Richard Montgomery rising senior Sami Saeed, the 46th Student Member of the Board of Education. Credit: Sami Saeed

The Montgomery County Board of Education welcomed Sami Saeed as its 46th student member during a festive swearing-in ceremony at board headquarters in Rockville Tuesday afternoon. Excited to take on the new role, Saeed says his top priorities for his term include increasing student engagement and reimagining communication channels within the school district.

“I’m beyond excited to embark on a new journey and see what lies ahead of me as student member of the board,” Saeed said during his inaugural speech. “I can’t wait to meet new people, create new memories and travel to new places—though most of all, I look forward to representing over 160,000 students across MCPS and giving them a voice to fight for change and create a better future for all of us.”

The student member of the board—often referred to as the SMOB—is elected to serve a term of one full school year. Montgomery County Public Schools is the only district in the state to give its SMOB full voting rights on the board. While the position is not paid, students earn service learning hours and a $5,000 college scholarship for their involvement.

Saeed was elected into the position by his peers in April, taking over for Whitman senior Arvin Kim. On Tuesday, former SMOBs, county councilmembers, state delegates and other officials gathered at the Carver Educational Services Center for the swearing in ceremony.

“To be a part of this work has been a particular honor for me. Education is what brought my family to this country, and it’s also what allowed us to say,” Kim shared during his outgoing remarks. “Education above all else is an equalizer. […] Better is always good, and so the work is always worth it.”

Each board member took the opportunity to individually bid Kim a fond farewell and extend a warm welcome to Saeed, complimenting in turn Kim’s “quiet confidence” and how Saeed “radiates enthusiasm.” This fall, Kim will pursue a Bachelor of Arts in political science from New York’s Columbia University.


Enlisting the help of 600 students

In the weeks leading up to the start of the new school year, Saeed said he’s been spending his time trying to strike a balance between enjoying his last summer of high school and preparing for his new SMOB responsibilities.

“I’m feeling really excited,” he said. “I’ve been meeting with Arvin and a lot of other people to talk over the position and understand what I can and can’t do. As I learn more, obviously there are some realizations—not discouraging, but more of a new perspective.”


He explained that while many students tend to see their SMOB as someone “with a button on their desk that says ‘change this, change that,’” in reality his ability to modify policy is very limited. Instead, he said his role is to ensure that diverse student perspectives are included and prioritized in the board’s discussions and decision-making.

To that end, he said he’s proud of the 600-person SMOB student advisory council he’s put together, which includes representatives from every public high school and school cluster in the county. Saeed served on Kim’s advisory council last year and said he’s excited to take what he learned from the experience and use it to make his council even more efficient.

Saeed’s council will consist of three departments: communications, policy and projects. He said he made sure to include students from all over the county in each department, so that “no department ends up with 10 people from one school.” Each department will be led by an elected student director, and the full council will meet in person once a month to coordinate activities.


“I’m so excited for this council,” Saeed said. “I think it might be one of the most effective in SMOB history.”

From rivals to colleagues

Over the spring semester, Saeed faced off as a SMOB finalist against Yoseph Zerihun, a Springbrook High rising senior. Both students ran on platforms of student equity and equal representation. Now, Zerihun is poised to serve as one of Saeed’s four chiefs of staff.


“During the campaign, he really activated the Ethiopian community and engaged them in a lot of issues affecting that community,” Saeed said. “I didn’t want that voice to be lost. Yoseph is such a great leader and really passionate about change. We’ll make a great team.”

Zerihun said the two of them came to an agreement about their SMOB roles even before the election had been called.

“It was actually something Sami suggested during the campaign, right before the decision,” he said. “To make sure there’s no beef between us and to set a good precedent for future SMOBs, we decided that whoever won would make the other guy a chief of staff.”


Zerihun said he anticipates working closely with the project department of Saeed’s student advisory council. One key initiative he hopes to advance is ensuring student input is sought out and used to improve school lunches via taste-testing events held across the school district.

“Students sort of hate their school lunch meals. They don’t taste the best,” he admitted. “These taste-testing events are great and really make us feel like we have a voice.”

Zerihun said the district has hosted several tasting events already, but he wants to see the opportunity expanded to schools across the county—especially in underrepresented communities like the upcounty schools.


Zerihun described Saeed as a passionate leader with “an incredible work ethic” and said he’s excited to work alongside him over the course of the impending school year.

Rethinking school communication

When asked about his top priorities for his term, Saeed emphasized his intention to increase student engagement by improving school communication channels. He said he wants to use social media, school messaging and his advisory council to connect directly with students from elementary through high school and help empower them to get involved in their education.


He described plans to revamp the SMOB Monthly Message—a short, prerecorded video clip shown in class to all middle and high school students. While historically the message tends to consist of the SMOB standing in front of a camera reading off a prompt, Saeed said he wants to explore ways to make the videos more engaging by incorporating skits and activities.

“I mean, sixth graders are watching this, so I want to make it fun for them as well as informative,” he said.

He said he also wants to use social media to connect with students on platforms they’re already familiar with, pointing out that when he and Zerihun were campaigning against each other, TikTok videos of their campaign speeches generated thousands of views.


“By the end of my term,” he said, “I hope that if we do an end-of-the-year reflection interview I can say, ‘All the way back in July, I was talking about how I wanted to revamp communication—and here’s how I did it.”

Saeed is expected to undergo his official school board orientation on July 14 and will attend another training session at the state level on Aug. 3. Aug. 28 marks the first official day of Montgomery County’s new school year.