Q&A with SMOB finalists


Photo by Caeden Babcock

SMOB candidates Henry Kaye and Hana O’Looney visited WJ via Zoom to allow students to get to know them. On April 21, students in MCPS will be able to vote for the 2021-2022 SMOB.

The Student Member of The Board (SMOB) Nominating Convention on Feb. 17 narrowed the race down to two candidates: Henry Kaye and Hana O’Looney. Both candidates’ campaigns are in full effect as the April 21 election day looms, which will decide which of the nominees will serve on the Board of Education next year.

The Pitch interviewed both candidates on subjects ranging from their motivations to hidden talents. Here are our questions along with their answers.

Why are you running for SMOB?

Kaye: “I’m running for SMOB because personally, and I’ve seen for far too long, so many students have been excluded from the conversation and because of that we have not really seen a lot of progression as a community. We need to change that, we need to start making things happen, and we need to make significant changes as efficiently and effectively as possible starting on day one.

O’Looney: “As a lifelong MCPS student that has attended schools in six high school clusters, and the Vice President of the countywide student government association whose job is to be in constant communication with leaders from every high school in the county, I have personally seen the huge disparities in educational opportunities that are given to students, especially those in the DCC, NEC, and other under resourced regions of our county. I am running for SMOB because your zip code in Montgomery County should not determine the courses, extracurriculars, resources, or infrastructure you have access to. Whether it’s through utilizing the MCPS anti-racism audit, reopening schools, or distributing equitable funding to schools that need it most, I want to ensure that students in every region of Montgomery County have access to the world-class education that they deserve, and that this seat is an opportunity for all of our voices to be heard.”

If elected, what is the biggest change you want to make as SMOB?

O’Looney: “If I’m being honest, I truly think this SMOB election is the most important of any of our lifetimes, or at least during my personal time here in MCPS. From reopening schools to the boundary analysis, the future of the SRO program to the antiracism audit, and the ongoing superintendent search to impending budget cuts, there has really never been an election quite like this one with as many important, defining decisions coming up during a singular SMOB term. That’s why this year, more than ever, I really think it’s important to elect someone who has demonstrated a long history of commitment to our school system and our students.
For the purposes of this interview, I can hit on probably the biggest issue on everyone’s mind, reopening schools. In terms of return to in-person learning, MCPS has already committed to their current timeline of bringing all interested students back into the school building by the end of the year, but in addition to supporting students’ physical health through loads of PPE, sanitation, and health checks, I think its also extremely important to think about the impact of reopening schools on students’ mental health. I want to make sure that MCPS provides ample mental health and socio-emotional support for students in the return to in-person school, because navigating in-person relationships, assignments, and expectations for the first time all over again is no doubt going to be an extremely taxing process for students. This means investing in more counselors and school psychologists now, because students’ mental health should not wait for anyone. I also want to make sure that we are providing students with ample opportunities to socialize, as I truly believe that that has been one of the biggest pitfalls of online learning.”

Kaye: “If elected, the biggest change I want to make is lowering the barrier to entry for student government and student advocacy at the county level. I think right now, it is so fundamentally difficult to become involved in countywide government and county advocacy, and because of that, we have a severe lack of diverse interests, incentives, and mobility as a county.”

What do you have to say specifically to WJ students?

Kaye: “I was gonna say let’s go WJ, I mean specifically to WJ students I think you know we need to continue to expand communication for the board. I think one of the things in going to RM and not having been in the MCR program, I know that the numbers of representatives from RM is distorted incredibly. We need to make it equitable, make sure that it is on a per capita basis for representation in these organization groups. I understand that I don’t have a direct role in it but as a bully pulpit, as that position inside the government, we can make that change. I also think that we need to continue to represent students from all across the county, because students at WJ specifically, have very different experiences, they’re on the other side of 495 than students in Richard Montgomery. So really making that change, really representing everyone, and continuing to do school visits and listening to you is what I want to do.

O’Looney: “I mean, go cats! But in all honesty, as high school students especially, I think there’s a lot of upperclassmen on this call. You guys have dealt with a lot of SMOBs by now. You’ve dealt with Nick Asante, our current SMOB, Nate Tinbite before him, Ananya, Matt, Eric. Hopefully these names are familiar to you, hopefully you can picture them in your head, and you’ve had a conversation with them and you really felt like they were listening to your concerns. If not, that’s the kind of SMOB I want to be. I want to be the kind of SMOB whose email you have bookmarked on your computer, whose number you have saved in your phone, who you follow on social media, and you see around WJ often. That’s why I’m committing myself to visiting every single school at least once per semester during my term, that’s why I’m committing myself to having an active presence, social media presence, and really reaching out and being available and accessible through all forms of communication at all times. I promise you will hear from me, and just as I always have, I will make sure to put the needs of students, especially WJ students, first.

What qualities make you a good SMOB candidate?

O’Looney: “I have dedicated every spare moment of the last five years of my life to fighting for educational equity and improving this school system. From serving as Vice President of the countywide student government association, to Chair of MCPS’s official countywide female empowerment organization, to the sole student representative on numerous MCPS and County Council policy workgroups, I have made substantive change in MCPS by writing a resolution for the Board of Education -that passed with a unanimous vote- securing free menstrual hygiene products for all middle and high school students after almost a year of lobbying, ending PARCC exams for MCPS students, and rethinking our mental health support structures for students. I’m not just talking about change, I’ve been enacting it. I have made educational equity in MCPS the main focus of my life for the past five years, and I can promise students that this commitment is the same commitment to change that you will see from me at the Board table.”

Kaye: “I think I have a lot of good qualities, hopefully. What I bring forth is I know how to get things done, I personally know how to get things done as efficiently and effectively as possible. I know how to use economics and logical thinking to really achieve great things and stop talking about them. I’m also a very good listener, I’ve been able to travel across the county, visit students from every single middle and high school at this point and I really learn from our students what challenges they’re facing. And because of that, I’ve been able to alter and enhance my platform. And then also, I’m tenacious, I have the audacity and tenacity to fight for what our students need. As the position of SMOB, my only responsibility is to our students, and I have that tenacity and audacity to get things done and to represent their voices.”

What do you respect most about your opponent?

Kaye: “I think my opponent is very outspoken, I think she’s done some good work in the past. But I think it’s time to bring in some new perspectives to the system. We don’t need to perpetuate the MCR SMOB pipeline and we need to make very significant changes.”

O’Looney: “His commitment to his family. I know Henry has an incredible relationship with his younger sister, and just listening to him talk about the adventures they have gone on together, I can’t help but smile.”

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Kaye: “In the future, I see myself either in the Navy or the Army for the United States. Kind of just doing and acting as a civil servant, and helping our country in any way possible.”

O’Looney: “Wherever I am, whatever I choose to do with my career, I know that educational equity will always be an important aspect of my life and what I fight for. I truly believe that progress in social issues and societal equity starts with education, and I plan to continue working with MCPS and other educational institutions after graduation.”

What hobbies do you enjoy?

O’Looney: “Although student activism and working with MCPS to promote educational equity has been my largest commitment since the beginning of high school, outside of this work, I am also a huge theatre kid and an avid member of the Richard Montgomery HS Debate Team, #1 team in the county! I’ve performed in theatres ranging from Damascus Little Theatre to the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg, Kensington Arts Second Stage to the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C., and I absolutely love performing.”

Kaye: “I run track and cross country. 365 days of the year I play ice hockey. I like DMV rap music, I like to skateboard, BMX bike, I like to do extreme sports, snowboarding, I like it all.”

What’s your favorite movie and why?

Kaye: “I think my favorite movie is either The Green Mile or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest because they really do address some serious significant societal topics in a manner that is palatable to many. So I think those are some deep movies, but they have palatable aspects and they have a large crowd appeal.”

O’Looney: “100% La La Land. It is the most stunning, beautiful piece of cinema I have ever seen in my life, and the soundtrack has no flaws. Every time I’m having a difficult day, I always go back to watching the dream sequence and it just puts me in a trance.”

Do you have any hidden talents?

O’Looney: “Finding the perfect sized container for leftovers. Not too big, not too small. Every time.”

Kaye: “I mean I’m a welder, I run a bicycle repair shop out of my garage so I know how to fix bikes pretty well. Work on small engines, not really many unknown talents to be honest.”