In the pre-dawn twilight at the Clarksburg School Bus Depot the new Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, Dr. Jack R. Smith did interviews with television stations and waved to MCPS bus drivers as they began their first runs of the new school year.
Smith, who is just shy of three months into his time as the head of MCPS, was in Clarksburg to catch a bus, a school bus. Smith rode an MCPS school bus from the Clarksburg Depot to Neelsville Middle School. The bus made stops in the northern portion of Germantown including stops along St. Johnsbury Lane and Staleybridge Road in Germantown en route to the Germantown middle school.
“With 204 schools I need to get to know all the schools quickly,” said Smith, when asked why he chose to visit Neelsville Middle School for his first stop on the first day of school for MCPS under his leadership. “The chance to be at Neelsville with 900-plus students and the Principal Mrs. Parcan is a great opportunity. It is a chance to spend time visiting with students about what they are going to do this year and what they think is what I need to spend my time doing.”
Once Smith arrived at Neelsville among the throng of excited students exiting school buses or being dropped off by parents, he greeted Assistant Principal Tonia Harley and Principal Mrs. L. Vicky Lake-Parcan. He greeted students coming off the bus he was on and entered the school speaking to students, staff, and administrators along the way.
Smith and Parcan popped into a few classrooms while teachers and students were getting their homerooms situated. He and Principal Parcan stopped into Neelsville’s television studio, where they joined the student anchor team and addressed the school. In one homeroom, he took part in an ice-breaking exercise after catching a beach ball with questions the catcher had to answer about him- or herself.
Smith took the helm of MCPS on July 1 after serving with the Maryland State Department of Education as interim state superintendent. Over the last several weeks, he has visited nearly all 204 schools and facilities in MCPS by riding the school system’s delivery trucks. Neelsville Middle School was just Smith’s first stop. He also planned to visit Thomas Edison High School in Silver Spring, the Wheaton High School and celebrate the end the first school day with students and staff at Maryvale Elementary School in Rockville.
“I’m excited and grateful to take on the role of Superintendent of Schools for one of the largest, most respected school systems in this nation,” said Smith in a statement from MCPS. “My priority in this role is to both maintain the high level of student achievement that our school system is known for, and to help lift up those who are not performing as well, so that all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language or disability can meet their full and true potential. We must close the opportunity gap. It is a moral imperative.”
Smith also spoke of helping close to achievement gap during a one-on-one interview with the Germantown Pulse at Neelsville Middle School. “Montgomery County has a long history of really high achievement,” said Smith when asked what surprised him the most after taking the top post at MCPS. “What did surprise me was that we have a good number of students that are disadvantaged. We have a good number of students who are not learning at the highest levels. We really need to maintain that high level of achievement for the students that are there and also increase our equity in excellence by increasing learning opportunities for all students. I think we can do that by really learning and teaching and knowing where students are today so that we can help them know what they need to know tomorrow and next week.”
However, MCPS now has significant new resources to help close the opportunity gap. The $2.46 billion Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 provides $37.9 million of targeted funding that will allow MCPS to reduce class sizes in many classrooms across the district and accelerate our efforts to close the achievement gap.
Another major problem facing MCPS is increased enrollment; the school district welcomed 159,000 students for their first day of school of the 2016-2017 school, the largest enrollment in the district’s history. Enrollment in MCPS has increased by more than 2,500 students. Much of that growth has come in the UpCounty area in Clarksburg and Germantown.
The new Hallie Wells Middle School in Clarksburg — which school boasts more than 150,000 square feet of learning space — aims to accommodate some of that growth. “I was up at Hallie Wells Middle School for an open house — a Welcome to Wells event on Wednesday
night,” said Smith. “It was great. It was packed with sixth and seventh-grade students and parents.”
Smith had no intention of visiting the new school on the first day of classes, “I told all the 204 principals that if they are in a new school or are a new principal that I am not coming to their school this week, because they will have enough things to think about, so I am not going to go to those schools this week.”
MCPS has also completed three other capital projects, including the revitalization/ expansion of William H. Farquhar Middle School and additions at Julius West Middle School and Wood Acres Elementary School.
Next year MCPS is expected to begin one of the most anticipated revitalization/expansion is scheduled to begin next year. Germantown Pulse asked Smith if the plans to reconstruct Seneca Valley High School were still on track and the project was still expected to go forward. Smith said, “I met with the construction people for about three hours last week, and I have another meeting with them on September 6. I will be better equipped to answer that question after that meeting.”
According to construction documents on the MCPS website, construction contracts were to be awarded by the Board of Education in July of 2016, with building to be completed by August of 2018 and the site to be completed by August 2019. The cost for the new school contraction is estimated to be $130 million. As of August 29, 2016, the contracts have yet to be awarded.
The new Hallie Wells Middle School and other capital improvement projects being completed this year, along with expanded enrollment has required MCPS to hire new staff. MCPS has hired more than 1,200 new teachers this year, thanks, in part, to the additional resources allocated in the budget. In Germantown, Northwest High School has added 36 addition teachers to its staff, according to new Northwest Principal Jimmy D’Andrea. MCPS begins the school year with 12,673 teachers on staff.
Smith told Germantown Pulse that the rate of enrollment is expected to continue for the next few years. “We need to start thinking about making sure that the facilities that we build or obtain are well suited for the programs that we run,” said Smith when asked how the district would continue to deal with the influx in enrollment. “One of the things I like to do is look at our programs, especially our high school programs, and ask if these programs can be operated even more effectively if it were in a different setting. For instance, if you are talking about computer science, should we be right next to somebody who does computer science all day long in their business or their agency and we can engage the students differently. We have to think differently, and that is a conversation that is going on all over the state right now and all over this nation. Essentially we have to provide a good learning environment for students.”
Top: New MCPS Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jack R. Smith exits an MCPS school bus at Neelsville Middle School in Germantown after riding with students to the first day of classes for the 2016-2017 school year.
Next: Neelsville Middle School students depart their school buses and make their way to the main entrance on the first day of classes for MCPS.
Video: Dr. Smith and Principal Lake-Parcan take part in morning announcements in the Neelsville Middle School television studio.
Next: Dr. Smith talks to students and parents outside the main entrance to Neelsville Middle School.
Next: The exterior of the new Hallie Wells Middle School in Clarksburg.
Next: Dr. Smith and Neelsville Middle School Principal Mrs. L. Vicky Lake-Parcan chat in front of the Neelsville Knight mural.
Photos and Video by Germantown Pulse