INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS 

Rebecca Smondrowski For Montgomery County

Board of Education, District Two

League of Women Voters

Qualifications: How does your background prepare you for the duties of this office?

 

I have passionately worked as a member of the BOE and a voice for MoCo residents, since elected in 2012, including as chair of the Special Populations Committee. My eight years on the BOE provide historical insight coupled with forward-thinking advocacy. The skills and strategies used as a legislative director and as a mom of public-school students have made me a dedicated public servant.


 

Opportunity Gap: What approaches do you support to provide equitable countywide student access to experienced teachers and administrators and a diverse set of programs?

 

Increased community engagement & expanded programming opportunities are critical. Performance Matters data indicate student & school achievement and we must use it to improve identified needs. We must continue to expand our educational resources and promote both academic & career opportunities for all students, regardless of zip code, in order for them to find their own successful pathways.  

 

 

Boundary Changes: What factors do you think are most important in consider changes to school boundaries?

 

All factors should be weighted equally. Diversity and geographic proximity are key factors in building strong communities and increased engagement and connections to schools. Local schools allow students to access available resources more readily, which is essential for MCPS families. Additionally, online learning has the potential to allow all students access to all course offerings.

 

 

Funding: Which recommendations by the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education should be given the highest priority?

 

The greatest influence in student achievement is early childhood learning & I fully support Kirwan’s initiative to expand Pre-K access to all as early as possible. Teaching and support staff positions should be highly respected & appropriately-compensated careers and funded accordingly. As chair of Special Pops, funding for special education & transitional services is also a priority. 

 

School Safety: How would you address school safety issues such as gun violence, gang problems and bullying?

 

Students need to feel connected, engaged, & cared for in our schools. Open communication & engagement with all students & families are key aspects to decreasing school safety issues. The Be Well 365 program, Restorative Justice, Peer2Peer conversations, & social/emotional learning/supports, culturally responsive & diverse curriculum (priorities of mine) are vital programs in creating safe schools.

 

Vocational Alternatives: What programs do you propose to address vocational preparation and opportunities for non-college bound students?

 

Students need multiple pathways for successful futures.  We must support alternative paths with easily accessible programming. Accordingly, I have advocated for the expansion of “opt-in” Alternative Programs & expansion of CTE offerings, with more flexibility & choices for students. One example is the cadet program, created through my work with first responders & MCPS, to grow our own workforce.

Community Involvement: How will you obtain and use community and parent/student views in making Board decisions?

 

Feedback & seeing our school operations in action are the most important tools I have to represent & be a voice for the needs & interests of all stakeholders & make informed decisions to improve our system. Regular school visits, constituent email, responsive social media conversations, and being available to anyone, have been my key strategies for fairly representing the views of our community. 

 

Priorities: What are your top three priorities?

  • Hiring & retaining highly qualified & diverse staff & providing a school climate that incentivizes staff allowing them to create optimal learning environments & supporting our neediest schools

  • Use Performance Matters data to maximize student potential while optimizing resources

  • Expand & promote academic & career opportunities for all students, regardless of zip code, to find successful pathways

Sierra Club

 

GENERAL

1. Why are you running for the Board of Education?  What are your major qualifications? Please list any relevant boards, committees, or commissions on which you have served (and number of years on each).  In what ways have these leadership experiences given you an understanding of Montgomery County, its challenges and opportunities?  How have these experiences prepared you to serve on the Board of Education? 

 

I have passionately worked as a member of the BOE since elected in 2012. Along with my dedication to the students, staff, and families in MCPS, I believe that my actions reflect my commitment toward improving Montgomery County for all residents. Before joining the Board, I was the legislative director for Senator Roger Manno and had already been immersed in the world of politics. My connections from this work continued and enhanced my relationships as a Board Member. The skills and strategies used as a legislative director and as a mom of public school students have made me a dedicated public servant.

My experience on the BOE allows me to provide historical insight while also acting with a forward-thinking approach. I am currently the chair of the special populations committee and have focused the work of the committee on providing an equitable, successful education for all students. We have worked hard over the last three years gathering and analyzing data related to both individual and school performance; I want to further this initiative, utilizing this data to maximize our student potential while optimizing our resources. This includes being especially mindful of how we spend our budget dollars, connecting dollars spent to initiatives achieved, and ensuring that opportunities are equitable across the system. 

Other Committees:

  • Special Populations Committee- Chair (Board of Education)

  • Policy Management Committee (Board of Education)

  • Communications and Community Outreach Committee (Board of Education)

  • Commissioner, Ethics Commission for City of Gaithersburg

  • Board Member of MCPS Education Foundation

  • Member, County Executive’s Domestic Violence Coordinating Council

  • Weekly Volunteer, Women Who Cares Ministries 

  • Founding Member, Montgomery County Food Security Taskforce (with Montgomery County Foods and Montgomery County Farmers)

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Schools and other MCPS facilities can serve as community models for energy efficiency

 

2. It is good that MCPS is currently paying more attention to energy efficiency than a few years ago.  However, if MCPS is going to be a strong community partner in addressing climate change, there is plenty more to do.  What do you intend to do to push MCPS to increase the energy efficiency of its buildings?  

  • Teach the students:

  • MCPS Outdoor Environmental Education Programs provide outdoor environmental learning experiences for the students of Montgomery County Public Schools and has recently become recertified as a Maryland Green Centered School. 

  • I support our stronger partnership with School Energy and Recycling Team in order to teach students the importance of recycling and implementing such programs in all schools, including composting programs.

  • Ensuring Buldings are Efficient

  • Making new facilities energy saving buildings 

  • Support Strategic plan for Energy and Utilities Teams 

 

3. What do you intend to do to increase the percentage of MCPS energy that comes from wind and solar?  What is your stance on solar at school sites (including roofs, open land, parking areas)?

I have been a long-time advocate of green roofs and solar panels. I believe all of our school and office buildings should have solar energy panels on top of them. 

 

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation is a critical piece of the school system

 

4. Most children get to/from school on a bus.  What would you do to increase the efficiency of the school’s bus system?  For instance, what about electric buses?  For instance, in down county locations, what about having some children use the already in-place Ride-On or Metrobus (or the Purple Line)?     

All students should have the ability to participate in a free and safe transportation that can provide them the opportunity to go to school for their educational day.  All students should be able to access various transportation modes depending on their individual needs.  I have been a long-time advocate of expanding the Free Ride-On service to our students and supported Councilman Glass’ legislation to this effect. 

 

5. Some parents drive their children to school.  Some HS students drive themselves to school.  What would you do to discourage such driving?  On the flip side, what would you do to encourage more children walking or biking to school?

When students and family members are accessing their education programs they should be encouraged to walk, ride, carpool, or use reliable transportation and safe bus   routes in order to decrease our carbon foot print. I support and participate in the annual walk to school to day. Additionally, I have advocated for bike racks at high schools and in all new buildings. Before COVID-19 I advocated for expanded online course options and telecommuting- and will continue to support such programs. 

 

SMART GROWTH

For our county, development guided by Smart Growth principles is a critical part of addressing climate change; MCPS can make an important difference here

 

6. In suburban Montgomery County, new schools have been designed using the “traditional” 1950s model – a short building (usually 1-2 stories tall), on a very large lot, with plenty of parking and large playing fields.  Are you willing to push MCPS to embrace a different model for new schools (and existing schools undergoing major renovations)?  Please address specifically your view on less parking, taller school buildings, smaller acreage.

I have always been interested in looking at various ways to envision the future of our schools and the changes that are necessary as we move forward. Taking into consideration that Montgomery County is one of the most diverse areas in the country, Each architectural plan should be a reflection upon what that school community needs, including identifying the model of the school, parking lot, population of students, and community in which it serves.

I think we should be looking at innovative options such as tennis courts on top of parking garages, we should be joining park and school playgrounds, and we should allow schools to share fields when possible. Additionally. I have advocated strongly for using vacant office space to provide specialized programming opportunities. 

 

7. Smart Growth aims to create compact neighborhoods where many places that folks want and need to go are located within walking distance of each other.  MCPS could play a part.  Co-location of other uses with schools could make a difference.   What do you think about co-location of housing, libraries, community centers, Parks Dept playgrounds and fields with schools?

I am a strong advocate for co-location. I have pushed for ideas like school libraries being public libraries and cafeterias being used as community space. MCPS should work with the local county council and stakeholders to ensure that each educational community has access to what is needed for the students and families to be successful.  We need to be working in concert with multiple departments within the county when constructing schools, playgrounds, housing, libraries, community centers etc. If we all work together to ensure we are meeting the needs of our communities, we are better suited to serve them in an efficient and fiscally responsible way. For example, I am a strong supporter of the Poolesville community plan and would support other communities building similar centers. 

 

EQUITY

Sierra Club’s national Executive Director, Michael Brune, has stated that “we cannot successfully tackle either climate change or inequality without addressing both”

As you know, Montgomery County has a pronounced east-west divide – with more affluent folks and more jobs generally located in the western parts of the county.  There are, of course, a variety of other factors that disadvantage students of color and those from lower income households

 

8. What do you see as the role of MCPS in addressing these equity issues?

It is very important to me that we continue to expand our educational resources and also promote both academic and career opportunities for all students, regardless of zip code, in order for them to find their own successful pathways.  It is MCPS’ role to provide every child enrolled to our schools with a free and appropriate education that can help them become active participating citizens of their communities. 

 

CURRICULUM

The MCPS curriculum is providing the knowledge foundation of future voters and leaders

 

9. What will you do to ensure that the MCPS curriculum enables students to gain a solid understanding of environmental issues, especially climate change?

In order to ensure that MCPS continues to provide knowledge to future voters and leaders, the BOE will continue to work towards a transparent, collaborative environmental sustainability plan that will provide our vision for sustainability and identifies the specific ways we will reduce our carbon footprint in each school. We will also create a plan to reflect the way we can decrease our carbon footprint using a transportation plan that will focus on how we can decrease the pollution and increase clean air.  

Additionally, we are constantly reviewing our curriculum for each grade level. As a better of understanding of climate change continue to unveil themselves, I support the necessary changes to the curriculum to ensure students have the most accurate and up to date information and are able to advocate for a healthier environment. 

I support hands-on projects and community partnerships to give our students real-world experiences in advocating and understanding environmental issues. This is something we should be reviewing annually.

 

Refer to question #2 for more information

 

FOOD

Schools provide many thousands of meals a day

 

10. What is your stance on how the schools should treat the opportunities to use school meals for multiple purposes (beyond the obvious of feeding hungry kids)?  Please address such matters as childhood obesity, local foods, healthy foods, composting, school gardens.  In terms of composting, please address the ways in which the current MCPS composting program should be expanded

Food is an essential part of the educational system. It is important that our school curriculum reflects teaching students about childhood obesity, healthy foods and the ability to identify ways they can help take care of the environment around them. One way of doing is this, for schools who may not have space for composting, is by having MCPS pair with Food Scraps Collectors to collect local schools’ food scraps for recycling in order to compost. This initiative could start with serving the local high school communities first and then working towards gradually reaching all schools over a five-year period. Additionally, we need to expand the onsite composting programs, which I have toured at multiple elementary schools, to middle and high schools.

School gardens are also a very important piece of this work and should be encouraged and supported. I have been working with local farmers to bring fresh produce into our schools, partnering with MoCo Foods to start the Food Security Task Force. 

 

OTHER

Safe playgrounds and playing fields are important

 

11. What is your position on synthetic turf?

Synthetic Turf is an equity issue. I have advocated for a pilot program for best practices around a high-end natural turf field. I always advocate, with every new school, for a top of the line, well designed and maintainable natural field.

However, due to the equity issue, those that cannot be sustained naturally, I have supported the turf fields to ensure there is some equity. I was the co-author of a resolution that no MCPS fields would include anything other than organic infill. 

General Questions

 

The single most pressing issue facing our board is ______________ and this is what I intend to do about it:

Aside from the logistics of getting our students and staff back into the schools for in-person learning as soon as it is safe to do so, while also working to ensure the most effective and meaningful remote learning experience possible under the circumstances, the most pressing issue facing our board is the achievement gap. This has become even more clear as we examine the pandemic’s impact on learning. We need to use Performance Matters data and the results of the recent state-mandated standardized testing to measure learning loss and identify the students in need of additional help. Then we must move whatever boulders necessary to make it happen- to provide the supports each student needs, to make up for learning loss, and ensure all students are on the path to be successful. We must reach into our communities with students who have traditionally struggled to ensure equitable access to resources and support. We must continue to support these students by providing them access to opportunities including social and emotional services and additional academic resources. This can be done while providing high-quality and appropriately rigorous curriculum to all students and must include further and continuing training and professional development for all educators.

What are the critical differences between you and others seeking this post?

My current and previous terms on the board allow me to lend historical perspective to issues while also maintaining a forward-thinking approach. I am a decades long member of the Montgomery County community, a parent of two MCPS graduates, and have held several positions with the Montgomery County Parent/Teacher Association. Making my passion and desire to improve outcomes for all students a priority in my life, I have built relationships with groups like the MCCPTA, MCPS, County Government and with the citizens of Montgomery County. I pride myself on being responsive to anyone who reaches out to me and on making sure that the community voices are not only heard but are also considered by all decision makers. I believe that I stand out because I will use my voice to speak for those who are not being heard, regardless of demographics, location, or issue. My job and my goal is to always speak for those who bestowed the honor on me of being their elected official. 

What other issues define your campaign platform?

• Equity

• Accountability

• Transparency and Meaningful Communication within the system and between the system and the community 

• Creating opportunities and equitable access to opportunities

• Alternative programs for all students

• The needs of our special student populations and the resources required to serve these students 

What past accomplishments would you cite as evidence that you can handle the job?

During my time on the board thus far I have been a vocal advocate for the students and staff of MCPS. I have worked to create additional educational opportunities for students who needed other forms of education besides the traditional pathways. Examples of such include CTE programming like the cadet program designed in collaboration with Montgomery County first responders and growing our own teachers workforce, the expansion of our Alternative Programs and the creation of RAP for students in recovery. I also chair the Special Populations committee which gives me great insight to the full range of needs of our students. I have been and continue to be committed to making sure that ALL of our students have the opportunities and resources needed for a positive, successful educational experience. It is imperative that information about school operations and academic opportunities reach everyone so I initiated development of the text messaging and communications systems currently beginning to be used by MCPS.

In my time on the Board we have debated school boundaries, made major curriculum changes to include the history and stories of those not generally represented, and fought to increase public school construction funding to provide our community the school facilities they deserve. My track record of success coupled with my passion for advocating for all creates the perfect formula for my continued success in this job. 

Why should voters trust you?

The record of my two terms on the board reflects that I vote for my beliefs and speak for the constituents who elected me. I consistently ask questions and make every effort to represent those community members who reach out to me. I am known for making great efforts to be responsive to both my emails and other communications. I push myself and my colleagues to identify actions steps and develop plans to make the changes we talk about. Ultimately, voters should know that I ask questions, I listen to the community, and I cast my vote based on what I believe is in the best interests of our students, staff and community.

If you win, what would make your term a success?

I would define the 20-24’ term as successful when we are able to create additional accessible alternative programming options for our students, MCPS has a low turn-over staff retention rate and the residents of Montgomery County are able to feel the operations of MCPS and the actions of the Board of Education are conducted and communicated in a transparent, productive manner.

What are your views on fiscal policy, government spending, and handling of taxpayer money in the office you are seeking?

I believe that every dollar must be spent in a fiscally responsible manner. It is essential that programs and processes are reviewed regularly to ensure that they are fully satisfying their purpose at a cost competitive to alternate options. Budgets must be linked to programs. It is important that we evaluate programs and initiatives and consider the value of the funds being spent. We must hold ourselves and our teams accountable for every dollar spent. 

Do you support BLM and what are your thoughts on demonstrations held since the death of George Floyd and shooting of Jacob Blake?

I absolutely support the Black Lives Matter and have been proud to see our MCPS students participating in peaceful protesting demonstrations. It is unfortunate that we live in a world where we have to ask this question. It is incumbent upon all of us to care about the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters. It is only when we stand together, against discrimination and prejudice, that we will find the peace we seek. I will continue to support all members of our community. 

What are your thoughts on the campaign to “defund” the police?

Our county’s Officer to Citizen ratio is already low and I believe the police department would operationally be negatively impacted with further defunding. Particularly in reference to training and professional development. What we need to do is support things like social justice and equity trainings, community outreach programs and social emotional supports.

What are your thoughts on the state and national response to the coronavirus pandemic? Do you favor such measures as limiting operation of non-essential businesses or restricting indoor/outdoor dining? And do you favor a nationwide mask mandate?

We are still in the early stages of understanding the behavior of COVID-19 and its long-term effects. I appreciate the guidance of medical professionals and scientists as to what the best practices are to keep us all healthy based on what has been learned. I support taking the necessary precautions but believe we need to be able to return our students and staff back into the buildings as soon as it can be done safely. The learning loss is just far too great. 

Is there any reason you would not serve your full term of office, other than those of health or family?

While none of us know what the future will bring, I am dedicated to serving our community to the best of my ability and am focused on the present. 

What is the best advice ever shared with you?

Someone once told me that when you run for office, you always have to remember that this job isn’t about you. You will NEVER please everyone... Do what you believe is right and even if people disagree you will be able to live with that, so Don’t take other people’s frustration personally. I think that this advice is not only important but based in the belief that I have to be confident in my own positions and beliefs. There will always be individuals who disagree with each of us or believe they can do a better job. Remembering that criticism to my position is not personal criticism. Being an elected official requires thick skin, and I am grateful for the people in my life who taught me how to thicken it!

What else would you like the voters to know about yourself and your positions?

I want the voters to know that I am a mother, a community member, and at heart, a woman who believes in fighting for equity in opportunities and in resources for all students. The most important thing to me is that EVERY student receives a positive school experience... and that means different things for different children. It’s not just about getting A’s & B’s. It’s about feeling valued, engaged and connected with your school. It’s about feeling safe, understood and included. It means having the guidance and encouragement to reach your fullest potential, and the access and opportunities to take the pathways needed to get you where you want to go. I have dedicated myself to fighting for that... This greater vision for what Education should be. It is our job on the School Board to be a voice for each of these students and to help them ensure that their hope for the future will be realized. If re-elected I will continue to fight for equitable opportunities, individualized pathways, expanding early childhood access, and using data to make informed decisions about the needs for each child. 

This is a part-time job with full-time hours and quarter-time pay… And I give it everything I have.

Montgomery County Media Recording

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