Superintendent hosts student media reps


MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith opened his office to student media representatives from county middle and high schools earlier this month. Topics discussed included sexual harassment allegations and the annual budget. Photo courtesy pf Wikimedia Commons.

Sam Falb, Senior News Editor

MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith recently hosted a countywide press conference with student media representatives from middle and high schools. With about 161,000 students, 23,000 staff members and over 205 schools on his radar on a regular basis, there was plenty to talk about. During the meeting, Smith discussed the state of the county, hot-button issues such as sexual harassment and invasion of privacy and his plans for improving county schools.

On innovation in the county.

At its core, the superintendent’s goals for updating the county school system include better teacher-student communication, creating more diverse pathways to graduation and altering the conventional style of school infrastructure and learning methods.

“I get excited thinking about what could be when I think of the future of our county,” Smith said.

He also shared insight he had gained from his years as a high school principal.

“The key to changing positively is communicating with students,” Smith continued.

On graduating.

Smith would like to create new pathways for graduation that grant various options to students with different needs.

After taking inspiration from school visits in Spokane, WA and Richmond, VA, Smith has been working on offerings that could include more online school options and experimentation with new styles of learning outside of a traditional classroom setting (multiple classes in a large space, seminar-style groups).

The superintendent would also like to work along the theme of making school seem less penalty-laden and making it more appealing to broader student populations. In addition, a central message of matching the school experience to the innovations of the modern day was noted.

On sexual harassment.

A representative from Montgomery Blair High School inquired about recent sexual harassment claims against a retired math teacher in the Blair magnet program. A sexual harassment case involving a 16-year-old student and Security Team leader Mark Yantsos at Richard Montgomery High School was brought up as well.

The superintendent acknowledged his familiarity with both cases and expressed sympathy for the alleged victims involved.

“Whether it’s really difficult like this or otherwise, we always need to focus on improvement,” Smith said.

Last year’s rape occurrence at Richard Montgomery was discussed in detail as well. Students first asked how Smith planned to prevent future situations and whether the county would be introducing updated protocol or legislation.

In response, the superintendent detailed the rigid hiring process in Montgomery County, detailing steps such as thorough background checks, multiple clearances throughout the application process, fingerprinting and a comprehensive training program. In addition, he assured students that the county is doing everything they can to avoid the worst, such as promoting a stricter policy of locking doors and posting staff in hallways.

“I have three adult children and five grandchildren… the thought of something happening to one of them terrifies me. People who do bad things to children… I struggle to have compassion for them,” Smith said.

On local government.

A Richard Montgomery representative asked for the findings of a recent countywide security review. The superintendent ensured the group that the review was being finalized and would be sent to PTA groups and administrations soon.

Smith stated that the county offices would be looking to consolidate secretarial and management positions in a move to streamline county bureaucracy and conserve funds. The superintendent also discussed the county’s latest budget proposal, which will be submitted in full on March 1.

“If they don’t [accept the full budget], reductions we make will have to be as far from students and classrooms as possible,” Smith said.

On student needs.

A representative from Blair requested comment on a new policy that forces students to specify the reason they are in the counseling office, claiming such an approach is unnecessary and a breach of privacy in what can be a difficult situation.

Smith agreed that the information was unnecessary and stated that identification of which students come and go is important, but their personal motive is not.

At the elementary school level, Smith touted county strategy that has profoundly increased the number of seats in elementary school enrichment programs in recent years.

“We drastically increased the number of seats and increased universal screening to increase opportunity for everyone,” Smith said.