The Montgomery County Board of Education recently honored 14 individuals and organizations during its annual Distinguished Service Awards ceremony. The ceremony took place at the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville.
The Board established the awards to recognize and show appreciation for exemplary contributions to public education and to MCPS by members of the community, businesses, MCPS staff and school volunteers.
This year’s Distinguished Service Award winners are:
During the past three years, Councilmember Nancy Floreen has been at the heart of unprecedented efforts to support public education in Montgomery County. She has worked tirelessly to permanently enhance the MCPS Operating Budget and secure greater investment in the physical infrastructure of MCPS through a change in a key revenue source for the school system, the Recordation Tax. In addition, she worked tirelessly to overhaul the Subdivision Staging Policy to ensure MCPS has funding to build new schools when population growth occurs, as well as implement a moratorium on expansion if school population exceeds certain percentages. The Education First Budget of 2016 will forever be remembered as a watershed moment in the county and in the annals of advocacy. It was the nexus of several different issues: class sizes, school-capacity issues, community growth, HVAC needs, among others. Councilmember Floreen worked to get funding in place to make sure MCPS remained among the top tier of school systems nationwide. In addition to 600 teachers that were hired as part of the 2016 budget, MCPS also was able to add numerous pupil personnel workers, counselors, psychologists and paraeducators to provide much-needed support to students. Her leadership in educational funding has forever improved the school system. During her year as Council president, she took on issues no one else would dare touch, because it was the right thing to do for the community. As a public servant for more than three decades, she has made it her mission to make Montgomery County a great place to live, work, play, raise a family, and get a great public education.
James Garrant is vested in the MCPS technology and engineering program. He has used proven strategies for reaching the traditionally underrepresented student population of MCPS. Mr. Garrant has worked to obtain internships for students; to secure funding to support student activities, support robotics programs in schools and obtain necessary after-school instructional materials for numerous projects; and to serve as a volunteer for various after-school robotics and engineering programs. As an active participant on the MCPS Manufacturing, Engineering and Technology Program Advisory Committee, Mr. Garrant has analyzed program data, developing themes and presenting organized information to other program advisory groups. He has established National Society of Black Engineers’ (NSBE) chapters around the district, including an all-girls NSBE Jr. chapter. He has arranged for the science team to meet with the presidents of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University and Howard University to establish postsecondary articulation and partnerships at local Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This year, Mr. Garrant acquired a $4,000 grant that allowed 150 students to attend a STEM summit on the campus of Morgan State.
Officer Daniel Riddle has been employed by the Montgomery County Police Department since 1990 and has been a school resource officer (SRO) for the past 12 years. Officer Riddle’s current assignment as an SRO includes nearly 4,000 students at Damascus High School, John T. Baker and Hallie Wells middle schools, and Clearspring, Lois P. Rockwell and Damascus elementary schools. An SRO’s responsibilities include meeting with parents, teachers, school administrators, and students to discuss issues of concern within the school community; coordinating crime prevention, conflict resolution, safety, gang, and drug and alcohol awareness programs; and attending community meetings. Officer Riddle not only knows everyone at his school, he is also trusted by the administration to assist with conflict resolution and mediation. Students know they always can come to Officer Riddle for assistance or advice. As he walks through the hallways, students greet him warmly with a high-five or a fist-bump. Officer Riddle has a plain-speaking, old-fashioned style of policing that is appreciated by the community. His military background also enables him to maintain a tactical mindset, working hard to keep students safe and secure. He also acts as a law enforcement officer at local sporting events, parades, community days, meetings and interventions. He has served as an athletic coach in the community, mentoring hundreds of students involved in football, soccer, basketball and lacrosse.
Milagro Flores—Gaithersburg Mothers’ Club
In 2012, Milagro Flores founded the Gaithersburg Mothers’ Club as a vehicle to provide information, resources, assistance and training to immigrant women with children in MCPS. Since that time, she has garnered respect for her extraordinary ability to organize and support immigrant women and help them and their families thrive in the school system. She advocates for mothers so that they are empowered to support their children as they get an education, as well as to access community services for their families. The Mother’s Club has been a particular asset to the Gaithersburg community and Gaithersburg Elementary School. Mrs. Flores realized that a critical barrier to parents becoming involved with their children’s education was their lack of ability to speak English, so she organized a weekly English Speakers of Other Languages class and, through the Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative, an English conversation class. Topics have included success in school, homework, the importance of reading with children, and effective participation in parent-teacher conferences. She also coordinates resources for families involved with Linkages to Learning and facilitates parenting classes on a variety of topics. Mrs. Flores continually looks for opportunities to help women realize their potential and improve their lives and their families’ lives. She has recruited instructors and organized classes on nutrition education, self-esteem and motivation, and CPR training. She organizes and provides transportation and childcare services to enable mothers of preschool-aged children to attend these programs. She also created and maintains a Facebook page to provide current information related to the school system and community events.
For the past three years, Kristen Eccleston has worked to develop a program that addresses the needs of students with Individualized Education Programs who have a history of anxiety, school avoidance, depression, suicide ideation, self-harm, and various other mental health disorders. This self-contained program, the Enhanced Emotional Disabilities Program (ED Program), at Col. Zadok Magruder High School reached its capacity of 40 students quickly. The ED Program has created a safe environment where students are able to access mental health services from a full-time social worker, participate in project-based learning experiences once a week at the Kingsley Environmental Center, and gain work experience through a grant for students to develop and run their own small businesses within the school. The ED Program has given students, who were once disconnected from their home school and peers, an environment that allows them to connect with peers who are facing the same social/emotional and academic challenges. Thanks to the program, students who were once school avoiders are now regularly attending school and earning credit toward their high school diplomas. This school year, Mrs. Eccleston will have her first graduating class. She has enabled students to gain social and life skills that they would have not been able to gain in a mainstream setting or while out of school.
Sulma Flores is a vital assistant to the administrative staff of Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School. She goes above and beyond her assignment as a paraeducator to support students and parents. Mrs. Flores eagerly fills in when needed and goes the extra mile with a positive attitude. She fields phone calls, facilitates the enrollment process, resolves bus issues, provides interpretation services during parent-teacher conferences, and helps English for Speakers of Other Languages students navigate the school system. Mrs. Flores also taught a before-school Spanish program for students. She heads the “Best Gifts” program at Barnsley, which provides students with coats in the winter, school supplies to use during classes, or books for reading at home. She serves on the school’s outreach committee, where she organizes and attends a homework club, picnics and events for the students who live at the Crystal Springs apartment complex. She attends many parent and staff events and meetings that focus on improving the MCPS curriculum and the school system as a whole. As a vocal and passionate member of the Service Employees International Union Local 500, not only does Mrs. Flores understand her community’s need for assistance from a local perspective, but she also understands the big picture of becoming involved and being a zealous advocate. She participates in numerous meetings, marches, and rallies to support and advocate for the causes in which she believes, including public education.
For more than 17 years, Genevieve Floyd has served the students, staff and various stakeholders with passion and excellence. Dr. Floyd started her MCPS career as a classroom teacher, and later designed and implemented a Human Service Professions Academy at Montgomery Blair High School. Dr. Floyd also served as the sponsor for several organizations, including the African American Club; Step Team; and the Intelligent, Vivacious, Outstanding, Respectful, Young Ladies club. Dr. Floyd’s service to the community continued as she moved to central office. During her first year as an administrator, she volunteered to work with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Parents’ Council and established a high school Hispanic Parent Council. She also worked with the NAACP as the MCPS Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics coordinator. She has demonstrated a heart to serve not only students and parents, but also staff. She serves on the executive board of the Montgomery County Alliance of Black School Educators, is the acting vice president of the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals Central Services Administrators’ Chapter, and a member of the MCAAP Board of Directors. She has led and/or enabled the awarding of more than $50,000 in scholarships. She organized the donation of toiletries for homeless women and children, as well as school supplies to support more than 200 needy students. She also led the development of a process to award professional development funds to teachers at both the elementary and secondary levels.
Matthew Johnson is passionately dedicated to the students of Watkins Mill High School and also to the families and community members of the school and the county. He has brought together staff, students, parents, police officers, local businesses and outside agencies to create events, initiatives and opportunities that benefit everyone. He always is looking for ways to improve Watkins Mill and connect with the community; and he approaches each project with a rare blend of enthusiasm, persistence, compassion and humor. Mr. Johnson has become a recognized leader and role model for students, and exemplifies the spirit of what teaching and learning are all about. He ignites an excitement in his students and the staff. In addition to being an inspiring science and biology teacher, Mr. Johnson’s positive and seemingly endless energy is infectious and was a motivating force behind an organized effort to build enthusiasm and increase school and community pride. Mr. Johnson founded the Orange Nation campaign to galvanize students and create an energetic and positive school spirit. Since the inception of the campaign, he has taken it to unbelievable heights. Mr. Johnson created and developed the first Rock the Block, an end-of-year block party to celebrate the Watkins Mill Cluster, where more than 100 students volunteered and various community businesses participated. There were free T-shirts, popcorn, cotton candy, a rock wall to climb and a dunk tank—an overall rousing success.
Kevin Shindel is a social studies teacher at Montgomery Blair High School and, since 2015, the amazing sponsor of OneBlair, a student organization dedicated to making Blair a more connected and inclusive school. With more than 200 members, OneBlair promotes critical thinking, honest and courageous conversations on race and equity, safe and organized civic activism, and student empowerment. Under Mr. Shindel’s leadership, OneBlair has given Blair students from diverse backgrounds a platform to discuss their commonalities and differences; has allowed students from various school programs and communities to get together; and has provided a platform for a coordinated focus on inclusiveness. Mr. Shindel has worked to make OneBlair a multifaceted organization that supports Blair’s students. For example, OneBlair hosts a technology drive so that electronics, such as printers and desktop computers, are provided to students in need. OneBlair works to assist English Speakers of Other Languages students to better meet their needs and ensure that they are included in school and policymaking activities. OneBlair promotes a Friends Network, in which a number of diverse students are placed in a cohort during freshman year to support one another during their high school experience. They support each other socially and academically and bring their families together to get better acquainted during mealtimes, sports events and other activities. OneBlair also provides students with academic and job skills that show leadership, self-direction and problem solving. The organization also hosts interracial dialogues and plans activities, discussions and guest speakers.
More than 24 years ago, Barbara Woodward began her teaching career as a middle and high school teacher. She also served as an administrator at Watkins Mill High School, Baker Middle School and Somerset Elementary School. She has worked in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer as an instructional specialist and at Tilden Middle School as a staff development teacher. She has served as an assistant principal and principal intern at Robert Frost Middle School. Dr. Woodward has demonstrated effectively her ability to lead the instructional program and to create a welcoming and safe learning environment, focused on high expectations. She espouses her vision for excellence in teaching, learning and commitment to the adolescent learner. Dr. Woodward believes in serving the community, creating a sense of school pride, and developing traditions from the first day of school when the building opens. She is an innovative thinker who was excited to begin the journey of creating the best conditions for students and staff to thrive at Hallie Wells Middle School when it opened in August 2016. As the first principal of Hallie Wells, she chose wonderful, talented staff members a year before the school opened. Dr. Woodward is professional and knowledgeable, and she makes the students and parents feel welcome at this new middle school.
School Service Volunteer
Mary Gross is the epitome of a dedicated volunteer, committed to supporting students whenever possible. All three of Ms. Gross’ children attended Brooke Grove Elementary School, and she was an active volunteer during her children’s schooling. Although her children no longer attend the school, Ms. Gross has continued to volunteer every week at Brooke Grove, where she has provided an enormous amount of help and support for the staff and students. She is dedicated to service and is efficient, highly organized, reliable and dependable week after week. Now that her children are in middle school, high school, and college, Ms. Gross continues to volunteer at Brooke Grove once a week. She makes copies, laminates, organizes materials, files documents, creates documents, compiles data, prepares materials for staff professional development, creates and produces resources for students, makes manipulatives for teachers to use with their students, and serves as a chaperone for in-school events. She has provided pertinent, meaningful and useful resources to Brooke Grove’s teachers. These resources have helped teachers deliver more effective instruction to their students. She has also had a significant impact on special school events, such as Brooke Grove Around the World, Curriculum Night, Go for the Gold Reading Incentive Program and Mobile Science Lab.
Clarksburg High School parent Karen Ward has worked tirelessly to build a positive school culture and climate. Mrs. Ward serves as the Clarksburg High School Athletic Booster president and as a member of the Parent Teacher Student Association. She is respected, organized and is always willing to go the extra mile … and does so with a smile. Mrs. Ward has served meals to students and staff. At the Allied Sports Banquet, she coordinated donations of student T-shirts. Through her efforts as the Booster Club president, funds have been provided for new equipment, new uniforms, improved fields and beautification of the school campus. She has also worked to get Booster Club presidents from other high schools together to share ideas on running a successful program. In June 2016, three Clarksburg students were killed in a car accident on the eve of graduation. All three young men were well-known members of the community, so the entire community was at a loss. Mrs. Ward channeled her grief by reaching out to the victims’ families to offer condolences and to assess needs. She rallied others to provide support through organizing vigils, contacting churches, creating programs, and providing food and refreshments. She designed shirts with the hashtag #ClarksburgStrong and ensured that all students could afford to get one. Mrs. Ward united the community in its darkest days.
Michael A. Durso
Michael A. Durso has served more than 44 years in public education. He began his career as a social studies teacher, and subsequently served as a principal in the school systems of Arlington, Va., and Washington, D.C., before beginning his tenure in MCPS. Mr. Durso served the students of Montgomery County for 22 years as principal of Springbrook High School (1996–2009) and as an elected member of the Montgomery County Board of Education (2009–present). Mr. Durso has been elected and served as an officer for four of the nine years that he has been a member of the Board. He served as vice president for one year prior to his service as president. He has been instrumental in improving opportunities for increased communication with and among Board members by including the Board vice president and one Board member in rotating items meetings with the superintendent. Mr. Durso worked with his colleagues to improve relations with the County Council during his 2016–2017 term as Board president by working closely on the budget with Council President Nancy Floreen. His sense of humor has the effect of defusing tense situations and his organizational skills ensure that Board meetings are conducted efficiently. Mr. Durso’s leadership in recognizing the need for and leading the subsequent change in superintendents for MCPS has brought greater stability to the school system, as well as set MCPS on the path of offering greater opportunities for all students and improving student achievement. Currently, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and was appointed in 2013 to serve on the Maryland Center for School Safety Governing Board. Mr. Durso has been a source of support and strength for students and staff. He is respected and loved by students, staff, parents, elected officials, and the larger MCPS community.
Odessa Shannon has worked tirelessly for more than 40 years on behalf of students, especially students of color, to receive equal educational opportunities. She began her public career as a teacher in the Baltimore public schools. Later, she worked for the federal government and became the national program director for the Equal Opportunity Commission. She also served as deputy director of the Montgomery County Department of Family Resources and executive director of the Montgomery County Human Rights Commission. In the early 1970s, Mrs. Shannon was on a committee that investigated concerns the Black community raised about racial problems and education within MCPS. With the support of the Montgomery County Board of Education and superintendent at that time, the committee’s work culminated in the Black Action Steps, which addressed ways to promote academic achievement and the disproportionate identification of African American students for special education services and disciplinary action. Mrs. Shannon was elected to the Board in 1982. Although Mrs. Shannon resigned from the Board in 1984, she continued to be involved in public education and MCPS. She is an active member of 1977-II, an advocacy group dedicated to supporting and helping African American students receive equal access to educational programs and success. She also serves on the Superintendent’s Budget Steering Committee. She is known for tough questions, thoughtful deliberations, and an unwavering commitment to ensuring that all students receive a world-class education. She has received numerous awards, including the NAACP (Washington Committee) Legal Defense and Educational Award for Exceptional Achievement in Advancing the Rights of Minorities and Women, and Maryland’s Hornbook Award for Outstanding Service to Education.