In his year as student member of Montgomery County’s school board, Matt Post has rubbed elbows with director Steven Spielberg, raised his hand in protest alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and delivered a speech that went viral on social media.
But he mentions none of those things when he reflects on his term.
Post, who graduated from Sherwood High School about a month ago, instead wants to talk about the work he’s done on addressing mental health issues and bringing more attention to the perspectives of students. He left office June 30 with some successes and a few disappointments in the rearview mirror and the feeling that he never gave up on his ideals.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that even when it wasn’t popular, I always voted for what I believe was right,” Post, 18, said. “I was always willing to compromise on the details, but never on the values.”
His 12 months in office included their share of tragedy. In late 2017, two students—one from Walt Whitman High and one from Walter Johnson High—died by suicide within weeks of each other, and in the wave of grief that followed, Post led young people in frank discussions about mental health. The school system added suicide awareness programs to every middle and high school and distributed lists of resources to students, he said.
“I came in with total faith that to talk about mental illness in an honest way is to destigmatize it,” he said.
Another priority for Post was giving students a greater role in Montgomery County Public Schools decision-making. At Post’s urging, MCPS for the first time invited a student to join its budget steering committee, a role that gave the teen, Michael Yin of Montgomery Blair High School, a role in crafting the school system’s spending plan.
Post advocated for setting aside $750,000 in the budget for supporting English-language learners by investing in counselors who speak other languages. He also supported funding to expand vocational opportunities for students, and the budget adopted during Post’s tenure did add programs in career fields including aerospace, agriculture, firefighting and law enforcement.
Matt Post with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at a rally in March. Credit: Matt Post
Post also worked heavily on the calendar for the 2018-2019 academic year and successfully advocated for closing schools on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, a move welcomed by advocates from the Muslim community.
After the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, Post embraced his role as a student advocate in the growing national youth movement demanding stronger gun control. He brought forward the resolution passed by the board urging lawmakers to pass legislation on reducing gun violence.
Post joined an estimated 2,500 Montgomery County students in a March 14 walkout that took them to the Capitol Hill and addressed them in a speech that drew national attention. He was later invited to speak at the March for Our Lives event on March 24 in Washington, D.C., that was organized by the Parkland survivors.
“I think he’s had a nationwide impact. I talked to friends in Florida who heard him on NPR,” school board member Jeanette Dixon said. “I think he was the right SMOB at the right time to speak out on this issue.”
Still, Post says he did experience some failures during his time as SMOB.
Earlier this year, he suggested a policy change that would’ve required officials to make diversity the top priority in setting school attendance boundaries, a change that Post argued would end de facto segregation in the county’s schools. He wasn’t able to convince a board majority to side with him.
“I think integration has always been very politically unpopular, and it’s hard sometimes to get institutions to summon the political will to do things that won’t always be liked,” Post said. “We have a lot of wealthy parents in Montgomery County who have certain ideas about certain schools and how the demographics of certain schools affect learning opportunities at those schools, and those parents will always stand in the way of progress on integration.”
Post speaks with students during a visit to Albert Einstein High School in Kensington. Credit: Matt Post.
Board member Jill Ortman-Fouse, who did support Post’s proposal, said she admires his steadfastness even when his opinion doesn’t win out.
“He’s not waiting to see which way the wind blows. He’s looking for the moral center and stepping out of what many feel would be a comfortable realm,” Ortman-Fouse said. “In a very big institution like MCPS that has a large hierarchy and a very deep history, as a new young person to the board, it could be really intimidating. But I never found him kowtowing or being cautious.”
That being said, Post did learn a thing or two about consensus-building during his time on the board.
“If there’s anything that I learned this year, it’s that the number five is as magical number, and you need five votes to get anything done,” he said.
Serving as a SMOB also taught him about making personal trade-offs. Because of the position’s demands, Post had to stop running cross-country, had less time with friends, saw his grades slip a bit and got “a whole lot less sleep.”
This fall, Post will begin his first semester at Yale University, where he will likely study public policy. He said he leaves confident that the school system is in good hands, praising the board members he served alongside for the past year. The incoming SMOB, Ananya Tadikonda, said she expects to continue much of the work Post has been doing.
“I’ve always looked up to him. He’s always been a role model for me, as he has been for many other students,” she said.
Before relinquishing the post to Tadikonda, Post offered her a few pieces of advice.
“I told her she shouldn’t be afraid to push back. And that you can’t take anything personally, and you have to do what you believe is right, always,” he said.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at email@example.com.