Later start times, more technology highlight new academic year
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) welcomes more than 156,000 students for the first day of the 2015–2016 school year today (August 31, 2015), the largest enrollment in the district’s history. Enrollment in MCPS is increasing by more than 2,600 students this year, the eighth straight year of growth greater than 2,000 students.
“We are pleased to welcome students back for the 2015–2016 school year and are committed to providing every child with an education that prepares them to thrive in the 21st century,” said Patricia B. O’Neill, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. “MCPS has great teachers, great staff, and strong community support and that is why more parents, every year, are entrusting us with the education of their children. We are honored to serve these wonderful students and are dedicated to their success.”
Among the highlights of the 2015–2016 school year are—
- Later starting and ending times for all students;
- The completion of several construction projects that will add much-needed space to accommodate the district’s record growth;
- The continued rollout of the district’s technology initiative; and
- A strategic effort to increase engagement with Spanish-speaking families.
Also this year, the Board of Education will conduct a search for a new superintendent of schools to lead the district. The Board will begin the search in the fall and a new superintendent is expected to be in place by July 1, 2016. For the 2015–2016 school year, Larry A. Bowers, a 37-year veteran of MCPS, is serving as interim superintendent.
“We are excited to open our schools today and begin a great year in MCPS,” said Mr. Bowers, who served as chief operating officer for 16 years prior to becoming interim superintendent in February. “Our teachers, staff, and school leaders are ready to get to work and are dedicated to providing our students with a world-class education that prepares them for success today and in the future.”
MCPS is committed to the mission of the Strategic Planning Framework—Building Our Future Together: Students, Staff, and Community—which states: “Every student will have the academic, creative problem solving, and social emotional skills to be successful in college and career.” The District Implementation Plan outlines the long-term strategies that MCPS is using to fulfill that mission.
Mr. Bowers and the Board have identified five strategic priorities for the 2015–2016 school year, which are aligned to the Framework and the Implementation Plan, and are areas on which MCPS will focus to ensure student success. Those priorities are—
- Strengthen the foundation for academic success: Ensuring that all students have the literacy and mathematics skills they need for success;
- Focus on accountability and results: Use reliable data to monitor student progress, provide timely supports, and measure return on investment;
- Enhance our culture of collaboration and respect: Ensure that all students are engaged in their learning and employees are increasing their cultural proficiency;
- Focus on human capital management: Hire and retain the best employees, and provide them with the necessary training and support; and
- Strengthen partnerships and engagement: Engage parents and work with county, nonprofit, and business partners to provide opportunities and resources for students and their families.
Mr. Bowers and the Board were joined by other dignitaries at a back-to-school media event at Wheaton Woods Elementary School on Monday. At the event, Mrs. O’Neill and Mr. Bowers discussed the growth of the district and the significant need for additional classroom space.
More Students, More Space Needed
The projected enrollment for this school year is 156,514 students, an increase of more than 2,600 students over last school year. Since 2007, MCPS enrollment has increased by nearly 19,000 students—enough to fill 24 elementary schools to capacity. MCPS is working to add space as quickly as possible, while also replacing aging buildings and addressing infrastructure needs.
Today, MCPS opened five classroom expansion projects at Arcola, Bethesda, North Chevy Chase, and Rosemary Hills elementary schools and Clarksburg High School. These projects add 48 classrooms and more than 92,200 square feet of much-needed space. In January, the revitalization/expansion project at Wheaton High School will open, as well. Like nearly all of the district’s revitalization/expansion projects, the new Wheaton High School not only replaces an aging building, but adds capacity to the school and is constructed in an environmentally friendly manner.
“We appreciate the commitment of the Montgomery County Council and the county executive to providing modern, safe learning spaces for our students,” Mr. Bowers said. “While Montgomery County has invested a lot of resources in meeting the capital needs of MCPS, more state aid is needed if we are going to keep up with our growth.”
For the past two years, MCPS and county officials, as well as many members of the Montgomery County state delegation, have lobbied for additional state funding that could be leveraged to get many of the 22 shovel-ready projects under way. While those efforts have not been successful thus far, Mrs. O’Neill said they will keep trying.
“MCPS is the largest and fastest-growing district in Maryland,” she said. “I look forward to working with our county and state leaders to secure the funds we need to keep up with our growth and provide our students with the learning spaces they deserve.”
School Start Times
The school day is starting later this year. In February, the Board of Education decided to push school starting and ending times later to give students—especially teenagers—extra time to sleep. Middle and high schools are starting and ending 20 minutes later than last year and elementary schools are starting 10 minutes later and ending 20 minutes later.
The change came after a lengthy community discussion regarding starting and ending times—also known as bell times.
MCPS will continue the rollout of its districtwide technology initiative, which seeks to provide mobile devices—mainly Chromebook laptops—and an online learning environment to all students. Last school year, the Chromebooks were placed in all Grade 3, 5, and 6 classrooms, as well as high school social studies classrooms.
The plan was for the rollout to continue in Grades 2, 4, 7 and one more high school subject this year, but budget reductions forced the Board of Education to remove that item from the operating budget in June. Over the summer, MCPS decided to put off replacing desktop computers in offices and school labs and redirect that money to partially expand the Chromebook initiative.
The devices will be placed in all Grade 4 classes and about 150 Grade 7 classes. However, the Grade 2 and high school expansions will be delayed at least one year.
Enhancing Communications with Spanish-speaking Families
MCPS is launching new multimedia tools this week that enable Spanish-speaking families to more easily engage with schools and the district. Among the new resources are a redesigned Spanish website, a Spanish Facebook page, and new videos with news, information, and tips designed to help parents understand and navigate the school system.
In addition, MCPS is launching a new mobile app, MCPS en Español, which is available on the Apple app store and Google Play.
These new tools enhance already existing Spanish language tools, including the MCPS en Español Twitter feed, MCPS QuickNotes in Spanish, and collaborative efforts with Spanish media.