My name is Dustin Jeter, and I am a Social Studies Teacher at Springbrook High School and a member of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA). I want to address the importance of transparency in education decisions.
We are very fortunate that in the State of Maryland and especially here at the Montgomery County level, we can benefit from the Maryland Open Meetings Act, which facilitates transparency. We benefit from hearing what decisions are being made, but we are also privy to the discussions that lead to those decisions.
Unfortunately, the transparency that is afforded at the county level is non-existent at our local schools. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has set up a system where school-level decisions are made without any input or discussion from staff or the community. The lack of transparency at the school level perpetuates inequality within our system. It disenfranchises many of the key stakeholders who must live with the school-based decisions that are made.
One of Montgomery County educators' biggest priorities has been fighting for greater transparency in school-based decisions. When decisions are made collaboratively and inclusively, and those ideas are shared with the stakeholders impacted by those decisions, the final result is better. This means our kids get a better education. We, as educators, must be a part of the decision-making process within our schools.
Our initial proposals surrounding the topic of transparency were to create School Site Councils (SSCs). This new approach to school-based decision-making included educators and community members and created greater transparency. The SSC would provide recommendations to the Principal, and the Principal would make the final decision but would report the information back to the SSC.
Unfortunately, MCPS had no desire to make the large operational shift that the School Site Council would create. MCPS had no interest in SSCs because they felt that Parents and Students' interests had no place in our contract. MCPS would rather leave decision-making in one person's hands than to be open and transparent with educators and the community throughout the process. This approach is stunningly short-sighted.
MCEA continues to advocate for greater transparency, particularly in three key areas - Instructional Materials Distribution, Staffing Allocations, and Environmental Concerns.
● Materials Distribution -- Currently, as schools are granted instructional materials or supply funds, how those funds and resources are used is not a collaborative decision. MCPS provides no accountability to the staff or community for how these funds are used. If funds are allocated at a per-pupil rate, nothing requires the administration to distribute those funds to classrooms at the same per-pupil rate. The educators responsible for instruction should have a say in how these funds are distributed. While the Principal retains the final decision, s/he would be required to engage with educators before making those decisions. We believe this is beneficial to all parties.
● Staffing Allocations -- When schools are given staffing allocations, the current distribution is done in a completely top-down manner. MCPS does not provide accountability to staff or the community for how the educator positions will be utilized, allowing administrators to play favorites or potentially create inequitable staffing decisions. This system has led us to inequities that have our Black, Brown, and low-income students being disproportionately taught by novice teachers. To remedy this, MCEA has proposed for the Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs) to make recommendations regarding staffing at the school level to the Principal.
● Environmental Concerns -- In this time, more than ever, having a safe and healthy learning environment is a necessity! MCPS must own up to the fact that inequities in capital improvements continue to exist. MCEA is fighting to require supervisors to provide us with failed environmental tests that would impact our students' and staff's health and safety. MCPS should be able to discuss the result of failed tests, the timeline for repairs, and a plan of action to protect staff and students until the repairs are complete. Shouldn't all affected parties have access to this information so we can work collaboratively to correct it?
One of the largest areas of dispute between the educators of MCEA and MCPS is the issue of transparency. This is so important to Montgomery County educators because our primary goal is to create an environment for every Montgomery County student to obtain the quality education that he or she deserves. We love Montgomery County and the schools where we teach, but they can be even better if educators, parents, and the community are involved in improving them. MCPS needs to recognize this and settle an agreement that allows for transparency.
Dustin Jeter, Social Studies Teacher at Springbrook H.S.