Sami Saeed and Yoseph Zerihun, two Montgomery County Public School juniors, are set to face off April 19 to replace Arvin Kim as next year’s Student Member of the Board of Education (SMOB).
The SMOB is a voting member of the district’s Board of Education. Montgomery County is one of two counties in the state to give its SMOB full voting rights on the board. The position is not paid, but the student earns service learning hours for their board activities and a $5,000 college scholarship.
Four hundred student delegates from MCPS middle and high schools met at Watkins Mill High School in February to vote in the SMOB nominating convention, where Saeed and Zerihun emerged as finalists from a pool of 12 student candidates. Both are running on platforms of student equity and equal representation.
Elevating the average student voice
Saeed said he has vivid middle school memories of previous SMOB races and remembers feeling like student leaders had something he lacked—“like they knew something I didn’t.” He said he’s always been frustrated by problems within the school system but felt like he didn’t have the tools to address them.
“I realized I can step up and be the change I want to see,” he told MoCo360. “I want to bring that average student voice, often underrepresented and ignored, to the table. I don’t want to speak for communities — I want to give them the opportunity to speak for themselves.”
Saeed is junior at Richard Montgomery High in Rockville, where he serves as president of the Student Government Association (SGA). He’s also a member of the current SMOB’s student advisory council and an intern for board member Lynne Harris (At-Large). At a school board meeting on March 7, Saeed had strong words to share about school equality. He called out MCPS curriculum for focusing only on the negative aspects of Arab students’ culture and ethnicity, saying that students can’t be expected to learn from materials that “demonize” them.
“As an Arab American student, I’ve almost never learned about the Arabian Peninsula — and when I have, it’s been solely about terrorism and war,” he testified.
If elected, he said he has 10 main focuses for his term. Five of those he describes as “pressing and necessary” changes that will affect the largest body of students — changes such as better mental health support and expanding resources to under-funded schools.
The other five “innovative” focuses are more big-picture solutions that he said make his campaign unique. For example, he said he wants to diversify how school-wide information is distributed in classrooms, so that students without ready access to digital newsletters and emails can stay better informed.
Long-term, Saeed said he’s still exploring potential career options but emphasized that he doesn’t plan to use this position “as a steppingstone to something loftier,” telling MoCo360 he’s not interested in applying to Ivy League schools. He described himself as a film buff and said he’s watched nearly 1,000 movies in his lifetime. He named “Apocalypse Now” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” as favorites.
Addressing the opportunity gap
Zerihun said he’s wanted to be SMOB ever since sixth grade, when he was attending Redland Middle School in Derwood. Now a junior at Springbrook High, he said he’s witnessed the racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist within MCPS.
At Springbrook, Zerihun captains the school’s debate and mock trial teams, as well as the varsity baseball and golf teams. He’s also the language coordinator for Springbrook’s SGA executive board, a role where he guarantees SGA materials are translated for all students.
Zerihun said he’s running for a seat at the board because he’s been discouraged by the lack of representation for poorer, more racially diverse schools in systemwide decision-making. He referenced a district-wide boundary analysis conducted by MCPS that found that “neither racial nor socio-economic diversity are evenly distributed” across the school district.
“I’ve seen the disparities. I see it every day,” Zerihun said in an interview. “You go to a school like Whitman or B-CC—these are nice, beautiful buildings with tons of representation and resources. Springbrook, Paint Branch, Kennedy—schools like these are super different, and it’s really sad to see.”
Zerihun recently posted a video on TikTok inviting viewers to follow along as he prepared to testify before the county’s school board for the first time. He attended an MCPS facilities and boundaries hearing on March 9 to advocate for the reopening of Rockville’s Charles H. Woodward High School, something he believes would help bridge the equality gap and integrate students of color like himself.
“We cannot possibly say that systemic inequalities and de-facto segregation do not exist within our county when three-quarters of Black and Brown students attend impoverished schools while three-quarters of White and Asian students attend more affluent schools,” he told the board. “A student’s Zip code should not determine the level of education that they receive.”
His campaign slogan is “fighting for all,” because as SMOB he said he would push for solutions that all his student constituents can get behind. If elected, the first thing he wants to do is institute a taskforce of experts to address the opioid epidemic.
Zerihun said he wants to be a lawyer and would like to pursue criminal defense or immigration law—“either keeping people out of prison or helping people stay in the country.” In his spare time, he said he loves to cook and bake. He’s also an avid sports fan and enjoys playing and watching baseball, basketball, hockey and football. One of his favorite Netflix shows is “Madam Secretary.”
Kim said his time as student board member has been a “uniquely enriching opportunity” to serve his peers. He said the hardest part of being SMOB is using his seat at the table to make sure the board hears the collective voices of his 160,000 student constituents.
Kim cited his advisory cabinet of 500+ students as one of his proudest achievements in the role. He described the cabinet as demographically diverse, representing nearly all 65 MCPS middle and high schools. “I wanted to make this as accessible as possible,” he said.
When asked what advice he would impart to his successor on the board, Kim said:
“It’s so difficult for one student to represent 160,000 of your peers. Spend time in the schools. Create opportunities for students. Make sure your service is truly reflective of the diverse student body we have in our county.”
SMOB Election Day is April 19. Polls will be open to all MCPS middle and high school students from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The results will be made public at 5:30 p.m. the same day.