And we give special recognition to Wheaton High School where 38 percent of the students come from low-income families. Wheaton increased its participation rate more than any other school in the County and is in the top four percent of U.S. schools. Congratulations to George Arlotto and his staff!
We have nearly 10,000 students taking AP tests — the largest number ever. And we have the greatest number of AP tests ever taken — more than 19,000. That’s a 75 percent increase in three years and there’s been little impact on the average score.
We have record numbers of students from all groups taking Honors and Advanced Placement courses — 27,000 students.
We have 51 National Merit Scholars. Four years ago, we had 39.
For two years in a row, we’ve had Richard Montgomery graduates named Rhodes Scholars. This year, it’s Jason Shell, who graduated in 2001. This prestigious honor is given to only 32 students from the United States each year.
We have the highest-ever results on the state’s High School Assessments.
We have more students completing Algebra in middle school — almost half of all of our 8th graders.
We have 29 national Blue Ribbon Schools, including last year’s winner, Carderock Springs Elementary School. Congratulations to Linda Jones and her staff!
We have 109 of our schools recognized by the state for their performance on the Maryland School Assessment.
Our third graders achieved the highest ever results on the Maryland School Assessments. Our second graders are among the highest achieving children in the nation on the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills. And we have record numbers of our kindergarten students reading.
On just about every measure, we are making significant progress and each year the results get better thanks to our dedicated employees.
We’re especially proud of the improvement in our schools with the highest poverty where students are surpassing local, state, and federal standards for proficiency. We focused our Early Success initiative in high poverty schools four years ago and students in these schools are performing at increasingly higher levels. In some cases, they’re making more significant progress than their peers in wealthier neighborhoods.
One of those schools was named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence two weeks ago. Viers Mill is the 1st Title One school in the County to have over 70 percent of both third and fifth graders reach proficiency on the Maryland School Assessments. Congratulations to Jamie Virga and his staff at Viers Mill Elementary School.
We also must acknowledge the progress of our African American and Latino students. Greater numbers of these students are taking more Honors and AP courses than ever before. On the High School Assessments, the increase in the passing rates for African American and Latino students surpassed the countywide increases in every subject. These students have also made significant gains in kindergarten, on the CTBS, and on the Maryland School Assessments in grades three and five. But we can and will do better.
Our special populations are also improving. Both English language learners and special education students posted a 17-percentage point gain on the Grade 2 assessment program last year. At the high school level, 87% of the English language learners and 73% of the special education students taking the AP test scored a three or higher. We can and will do better.
For the past five years, we have worked together to improve our school system. Under the leadership of our Board of Education, we’ve outlined our vision in a strategic plan, Our Call to Action. This plan is helping us set new standards of excellence. And the work we’re doing with our employee associations is helping to build the capacity of our staff so that we can improve teaching and learning.
We’re focusing on creating the right conditions that will produce the best results. We’ve been realistic. We know that there is no quick fix for the achievement gap. It’s going to take our focused efforts, day after day, week after week, to make improvements that are significant and sustainable.
The budget that I am proposing this evening is designed with one goal in mind: improve student achievement. It will ensure that we continue to move forward even as the challenges that confront us become more complex.
This fall, the Board of Education, under the leadership of Sharon Cox, conducted community forums on the strategic plan and operating budget. This budget reflects ideas raised by parents, staff, students, community members and our employee associations at all of those forums. It addresses issues raised in meetings we’ve had with our PTA groups, and thousands of stakeholders. This budget also takes into account the valuable work of the Special Education Staffing Plan Committee.
A consistent theme threading its way through all of these discussions is TIME. How do we give our teachers more time to work with individual students? How do we give our principals more time so they can improve instruction? How do we give our parents more timely feedback on their children’s progress? How do we ensure that our students with disabilities are successful when they spend more time in general education classes? And how do we give all of our students more time to learn so they can achieve at higher levels?
The budget for fiscal year 2006 answers those questions. Here’s what we’re recommending to do:
- Lower class size at all grade levels
- Improve special education
- Increase mental health supports
- Expand full day kindergarten
- Increase accountability through technology
- Expand IB and gifted programs
- Strengthen middle school
- Improve SAT preparation
- Add 18 assistant principals at the elementary level
- Add 13 secretaries at the elementary level
- Add 95 building service, food service, safety and security and transportation personnel
- Increase foreign language translations for parents and
- Buy new textbooks
These improvements will provide us with the tools, the time, and the talent to improve student achievement. Each and every one is essential to our work. Let me review them in greater detail.
I’ve been talking about the need to reduce class sizes since I came to MCPS five years ago. It’s always been a part of our plan, the County Executive, Doug Duncan’s plan, and the County Council’s plan. In the past four years, we’ve added more than 500 classroom teacher positions to lower class sizes. We’ve wanted to do more but it hasn’t been possible because of the money.
To our parents and teachers, I say thank you for your patience. We did hear you, we did listen to you and we are going to do it. For the first time in at least 20 years we are going to lower the maximum class size guidelines in elementary school.
In today’s classroom, we have children with different abilities, strengths, and special needs. We expect our teachers to individualize instruction for each student and this can be difficult to do even under ideal circumstances. So we intend to reduce the maximum class size guidelines in every elementary school. Let me repeat that. I’m asking our Board of Education to reduce the maximum class size guidelines in every elementary school. How big of a difference will this make? Changing the guidelines by just two students will allow us to reduce overall classes, in some cases, by five to seven students. Here’s how it works.
If we had the new guidelines in effect right now at Wyngate Elementary School in Bethesda, we would go from three first grade classes of 27 to 28 students to four classes with just 20 to 21 students each. This is a major step forward in reducing large classes at the elementary level.
We’ve also heard what parents and teachers have been telling us about combination classes. This initiative will provide the staffing to virtually eliminate those combination classrooms.
Secondary schools need relief too. So, we plan to add 40 teaching positions to reduce oversize classes in secondary schools. In total, this 9.8 million dollar initiative will add 175 classroom teacher positions at the elementary and secondary levels. This is more than double what we’ve added to reduce class size in the past three years!
We simply cannot wait any longer to lower class size. This initiative becomes even more critical because we plan to include more students with disabilities in general education classrooms. We must make sure those students are successful.
So, improving special education achievement continues to be our priority. We must provide the best education for all students, regardless of ability. We must ensure that even more of our students with disabilities are included in general education classes. I am committed to making MCPS a leader in this area. During the past five years, we’ve expanded funding for special education and added 523 positions. I am proposing that we do more.
This year, we are recommending 3.3 million dollars in improvements for special education. That’s the largest special education initiative in any single year in MCPS. We propose adding 54 positions, including more paraeducators, more special education teachers, and more speech pathologists. These employees will provide intensive support for children in general education settings. In addition, we’ll be expanding the Home School Model to another cluster. We’ll focus on providing secondary special education students with the same rigorous instruction as their non-disabled peers. I’m also recommending adding staff for the growing preschool program and for the deaf and hard of hearing program. The total dedicated to special education next year will be $312 million — compared to $200 million in fiscal year 2001.
We must do more to help students who are struggling. The Collaborative Action Process does just that. It helps schools act early to provide mental health or instructional supports so students can succeed academically. This MCPS model is now in 29 schools and has improved educational outcomes. It also has reduced the number of inappropriate referrals to special education. We are recommending doubling this program and adding more psychologists and pupil personnel workers to implement it. By focusing on prevention and early intervention, we can give our at-risk students greater opportunities to achieve. This program works and should be fully funded.
Another proven program is full day kindergarten. With the endorsement of our county executive, we are recommending expanding it to an additional 20 schools, three more than we projected. This will bring the total number of schools with full day kindergarten up to 93. Our Early Success Plan confirms what the national research says: that a strong start gives children from all economic backgrounds the foundation they need to achieve academically in the later grades.
Our teachers tell us that their greatest enemy is time. They just don’t have enough of it. Lowering class size is one way we can give teachers more time. Another way is by providing tools that give teachers more time to individualize instruction. Our accountability through technology initiative does just that.
This initiative makes technology tools available that help teachers, administrators, and parents. With these tools, teachers can assess a student’s progress instantaneously and give students the help they need immediately.
Administrators can make better decisions about how to guide their staff when they have access to timely information. And parents can help their children at home because they’ll get regular progress reports with detailed tips for improving skills.
Again with the endorsement of our county executive, we plan to implement this three million dollar initiative in prekindergarten through eighth grade in the next two years. We expect it to improve student achievement and parent communication. This initiative will also give back one of the most precious commodities a teacher has — time. And when teachers have more time, they can teach the whole child.
Another area we need to improve is gifted education. We know that we must do more for our gifted students and children who need greater acceleration. We will continue to increase the rigor in all of our schools for all of our students. But, in addition, I am recommending that we expand our gifted programs and International Baccalaureate programs. We’ll be opening a seventh center for the highly gifted at Chevy Chase Elementary School. This will be the third program we’ve added over three years and now we have a center in every area of the county.
We’re expanding the Roberto Clemente Middle School gifted program to the eighth grade. We’re creating a new Middle years IB program at Silver Spring International Middle School. And we’ll begin planning for this IB program at both Francis Scott Key and Newport Mill middle schools.
We know that much more needs to be done at the middle school and this budget does it. Over the last five years, our plan focused first on early childhood and high school reform. If we want our students to pass the High School Assessments, then they must prepare in middle school. If we want our students to be ready for Honors and AP courses, then they must complete Algebra by 8th grade. This initiative will help students do that.
Our improvements in middle school will give students more time for learning through extended day and extended year programs. We’ll expand intervention programs in reading and mathematics and purchase new textbooks for all middle schools as new curriculum units are introduced. And we’ll implement stronger assessments to diagnose student performance in reading. This middle school initiative is the next piece of the puzzle connecting our successful efforts in elementary school to the successful reform we’ve implemented in high school. Our kids need it, our parents want it, and now is the time to do it.
We must intensify our efforts to prepare African American and Latino students for college. Our SAT initiative will make this possible. This initiative will ensure that these students are receiving a rigorous education throughout their school career. We’ll begin preparing our students for the SAT as early as middle school and we’ll increase the number of high school students taking our SAT prep courses. These efforts will complement the diversity training program we’ve established to increase staff awareness of the importance of high expectations. Make no mistake. I am committed to closing the achievement gap and we need the full engagement of the entire community to help us succeed.
We must do a better job of communicating with our multicultural community. Our parents who do not speak English need to have access to information so they can better help their children. We plan to improve services and increase the number of translations we do in print, on our web site, and on our television programs. Language should not be a barrier to parents who want to be involved in their children’s education.
At the elementary level, we need to provide more administrative support and this budget provides it. We plan to add 18 assistant principals for elementary schools, the largest request for assistant principals that we’ve ever made in a single year. These administrators will help to ensure that the focus remains on quality instruction and we can’t wait another year to do it.
Another key position at the elementary school is the secretary. Secretaries are a critical communication link in the school. They’re troubleshooters, problem solvers and peacemakers all rolled into one. We’re recommending an additional 13 secretaries and this will complete our plan to have at least two full-time secretaries in every K-12 school.
We are also recommending an additional 95 supporting services positions. We’ll add positions in building and food services, safety and security, and transportation. These important employees make sure our students have a clean, healthy, and safe environment in which to learn and we need them now.
The improvements that I’ve outlined will ensure that we have the right people in the right jobs doing the right work. John F. Kennedy said “our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.” The success of our County is directly linked to the success of our school system. To keep our economy sound, to keep our community strong, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that our progress is not compromised by the challenges before us.
We’re now the 17th largest school system in the nation with nearly 140,000 students. Our population of English language learners is nearly 13,000 students. It’s grown by 27% over the past four years and is the largest in the state of Maryland. Our special education population has grown by 12% over that same period and enrollment now tops 17,000 students. The number of children living in poverty has more than doubled in the past 12 years to more than 32,000 students.
I know that all of us gathered here this evening share the same belief that limited income or limited English should not limit a child’s right to a quality education. It’s a belief that we must act on every day in every classroom.
We believe that a quality education is more than the sum total of the tests a student takes. Education should prepare a child to be a lifelong learner and a productive citizen. Learning is a journey filled with exciting opportunities for children to question, create, explore, and experiment. What better place to do that than here in MCPS?
You’ll find our elementary students writing and performing original operas, taking advanced mathematics and learning Chinese. You’ll find our middle school students studying robotics, programming computers, and writing poetry. In our high schools, you’ll see students studying molecular biology, performing concerts, building houses, and discussing Shakespeare. These are opportunities that enrich and inspire our students to learn more about the world around them.
So, with the tools, the time and the talent, we’re preparing our students for high stakes testing while giving them a first-rate education. It’s worth noting that during the past three years, we’ve seen a net increase of nearly 2,000 students leaving private schools to come to MCPS. It’s a credit to our staff that we can offer these students the quality education their parents want for them.
We can continue to produce consistently good results only with the continued support of our community. And we can continue to give every child from every background the opportunity to reach the highest standards. Students like Zainab Alkebsi, a 12th grade student at Rockville High School. She’s one of those students I talked about earlier who is taking Advanced Placement Courses — three this year, and two in her junior year. Remarkable does not begin to describe this talented young lady. Let’s meet her in this video.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of high expectations. Zainab has a 3.85 grade point average and plans on becoming an attorney so that she can advocate for the rights of children with disabilities. I have no doubt, Zainab, that you will excel in whatever path you choose. Zainab’s drive to succeed is nurtured by her first teachers — her parents. Thank you for entrusting us with the education of your daughter. We’re especially proud of all of our staff members who have guided Zainab since she was two years old. Their professionalism and dedication exemplify our outstanding MCPS workforce.
The ability to influence the future is what motivates our people who make education their life’s work. Our priority is to have top-notch employees working with every one of our students and that’s why we’re willing to pay the best to get the best. But even with the salary increases we’ve provided, there are still about 25 percent of our staff — 5,000 employees — commuting from outside of Montgomery County. Some are traveling from as far away as West Virginia and Pennsylvania, in part because of the high cost of housing, which is increasing three to four times faster than salaries.
To afford a median priced home in Montgomery County, a household needs an annual income of $89,000. The average salary for our support staff is $35,000 and for our teachers it’s $61,000. So many of our employees who want to own their own home, must “drive ‘til they qualify” for a mortgage. Their lives are measured in terms of miles and minutes.
I spoke to one of those teachers who commutes from Frederick and drops her child off at 5:15 in the morning and rushes home to pick him up by 6:00 p.m. Each day is a mad rush to make it to work or get to the sitter on time.
Those who do live in the County must often hold a second job, sometimes a third. Many of their paychecks are eaten up by the cost of childcare and college loan repayments with little disposable income left over.
Teachers at Wood Middle School, for example, are paying an average of $12,000 a year in daycare costs.
Another young teacher I spoke to rents a one-bedroom apartment. She told me that at the end of every month, after she has finished paying all of her bills, she has just ten dollars left over. This could be my daughter or your daughter.
But, to a person, every employee I’ve spoken to has a passion for the work that they do even as they struggle with these challenges. Can you imagine what kind of impact this has on the quality of life for our employees? Or how productivity is affected? It’s commendable that the County Executive and County Council are taking steps to address this important issue of workforce housing. It’s about our time. And remember, time is a currency we can’t afford to waste.
Our employees — from the building services worker to the classroom teacher to the principal — are the heart and soul of MCPS. The results we achieve each year are directly tied to our quality workforce.
This budget makes it possible for our employees to keep doing what works. We are recommending 1.7 billion dollars for next year to keep us on the path to higher achievement and greater accountability.
This budget includes an overall increase of $109 million, which is less than we got last year. In fact, the increase of 6.8 percent is lower than the average for the past five years. Our budget was fully funded the last three years because we got results. We have even better results this year, so we expect the budget to be fully funded again. Let’s keep that cycle of success going.
Here’s how the 109 million dollar increase will be spent. Nearly 65 million dollars is for salaries and benefits. More than 26 million dollars is for the initiatives we need to improve student achievement. Fifteen million dollars is for growth. Much of this reflects growth in special education and English language learners. And three million dollars is for inflation, transportation, and other costs.
We’re asking for an increase of one million dollars less than last year and still plan to do 26 million dollars worth of initiatives. How can we afford to fund this? It’s possible because we’ve managed our money responsibly over the past five years. In fact, MCPS is the third lowest in the state for the percentage of its budget spent on administrative costs — just two percent. But we’re first in the state for the share of our budget that is devoted to classroom instruction. In addition, we’ve made significant savings in health care and workers’ compensation costs with the help of our employee associations. And since 2000, we’ve funded most of our new initiatives by making cuts in our base budget to the tune of 53 million dollars.
The revenue is there to move our plan forward. And we’re going to fight to keep it there. At the state level, we expect Thornton to be fully funded. And we expect to get full funding of the state aid for school construction so that our space needs don’t have to compete with our educational needs.
Over the next several months, we need to work together because I know you believe as I do that we can and must do this. This is not the time for our community to ease up on its commitment to education and to children.
There’s a Chinese proverb that says: If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant trees. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate children.
That is the mission before us. Whether it’s a child with special needs or a child in poverty. A child who is ready to soar or a child who needs extra help. A child of color or a child with limited English. Powerless kids need powerful allies. That’s our value system in Montgomery County.
We must continue to do the things that we know are making a difference. And we must put our time and money where our heart is — our children.
I’ve never felt more confident that our best work lies ahead. Together, let’s pledge to do the good work so that we can build a brighter future for all of our children.