The process for eventually finding Montgomery County Public Schools’ next superintendent cleared its latest step earlier this week with a series of four public forums and 17 focus group meetings that were organized to gather community feedback.
The gatherings were run by a pair of consultants with GR Recruiting, the MCPS firm is paying $ 20,000 to help with its superintendent search.
The forums took place at each of the four high schools on Monday and Tuesday evenings. The first two forums on Monday took place at Auburn and Blacksburg high schools, while the other two events the following day occurred at Eastern Montgomery and Christiansburg high schools.
The consultants asked attendees at each of the forums a series of just over a dozen questions that covered topics such as major challenges facing the district, the division’s strengths and traits members of the community would hope to see in the new MCPS chief.
Lane Plugge, one of the consultants with GR Recruiting, said it’s common for the firm to organize events such as the ones they recently hosted across Montgomery County as part of its other searches. He, however, said what set the recent MCPS forums somewhat apart from others the firm has conducted was the amount.
People are also reading…
“I think that’s because of the uniqueness of the Montgomery County schools,” Plugge said shortly after the end of the CHS forum.
Plugge said the firm learned that each of the district’s four communities have unique traits that they wanted to ensure was understood.
The focus group meetings, Plugge said, covered similar topics as the forums but were each narrowed to specific groups such as students and school employees – including central office staff.
“We’re hoping the input we get from these public forums and focus groups will match up with the surveys that we get,” he said.
The distinct traits of each of the Montgomery County school strands were touched on a few times during the forums.
At least a few attendees pointed out that different political affiliations and viewpoints are either dominant or significant in each of those communities and that school board members – depending on exactly which areas they represent – often reflect much of those stances. In fact, several people who attended the forums told the search firm consultants that one challenge the new superintendent will need to be able to grasp and navigate is the ideological divisions on the board.
Those divisions have often played out publicly, particularly since the start of the pandemic just over two years ago.
Issues the school board was sharply divided on included the reopening of schools during the first year of the pandemic and the taking up of new policies for transgender students, a matter that was prompted by the previous passage of state legislation.
In fact, many students and community members, particularly in the Blacksburg strand of schools, have kept LGBTQ-related issues at the forefront with public comments over the past several months on whether pride flags should be allowed in the classrooms. The topic of measures for students who are part of groups such as the LGBTQ community was brought up during the forums.
One question the consultants posed was which groups or organizations the new superintendent should make a priority to reach out to. Forum attendees brought up teachers, students and – as some at CHS pointed out – even the business and faith communities.
Teachers were noted by some as among the district’s strengths and one of the reasons for a superintendent to want to come to work at MCPS. Some forum attendees also spoke about a need to improve the trust in teachers and their experience in the classroom – with others specifically voicing a preference that the future superintendent have a both primary and secondary education background.
Anna Vijayan, a parent who attended the forum at Auburn High, was among those who spoke about a need to place greater trust in teachers.
Vijayan described the recent gathering as a way to have a conversation and hear different perspectives.
“I hope, and I expect the search firm will bring all those pieces of information together and report it fairly to the school board, so the opinions are summed up fairly… so the board can make a good decision,” she said.
Paul Deck, a parent who attended the Blacksburg High forum, said he understands it’s part of the firm’s duties, but that he still feels it’s a good idea to reach out to the community to learn about qualities and experience they’re looking for in a new superintendent.
Deck said he was glad to hear the consultants talk about hearing some ideas they had not heard about before.
“A few ideas like that are worth a lot,” Deck said. “And that’s a good enough reason to have a session like this.