MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - More tough news for Maryland’s largest school district as a Montgomery County Public Schools spokesperson confirmed for FOX 5 staffing shortages have gotten slightly worse.
This comes as recent news noted another student population decline – and parent frustrations over classroom quarantines continue. Many MCPS parents are still asking why there’s no "Test to Stay" effort in place yet.
On Friday, FOX 5 got to speak one-on-one with MCPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight on many of these concerns. It was the first time we’ve gotten to speak with the school leader since the beginning of this school year.
Mid-September is when the county leader discussed rolling out a "Test to Stay" plan. It has been over a month since. This topic was the focus of our first question to Dr. McKnight.
"We had an opportunity to learn about ‘Test to Stay.’ There was the state of Massachusetts that offered it as a testing pilot to different school systems," said Dr. McKnight, "… and so we were able to pilot that. We were able to learn from it so our - Maryland Department of Health came up with some options and we’ve been talking about that. But I will say here in Montgomery County, the school system and department of health got together and said what would that look like to compliment our testing models as well as address quarantine issues."
The MCPS Interim Superintendent told FOX 5 school leaders are hoping to address "Test to Stay" in the coming week or so.
In our conversation, Dr. McKnight celebrated lower student quarantines this month. Over 5,000 students were quarantined in the month of September – the month seeing high numbers because of a more restrictive student quarantine policy the school system had in place for the start of this school year.
"Did MCPS make a mistake in not putting certain testing in place before the school year started?" FOX 5’s Stephanie Ramirez asked.
"I wouldn’t say we made a mistake. This has been a process of changes over the entire time. Right before we started the school year, we got some changes from the state around quarantine recommendations and what we need to do. And so I go back to that word pivoting, which is what we’ve done the entire time during the pandemic. Flexible, learn from the experiences we’ve had and this year, prepare for what we knew would come and testing as a big part of that," the schools' leader said.
FOX 5 also asked about what contingency planning there was before the start of the school year.
"We were not in a traditional environment of education that we have all know, all grown accustomed to for 18-months," said Dr. McKnight in part of her answer, "That’s almost two years. After 18 months, we made a commitment to bring all of our students back into school together. So there are some things again, that we were able to anticipate. But some things you just learn through the process. Most importantly is I’ll say that what we have is a school system that’s committed to learning. And when we see things happening that we don’t anticipate, we have to respond quickly to that."
Dr. McKnight recently confirmed student enrollment has dropped again, now less than 160,000 in Maryland’s largest school district.
MCPS is also working to address staffing shortages that have gotten a little worse than what was reported about two weeks ago. As of Wednesday, MCPS’ Spokesperson Chris Cram confirmed there are currently 325 teachers, 106 para educators and 121 bus driver vacancies – all as students deal with a learning gap due to the pandemic.
Despite the struggles and parent frustrations, Dr. McKnight told FOX 5 she still wants the Superintendent job. In other questions about continued parent frustration, she thanked MCPS parents for their continued patience and expressed her continued commitment to the children.
FOX 5 interviewed Dr. McKnight at a special learning trip to the Davis Library, where students participated in what was described as a "STEM-plus" program.
The students traveled to Davis Library to participate in an "elective class" hosted by the organization, KID-Museum. KID-Museum has been working with MCPS for years, but this specific pilot program called, "Invent the Future Challenge," is new.
It invites middle schoolers from Shady Grove and Parkland Middle Schools and involves them in hands-on projects that aim to build social, emotional and problem-solving skills. It’s the type of private-public partnership school leaders, including Dr. McKnight, say the students need more of. KID-Museum also works with a number of county elementary schools but only Shady and Parkland can take the special class as an "elective." The goal is to make it a regular MCPS course.
KID-Museum and MCPS leaders noted how programs like this also help already stretched teachers as well.
"I think it’s really fun that we get to, you know, like, I guess you can say like, to build. And it was fun to just do this with someone."," said Arianna Arthur, a Shady Grove 7th grader.
"We’re not typically doing as much hands-on activity as this," said Shady Grove 8th grader, Rey Powell.