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Montgomery County Public Schools. (Courtesy Photo)

ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Board of Education met on Jan. 9 to speak about the growing and current issues with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) as residents approve of Boundary Analysis despite shortcomings.

The meeting opened up with the board unanimously approving a resolution to acknowledge February as African American History Month as well as National School counseling week from Feb. 3 to Feb. 7. But from there, the meeting was mainly about the Districtwide Boundary Analysis.

According to MCPS, The Districtwide Boundary Analysis is an initiative designed to provide a comprehensive assessment of MCPS boundaries by analyzing various data points such as school facility utilization and capacity, student demographics, school assignment and travel patterns.

The initiative builds on MCPS’ engagement efforts from Spring 2019. It will continue to involve community members from all backgrounds through a variety of forums to fully understand the spectrum of challenges towards creating more meaningfully integrated and culturally responsive schools within Montgomery County.

The overcapacity of many schools, paired with their continued focus on equity and excellence, prompted MCPS to initiate an assessment of current school boundaries.

More residents seem pleased with the analysis during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Lisa Spain, a parent of two daughters who have recently matriculated through MCPS, supported the Districtwide Boundary Analysis citing the benefits students will have going to a diverse school.

“I am in favor of a boundary analysis because I firmly believe that all students will benefit from being surrounded by kids from different ethnic and class backgrounds, a belief supported by solid data,” said Spain. “By making good friends across cultures and races in their highly diverse elementary school, both of my children learned skills that have allowed them to thrive in an increasingly multicultural world.”

Fred Azcarate, a parent of three children currently enrolled in Montgomery County schools, also approves of the Districtwide Boundary Analysis.

“The alignment of policy FAA with policy ACD was a crucial step to make sure our values of a quality integrated education are manifest in the choices we make with our school infrastructure,” said Azcarate. “Doing the right thing is often not easy, and in this case, you are doing the right thing.”

Azcarate also spoke about a group of parents, students and community members that came together to support educational equity, data-informed policy and fiscal responsibility in MCPS called One Montgomery. Eight hundred and eighty-eight community members have signed up as of now, and they plan to send the document to Superintendent Smith.

One speaker provided a middle ground to the analysis.

Brian Kramer, a recent MCPS graduate of Northwood High School, is a member of One Montgomery and supports what the boundary analysis is attempting to do. Still, he gave some suggestions to make it even more useful.

“The boundary analysis should be providing recommendations to counteract issues, not just data,” said Kramer. “The board ultimately gets the say on what goes, but the data experts at WXY should be empowered to detail their findings and suggest ways for MCPS to stop overcrowding and to desegregate schools, all while limiting commutes and ensuring community involvement all the way through.”

Resident Yiwei Li did not choose a side but commented on MCPS’ decision-making process.

“Citizen participation must go beyond the hearings and town hall meetings,” said Li. “It must be incorporated into MCPS’ formal decision-making mechanism, especially those concerning the management of schools. We, the parents, the residents, the teachers, are the ones fully invested in the well-being of our children and MCPS. For that reason, we are the best equipped to face the challenges.”

Despite most of the support, there were still few who opposed it.

Chris Loft cited his enjoyment of living in a melting pot of cultures but was angered by the chances since he purposely moved to his particular neighborhood so his kids could go to specific schools.

“When you entertain drastic changes to this system, when you make arbitrary decisions to upend communities, when you employ flawed methodologies that have failed everywhere they have ever been attempted, then the message we receive is loud and clear: that our carefully made life-choices don’t matter,” said Loft.

“As stated by numerous studies, including the most comprehensive study on this topic by Stanford University, redistricting based on race and socioeconomics can bring much pain and controversy for little or no educational gains.”

After the public made their comments, the board had the opportunity to respond. MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith defended the analysis stating, “it’s exactly what it says it is, an analysis. We are not relocating any students.” He also cited that this is not the first time MCPS has done this.

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