My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.
Recently, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Joshua Starr gave a speech about innovation.
Now, when you Google the word innovation, this list of synonyms pops up: “change, revolution, upheaval, transformation, breakthrough, creativity, ingenuity, inspiration, inventiveness.”
Revolution! Upheaval! Pretty strong stuff, right?
Starr’s innovation speech was void of examples of revolution or upheaval within our public schools. There was chatter about a new college scholarship program for poor high school students, but frankly, such programs have been around for a while. In 2008, for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I did a year-long research study of this DC-based college scholarship program. This DC program is based on a similar program started back in 2000. There is a need for such programs, but it’s hard to categorize them as innovative breakthroughs.
But Starr’s call for innovation got to me. And after re-reading this recent Bethesda Now piece about overcrowded Bethesda schools, I got to thinking: What would our schools look like if we really were inventive or transformative? Could inventiveness help solve overcrowding?
Now, I have no children in MCPS. My only two offspring long ago graduated from Walt Whitman High School. No real stake in the game. Nonetheless, it is fun to pretend about life in Bethesda. And so let’s pretend.
If I were a parent residing on the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, I wonder what Starr and MCPS would say to me if I said, OK, instead of moving my children out of overcrowded Bethesda Elementary School and busing them to Rosemary Hills Elementary School for one set of grades and then to North Chevy Chase Elementary School for another set of grades, you let them stay put at the Medical Center?
Mr. 2-cents wait a minute — there’s no school at the Medical Center. Well, duh, I know that. (There is, however, a small MCPS school on NIH’s campus for the sick children that reside temporarily on the campus.)
But what I’m saying is this: Think outside of the box.
If we Medical Center MCPS parents got organized and joined forces with all the NIH MCPS parents, would we be allowed to open our own Medical Center/NIH school? Let MCPS provide the instructional support. Let the Medical Center/NIH provide the physical space to house a school. And so, Dr. Starr — Mr. Innovation — could we do it?
In reality, I have no idea how many real MCPS students would be in a Medical Center/NIH pool. I’m thinking that the pool might be north of 500-700 MCPS students, grades pre-K through high school. And my guess is based solely on the reality that NIH currently runs the largest daycare center in Montgomery County with nearly 300 kids. But regardless of population size, my point here is why aren’t these kinds of wild — yet creative — solutions discussed at all? If a wild idea can create 1,000 new classroom seats why not throw it on the table and figure out how to make it work?
MCPS keeps telling the public that schools are overflowing with students — packed in like sardines so they say. In fact, in this video, the word crisis is used by the Board of Education president to describe the current state of affairs.
But if you take the time to view the video (less than 20 minutes long), you also will learn the proposed solution to this crisis is just more money to build more of the same at a faster pace. You hear practically nothing with regards to revolutions or upheavals. And this is a room full of very smart people (I think).
In short, if the Medical Center/NIH MCPS parents walked into the MCPS headquarters tomorrow with a proposal to place a 1,000-seat school in the mix — on the Medical Center/NIH campus — my guess is they would be rejected flat out. And the rejection would happen regardless of how innovative these parents made the school.
I can hear the sighs of “impossible” as these parents run through their list of inventive ways to distinguish their school from other cookie-cutter MCPS schools — schools that frankly my grandparents would recognize as schools they attended, minus the technology toys.
. Pre-K to grade 12. Impossible!
. A flexible year-round school schedule. Impossible!
. A flexible daily bell schedule. Impossible!
. No yellow buses required. Impossible!
. No high school sports. What?! Crazy, ridiculous, definitely impossible!
. Science/medial internships for all. Impossible!
I think innovation might just be a word Dr. Starr uses to make a speech sound better — not something MCPS really wants to practice.
Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.