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MCPS considers using mobile app to communicate with families | #schoolsaftey

The Montgomery County school board recently shared its top four priorities for the coming school year, highlighting math and literacy concerns and school safety as key areas for improvement. The school district is considering developing a mobile app to streamline information-sharing and enhance communication between schools and families, board members say.

In June, the Board of Education met for an all-day retreat to discuss and establish annual priorities for the upcoming school year. Board member Julie Yang (Dist. 3) said she was impressed by the process and encouraged by the board’s enthusiasm for holding the school system accountable.

“We had deep dialogues, listened and at times, debated,” she wrote to MoCo360 in an email. “The outcome as something that we had built a strong consensus on.”

Those outcomes were made public during a July 20 board meeting, where the board announced its top four priorities for the 2022-23 school year. Those priorities are:

  1. Improve math and literacy rates
  2. Build a safe and inclusive school climate
  3. Support two-way communications between schools and families
  4. Improve the recruitment, retention and distribution of a high-quality and diverse staff

Yang said the board is looking specifically at the transitional grades—third, sixth and ninth—as key focus areas for implementation of these priorities.

Board president Karla Silvestre (At-large) said Evidence of Learning data received by the board in May, combined with state data, showed gains in some areas of academic achievement and “not enough gains in others.” She said the board has decided to invest in math coaches to specifically address recent concerns about math proficiency rates—data particularly concerning within middle school grade levels, according to MCPS spokesperson Chris Cram.

Board member Rebecca Smondrowski (Dist. 2) said multiple factors play into the recent decline in students’ math scores.

“Of course the disruption in learning that took place during COVID-19 is a major factor, but we have also seen students come back to school with more mental health challenges than we have in the past,” she said, noting that the problem is not unique to Montgomery County.

Smondrowski said two-way communication with families is also an “ongoing problem” because of how modes of communication continue to evolve.

“We know that we’re good at pushing out information, […] however, we often hear that parents didn’t know about something,” she texted MoCo360. “That is because it’s hard to pay attention to all the information that is sent our way. It’s often too much.”

She said the school district needs to prioritize being “short and concise” with its communications to families, giving parents the option to respond with questions or requests for details when desired.

Yang emphasized the same concerns, saying that teachers, students and parents feel there are “many channel[s?] to receive information” and that the dialogue should be streamlined for efficiency and clarity. “There is a desire for using something even more convenient than email,” she said.

MCPS is now looking into utilizing a mobile app to provide parents with quicker, easier to access information and updates from their schools, according to Yang, who said she thinks it’s “a positive move.”

Effective two-way communication is particularly important in the context of student safety and well-being, another top priority for the board this coming year. Between an alarming number of antisemitic incidents reported on school property, concerns about drug use and related “bathroom culture” in high schools and conflict over the school district’s policies regarding LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum, student safety and well-being continues to be a source of high community debate.

According to safety data shared by MCPS in July, the district responded to 237 reported hate bias incidents over the course of the 2022-23 school year and 1,330 bullying incidents. Local advocates suggest the number of incidents that went unreported is likely far higher.

The MCPS safety data also highlighted 840 school-based calls for medical assistance and 237 calls for drugs, alcohol and other controlled substances. In addition, security rovers and cluster coordinators visited elementary schools 7,500 times over the course of the school year, including incident responses and proactive engagement with staff and students.

On behalf of MCPS, Cram noted that well-being and safety initiatives are a key investment in the school budget this coming year.

“It is important to point out that hate-bias, bullying and physical safety is being addressed as a campaign this year and on multiple fronts,” he wrote to MoCo360 in an email. “A similar multi-faceted approach has been in the works […] for the last couple of years and is a key element to student success.”

The school board will gather on Aug. 24 for its final regularly scheduled business meeting before the 2023-24 school year officially launches on Aug. 28.

Silvestre said the board will continue to receive progress monitoring data throughout the coming school year on a monthly basis to ensure “we are on the right path to improving academic achievement.”

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