCPS curriculum designed to deliver them, “Curriculum 2.0,” (CS 2.0) are great concepts.  Every child should be learning the same material regardless of where they live in the U.S.  All children should “own” their learning and understand the concepts that lead to the answers as much as the answers themselves.  What the CS 2.0 roll-out lacked was stakeholder engagement and staff training time, similar to many changes the system has made in the past.   The result is a pale imitation of the standards, curriculum and assessment opportunity that they’re meant to be.  Many of the ideas behind the common core can be beneficial for our children.  However, until our teachers have the time and training they need to deploy this effectively, and until we have successfully ensured our stakeholders are with us, we should slow down our deployment to the greatest extent possible.

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

We need more physical education in Montgomery County.  We need to ensure that every school building has adequate space for physical exercise regardless of the weather.  We need to ensure that physical exercise is a part of every child’s day – regardless of day and regardless of grade.  We shouldn’t allow “Health” to be an alternate for physical activity – it’s a separate subject.  If we want to conquer obesity in America, we should start with our children.

5. How do you balance the budget while reducing class size and renovating facilities?

Reducing class size is a function of the Operating Budget.  Renovating facilities are a function of the Capital Improvement Budget. Both would benefit from an adjustment to the state formulas that impact the amount we receive from the state, as well as clearer strategies and tactics on the part of our school system. Reducing class size is but one of our critical needs.  We also need staff training and collaboration time, strong building leadership, counseling support, etc.  With regard to our facilities, we need to review our county’s practices regarding forward-funding of local school construction, the amount we spend per square foot relative to the state’s recommendation, our need for county-wide investments (such as HVAC maintenance or technology), our feelings about boundary changes, and our history of securing funding in Annapolis. We need to start by establishing measurable goals for all strategies, and allocate spending based on what’s most effective.

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

No.  We need to work on improving the quality of instruction provided to our gifted and talented children as well as our special needs students. We need to ensure that there are advanced classes for our gifted and talented students. For our special needs students, the Board of Education should guide the teachers union and others to support shifting the burden of proof, as it’s MCPS that has the best understanding of what special needs students could have.  Then we need to raise our objective from the minimum required by federal law to truly treating our special needs students like any other public school student.  When possible, meet them where they are and provide them the best possible education so they can be ready for whatever the future brings.  In today’s heterogeneous classes, any child denied the support they need, the opportunity for success they deserve, impacts every other child.

7. Are students getting adequate arts education?

No.  The Common Core emphasizes the need to read non-fiction in order to teach children to distinguish fact from fiction, a skill they will need in the workplace. Unfortunately, it doesn’t recognize that the arts are where our children are exposed to creativity.  Additionally, the emphasis on Common Core Math and English crowd out other opportunities for learning in the school day.  Fiction, poetry, painting and drawing, music – all these forms of expression are where we can fire the imagination of our children.  Our economy is based on American ingenuity.  If we don’t light the creative spark in our children, we jeopardize our future, and make learning boring.

8. Are you satisfied with school lunches?

No. The Board of Education should listen to, and support, parents advocating for better nutritional options for our children.  Real Food Montgomery isn’t asking for anything that isn’t happening in other districts around the country.  You’d think we were living in a county without an agricultural past.  If our Board listened carefully to stakeholder voices, they’d hear a clear desire to combine real food with outdoor activity, community gardens and the Brickyard Farm Educational Farm to educate our children on the science of healthy eating.  If that isn’t a great curriculum, which dovetails nicely with the science curriculum in the county’s schools, and one that supports the future of our county as well as the future health of our children, what is?

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

I would ensure that stakeholders are represented by a Board of Education that collaborates with Dr. Starr and MCPS.  Montgomery County is an extraordinary place – diverse and educated, with the majority supporting high taxes in exchange for excellent public service.  I want our Board of Education to reflect that – to challenge our school system to deliver the best possible education to our county’s public school children; to engage every possible participant in the daily lives of our students; to develop strategies, tactics and programs that ensure the success of every child; and to be accountable for the work we do. This can only happen if Montgomery County voters recognize that voting is an opportunity to express the desire for representation.  We need more than an Independent Auditor or Inspector General, or transparency, or accountability.  We need voters demanding all of the above from a representative BOE.

10. Please list endorsements.

I have been endorsed by the Montgomery County Public School Retirees Association (MCPSRA) and the Sierra Club.

11. Please provide contact information and social media links.

My e-mail address is Merry4BOE@gmail.com.  My phone number is 240-401-7399.  My website is: http://Merry4BOE.wordpress.com.  My facebook page is http://facebook.com/Merry4BOE and I tweet as @merryeisner.

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