Michael Fryar for Montgomery Board of Education

Holidays 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 in Constructivist theory and worked as an inner-city and suburban educator teaching 6th grade language arts and science. In addition to teaching, I:

  • trained teachers in emerging technology and assisted them with integrating it into the classroom;
  • Served as a union representative, assisting with contract negotiation; and, 
  • Developed a student technology team that regularly recorded, edited and broadcast programming including sporting events and Board of Education meetings.

After I left the classroom, I become a social worker with a child welfare agency where I worked holistically with at-risk children who were often victims of abuse and neglect. Too often when children go to a foster home, the system tries to change the school system to that of their new home, further alienating the children from friends and the life they knew. 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 as a social worker, I was also taking courses at night to earn my law degree with a focus on juvenile law. After I graduated, I transitioned from a social worker to an attorney for children who were involved in child protection matters. Again, my time as a teacher, combined with my time and training as a social worker, ensured that I had 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 much of my work was dissolved and not replaced. The children who I represented had no resources and their at-risk families could often not afford enough food, let alone an attorney (even one serving at very 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.

Following a brief stint with the company, I decided to reopen my law firm with a new, and improved, business plan. I continued to take some juvenile and education-related cases, but also expanded into mental health law, civil rights protection and elder law as well. These were all areas that desperately needed representation. Four years after re-opening the firm, my wife received a job offer that she just could not refuse so we relocated our family to Maryland.

If elected to serve as a member of the Board of Education, I hope 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 to school while dealing with a tough family issue, bullying, or something that just has them distracted, the student is 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, I am prepared to deal with redistricting in a fair, but equitable, manner. I believe that

  1. neighborhood schools are a critical part of the school system and need to be maintained;
  2. bussing students in an effort to seek equity is an evil whose lesson we learned in many places, including Boston and should not be repeated; and,
  3. there are many alternative paths to create equity that allow children and parents to make choices of schools so that everyone can be satisfied with the result.

In Hartford, CT, we operated under the Sheff v. O’Neill court agreement. 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 more than 30 years, a solution was finally achieved that all parties involved agreed gave appropriate options. That experience, and my knowledge of it, can be of use in Montgomery County. 

While neighborhood schools were viewed as critical, it was also understood that too high a population of free or reduced lunch students (FARMS in Maryland) is an indicator of a troubled socio-economic 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, over 50% of students, there is a direct correlation to poorer performance.

This is why there is a need for students to have school choice – to reduce the number of students living in poverty issue and create more equitable environments for students.

And for those worried about students not getting access to the schools in the neighborhoods where they purchased homes or rented apartments – because of trends in construction and issues with keeping up in school rollouts, more than 50% of students in Montgomery County do not attend the school closest to them. An effective redistricting can mean that everyone wins.