Superintendent Jack Smith detailed his plans and aspirations for Montgomery County to this reporter and other student journalists from across the county on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Many of his goals for the coming years relate to academics, however Smith talked about other topics important to students in the county as well.
One major concern Smith addressed was the achievement gap, or opportunity gap, in schools. Students are concerned that those who have less opportunity because of their ethnicity, socioeconomic status or school end up doing worse academically than students advantaged in those areas. While Smith does admit the gap exists, he insists the situation be put into perspective.
Regardless of how they are compared to each other, all 25 MCPS high schools made the Jay Mathews list of challenging high schools and all MCPS schools do better academically on average than Maryland and the nation. Smith also pointed out that the key function of schools is to help students learn. In the MCPS schools with lower academic achievement, while scores are lower, the improvement shown in students from the start of high school through the end is higher than that of the most successful schools in the county. In Smith’s words, “It’s all about where the students’ education starts and ends up.”
Still, Smith sees the gap as something that needs to be solved, and he believes it can be done by providing more access to resources and by eliminating the barriers to access.
Another issue Smith spoke about was the transition in MCPS from Google Classroom to the newly introduced My MCPS classroom and portal. Students have expressed their grievances about using the system that, in many ways, is more complex than Google Classroom and are wondering why the migration to MCPS Classroom needs to occur. Smith admits that the details of MCPS Classroom were developed before he entered his position, but he is dedicated to making the service easily accessible for all students. Smith is modeling his hopes for the service after what he calls the Amazon test. “If it’s not as easy as buying something on Amazon, it’s too hard,” Smith said.
A major goal of Smith’s in his upcoming years is expanding the career readiness programs available throughout the county. Smith hopes to erase the negative stigma the programs have, making them more readily available to students across the county while also expanding their services. Currently, Thomas Edison High School is the school in the county with the vast majority of career readiness programs available, however Edison is too far for many students in the county to commute to.
By creating a center for the programs in each corner of the county, as well as by spreading the potential benefits of undergoing the programs, Smith hopes to provide all students in the county with career readiness as a legitimate alternative to traditional schooling.
Regarding Smith’s position on other topics, he is committed to making sure schools are a safe environment, free from violence and perfect for learning. Smith wants to expand mental health programs in schools, providing students with the service if needed, and is also dedicated to expanding ESOL programs in schools. Smith is someone who has a clear vision for the county and is ready to have his goals for the county come to fruition.