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Michael Fryar for Montgomery Board of Education

Holiday’s are a great time for reflection. Conversations were plenty and wide ranging, but one theme focused around my passion for education and advocacy. It was a family decision, by the end of the holiday season, for me to run for Montgomery County Board of Education.

I earned a Masters in Early Childhood Development – Constructivist theory and worked as an inner-city and suburban educator teaching 6th grade language arts and science. Along with teaching was service as a union representative, assisted with contract negotiation, and developed a student technology team that regularly recorded, edited and broadcast programming including sporting events and Board of Education meetings.

The school also hired me to train fellow staff in technology and integrating it into the classroom. Plato Learning, an education software company, observed my lessons and integration and offered me a position to continue that work with schools and teachers to integrate their computer based education and lesson plans.

But this was afield from what I really wanted to do – work to better children’s lives. Following Plato, Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF – a child welfare agency) offered me a position as a social worker to work with at risk families and children who were victims of abuse and neglect. My time as an elementary school teacher was invaluable in assessing and working with schools to ensure, as best as possible, that school remained a constancy and oasis for children in the middle of a desert of chaos and change.

While working full time for DCF, I was taking courses at night to complete my law degree with a focus on juvenile law. After graduation, my role changed from social worker to attorney for children involved in child protection matters. My time as a teacher, combined with my time and training as a social worker, ensured that I knew multiple resources, avenues, and even back roads to get my clients the help and protection they needed and deserved.

But politics can be cruel. The state agency that funded our work was dissolved and not replaced. Children have no resources and at-risk families cannot afford enough food, none-the-less an attorney, even on serving at low-bono rates. Suddenly without revenue, and needing to pay the mortgage, I went back into education, working for a private school group as a National Director of Regulatory Affairs.

The company was not financially stable, I was laid off, and reopened my law firm with a new, and improved, business plan. I continued to take some children’s cases, but expanded into education, mental health, and civil rights protection as well. These were all areas that desperately needed representation. But 4 years after opening the firm my wife received a job offer that she just could not refuse and we relocated to Maryland.

If elected to serve as a member of the Board of Education, one goal is to create policies that engage students. As a high school drop out I am intimately familiar with what happens when a student “falls through the cracks.” As a teacher I made it a point to ensure that students were treated holistically. If a student is coming in from a tough family issue, bullying, or something that just has them distracted, they are not going to be engaged in learning. And the teacher is the front line and emergency responder for that child.

If elected to serve as a member of the Board of Education, another goal will be to deal with redistricting in a fair, but equitable, manner. In Hartford, CT we operated under the Sheff v. O’Neill decision. In 1989, 18 school children, including Milo Sheff, sued the state under claims for relief for violation of civil rights and right to education. The resulting agreement created a number of options for students in the inner city to attend area or regional schools in an attempt to break the grip of poverty and inequity. Some of the choices and ideas that came from that situation were stunningly good. Some made the situation worse. But after 31 years a solution was finally reached that all parties involved agreed gave appropriate options.

Free or reduced lunch (FARM in Maryland) is an excellent indicator of the current socio-economic status of a community. The lower the student population percentage of free or reduced lunch, the better the students as a population perform.

To be very clear – just because someone is on free or reduced lunch does NOT, in any way, make them a poor or underachieving student. Period.

But when the population is high, there is a direct correlation to poorer performance. An ideal percentage is 25% while the ceiling is 50%. So, in simple terms, when a school has a population higher than 50% of free or reduced lunch, the population suffers measurable losses in academics.

This is why there is a need for students to have school choice – to alleviate this issue and create more equitable environments for students.

Balancing this are parents who purchased homes or rented apartments with specific schools in mind. It’s understandable that there is fear they will lose the school they want their children to attend and is in walking distance, and have to see their children put on a bus for a school for 30 minutes for a school they didn’t choose.

There are only so many seats in a school building, and while we all sympathize with the children who are disadvantaged, not many people are willing to give up their seat to help.

This is where my experience with the Sheff v. O’Neill decision and fall out comes in. Rather than make mistakes for the next 30 years and try and undo them, we can learn from the trials and tribulations of Hartford, CT and put in place a plan that is equitable and satisfies our needs, while having the lowest impact on families as possible.