SMOB finalists O’Looney and Kaye focus on equity

RM+juniors+Hana+O%27Looney+and+Henry+Kaye+are+the+finalists+for+this+year%27s+SMOB+elections%2C+which+will+be+held+on+April+22-23.

Photos courtesy of Hana O'Looney and Henry Kaye

RM juniors Hana O’Looney and Henry Kaye are the finalists for this year’s SMOB elections, which will be held on April 22-23.

Every year for the past 43 years, a hardworking and capable student is chosen to be the student member of the MCPS Board of Education (MCPS SMOB). Last year it was RM’s very own Nick Asante, who has continuously been a fierce advocate for the students through this unprecedented time. 

Though it is not exactly what he signed up for, Asante has stepped up to the plate to help students navigate the current circumstances while doing the same thing himself. This is what being SMOB is about. At the end of the school year, Asante will be succeeded by another student who will become the 44th MCPS SMOB. Selected on Feb. 17, both of this year’s finalists for the position also happen to be RM juniors: Hana O’Looney and Henry Kaye. 

O’Looney has been a part of six MCPS high school clusters, giving her a well-rounded view of how different areas of the county operate. She has also served on several countywide student government associations, including the Montgomery County Regional SGA (MCR) of which she is Vice President. O’Looney’s experiences have broadened the scope of issues she has seen as a student. The disparities she noticed during her time as not only a student but also a student leader in MCPS led her to run for SMOB. 

“I’ve moved around the county quite a bit. It’s all been upcounty, but even within that, I’ve really been able to see, as I’m sure you have, massive disparities in our educational system based on where your school is, based on your zip code, based on who you are in some cases, and I don’t think that that should be the case within a public school system. I think that all of us — regardless of our zip code, regardless of who we are — should be able to have access to the same educational opportunities as another student in the county,” O’Looney explained. 

If elected, O’Looney’s number one goal is to utilize the ongoing Anti-Racism Audit to investigate the policies and inner workings of MCPS to determine the level of equity in the county school system. “I think there is a huge problem in our system — all of us have felt it, especially those of us who are people of color have felt it. Our school system just isn’t representative of who we are. Our teachers have never been, our counselors have never been, our administration has never been and neither has the content of what we learned in class. That’s my main priority,” she said.

Our school system just isn’t representative of who we are. Our teachers have never been, our counselors have never been, our administration has never been and neither has the content of what we learned in class.”

— Hana O'Looney

In her opinion, what sets her apart as a candidate is her track record in fighting for educational equity. She said, “I have been for educational equity in MCPS for five years. MCPS students can count on me to keep my promises because I’ve been keeping them for five years, and I haven’t waited for this position to come for me to advocate and create change in our system.” 

On the other hand, Kaye believes that his lack of student government experience is actually what makes him stand out to students. “I haven’t been in MCR, and a significant if not all of the past SMOBs in recent years have been in regional student government. I’m coming with a kind of political outsider’s view — a view of what it means to be a student in Montgomery County, what it means to have a part-time job. What I’m bringing forward is that I understand how fundamentally difficult it is to get involved in student government and advocacy and [getting] your voice heard.”

Kaye is an Eagle Scout, a varsity athlete, a small business owner and an individual who has two part-time jobs and a sister in the eighth grade at Julius West Middle School. He believes that all of these roles have led him to understand what it is like to be a busy student in MCPS. “I’ve had a couple different life-changing experiences since COVID-19. I moved in with my grandparents, my mom sold the house and I got laid off from my job, and I really noticed that there are great disparities within this county that need to be addressed. We need a unique leader who can come along and make substantive change as opposed to just talking about the change,” he said. This is what led him to run in this year’s SMOB election. 

The overarching idea that motivates Kaye’s campaign is obtaining equity. Many of his goals stem from the problem of inequity in the county school system, whether it be in counseling, access to resources, college and career readiness programs or substance abuse. “One of the biggest things I would want to do to make sure we can reduce those inequities is lower the barrier to entry [in student government],” Kaye said.

In order to do this, Kaye is focusing on expanding his outreach to all students during his campaign. “I’m trying to connect with students on what they do. I’m trying to come to your chorus meeting, I’m trying to come to your band meeting, I’m trying to come to your advocacy meeting. I will come to any meeting to hear what you have to say because I really do want to amplify and represent every single student in MCPS,” he said.

What I’m bringing forward is that I understand how fundamentally difficult it is to get involved in student government and advocacy and [getting] your voice heard.”

— Henry Kaye

Over the course of this pandemic, many things have occurred that highlight the fundamental disparities for students throughout the county. Whether it be the challenges posed through distance learning, the resurgence of the BLM movement or the uproar of Asian hate, it is clear that there are many issues important to students that need to be addressed by their student leaders. Through their campaigns, it is evident that both candidates view the topic of equity in MCPS as a top priority and are ready to tackle these issues head-on. They have expressed it to be a large motivator in their running for SMOB and a reason as to why this is one of the most weighty elections yet. 

Running for SMOB is a recent development in the lives of both candidates. They do a lot more than just run campaigns and advocate for change. As mentioned before, Kaye is a student-athlete who runs track and plays ice hockey as well as being an Eagle Scout. He also owns his own local small business, which takes up a lot of his time. O’Looney, apart from her extracurricular advocacy, is also a “huge theater nerd.” She enjoys reading and performing Shakespeare and working to make theater accessible to more students. She works two part-time jobs and also has a younger brother she takes care of. She participates in the speech and debate team at RM as well. 

Although they may come from two different backgrounds and have different approaches, both O’Looney and Kaye are committed to bringing student voices to the forefront of all conversations. They are ready to work side by side with the board members to bring forth change that they and other students want to see. 

SMOB election day is set for April 22-23 from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day, and early election day is on April 15 for schools with extreme hardships on election day. With all this being said, what matters is your vote, so who will you vote for to be your 44th MCPS Student Member of the Board?

For more information on the candidates, visit their websites or Instagram accounts:

O’Looney: https://www.hana4smob.com/, @hana4smob 

Kaye: https://www.henrysmob.com/, @henry_smob