Take a look at yesterday’s tweets and re-tweets from the Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Joshua Starr. This is one of two announcing the accomplishments of students from Takoma Park Middle School (TPMS).
Unlike most middle schools, TPMS is home to a Mathematics, Science, Computer Science Magnet Program. According to the program brochure, “Mathematics, science, and computer science courses are taught by outstanding teachers recruited for the magnet program.” Until recently, the program taught TI calculator programming and the BASIC language. However, after recent events highlighted this archaic practice, the school switched to Python programming.
Students from the program flock en masse to the Montgomery Blair High School (MBHS) Mathematics, science, and computer science magnet. There, in their freshman year, they continue learning the basics of programming through programming the TI calculator. It is generally accepted that the MBHS magnet is the crown jewel of MCPS. Nevertheless, in the recent years, MBHS has seen the emergence of a rival to its crown. The Poolesville High School magnet has become an aggressive contender that threatens to usurp Blair’s dominance.
Poolesville has been named one of the top high schools, if not the top, in many a popular ranking index. While Blair is the largest high school in Montgomery County with a diverse population, the smaller Poolesville is less diverse, and a whole school magnet as well.
In 2009, Blair Magnet Coordinator Dennis Heidler suddenly announced his resignation in order to move on to a different administrative position at another school. There is some debate over the question whether Heidler’s departure was influenced by cuts of about three-and-a-half teaching positions to the prestigious magnet program.
Long time Blair Principal Darryl Williams was replaced by TPMS principal Renay Johnson in May 2011. The upheaval and the emergence of a rival have taken its toll on the venerable magnet program.
According to published reports, budget cuts pared the faculty from 18 to 14 and “four veteran teachers left, some in protest.” The consequent impact has left some parents and former teachers concerned.
Their concern is well placed. It can be argued that the allure of MCPS will be tarnished if the Blair magnet is given the short shrift.
MBHS is unique in its position as the largest high school with a very diverse population. MCPS must recognize that successes at Blair will have a trickledown effect on the rest of the county. To neglect Blair will be to signal the decline of MCPS—no matter what the upbeat drumbeat of the overpaid MCPS publicity department.
Blair, for its part, must show visionary and committed leadership willing to do what it takes to restore the prestigious program to its former dominance. The Board of Education must recognize that the failure of Blair, especially its magnet, will reverberate throughout the school system.
Full disclosure: the writer has family members and friends who attend the magnet program.