The Tide’s View: Sam Ross should be MCPS’ 47th SMOB

Blair junior Sam Ross is running to be the 47th Student Member of the Board (SMOB).
Blair junior Sam Ross is running to be the 47th Student Member of the Board (SMOB).
Courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools

The Montgomery County Board of Education has been under several splinterings within its board members in 2024. On Feb. 2, the former Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight mutually agreed with the MCPS Board of Education to resign from her position. Upset within the community only continued following Dr. McKnight’s resignation, with the Board of Education releasing a statement about the minimum of 18 reports of sexual misconduct from former Paint Branch High School Principal Joel Biedleman. The Board must name a permanent superintendent by Jul. 1 with the added pressure of 2024 being an election year for some incumbent members. With a wounded relationship between the Board of Education and the MCPS community, a new and revitalized board member is more important than ever. 

On Apr. 17, MCPS students will have the opportunity to express their opinions through the Student Member of the Board (SMOB) election. The SMOB position allows MCPS students to have direct input about the policies that influence their lives and education. The next SMOB will be responsible for addressing the oncoming security threats facing schools across the county, increasing opioid use and mental health crises. Representing such a substantial population requires a capable and trustworthy candidate. Ensuring constant and transparent communication between the SMOB and students, especially in the age of social media, is essential to rekindle the dwindling relationship between the Board of Education and MCPS families. 

Two SMOB finalists were selected from eight preliminary candidates at the 2024 MCPS SMOB Nominating Convention on Feb. 14. The finalists in the 2024 race are high school juniors Praneel Suvarna of Clarksburg High School and Sam Ross of Montgomery Blair High School. Both candidates have significant experience in student advocacy across various organizations, including in-school student government associations (SGA), the Montgomery County Regional SGA and MCPS SMOB Advisory Councils.

After conducting interviews with both candidates and researching each candidate’s platform and experience, The Tide’s Editorial Board has decided to endorse Sam Ross in the 2024 MCPS SMOB election.

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“I do know so much about how MCPS functions so I really try to keep all the things that I say I’ll do grounded in reality.”

— Sam Ross

Ross began her path in advocacy during her freshman year of high school, introduced by a seemingly small issue: water bottle filter maintenance. She contacted the 44th SMOB, Hana O’Looney, to discuss potential solutions, and from there, Ross’ advocacy career took off. Throughout high school, she has held many student-government positions, including as an Organizational Liaison at the Montgomery County Regional SGA, and perhaps most notably, as the 46th SMOB Sami Saeed’s Chief of Staff where she presided over the SMOB Advisory Council. Through this role, she has gained a robust understanding of how the SMOB and the Board of Education function and knows how to effectively leverage the SMOB Advisory Council, an important tool for student representation. She has a strong grip on what needs to be done and a realistic approach to getting things done at the county level. “I do know so much about how MCPS functions so I really try to keep all the things that I say I’ll do grounded in reality,” Ross said.

As MCPS is going through a superintendent transition, the next SMOB must understand how the board should function to best serve the community. Ross comes in with a lot of knowledge surrounding the interworking of the board, priding herself in her comprehensive understanding. “I’m ready to get started on day one. A lot of times with SMOBs there’s a learning curve… they kind of have to learn how the whole board, how the whole school system works,” Ross said. “But I don’t need that because I’m already familiar with [the board].” This knowledge and familiarity with the board is particularly important given the unstable climate following the McKnight separation. The ability of the next SMOB to jump right in immediately upon election is essential to bringing student voices into the superintendent transition process.

Given the current inadequacy of communication between the MCPS Board of Education and parents, students and staff within Montgomery County, it is up to the SMOB to get key messages across to the community. Ross has many different methods of communication that she looks to use to reach as many students as possible. Some of the methods she has put forth include county newsletters, SMOB minutes, the SMOB Advisory Council and the leveraging of popular social media platforms. But the most direct and accessible means of communication, she feels, is conducting school visits across the county. “The only way to guarantee… to ensure that every single student has the opportunity to share their perspectives is if you meet them where they are—in their schools,” Ross said. She has committed to visiting all 67 middle and high schools if elected. With this commitment, Ross ensures that students are not faced with barriers when trying to reach her; students can come up to her and voice their concerns at each of her school visits.

“I want to have collaborative conversations about school safety…[so that] we’re all together and understanding what we want out of MCPS.”

— Sam Ross

One of Ross’ main priorities focuses on school safety and wellness. She desires to foster a collaborative environment where open discussions are encouraged. “At the start of my term in the summer, going into the start of the school year, I want to have collaborative conversations about school safety…[so that] we’re all together and understanding what we want out of MCPS,” Ross said. She plans to address concerns of students feeling unsafe and policies that people would like to see implemented. 

While the Board of Education’s role is to represent the student and community’s voice, the SMOB is the only one currently attending school in the given district, providing a crucially important perspective. Ross, a junior at Montgomery Blair, wants the board to prioritize accessibility to resources that help students succeed. She prioritizes the continuation of waiving AP, IB and dual enrollment fees, and aims to increase funding for magnet and CTE programs across the county. “I think one of the biggest issues we’re seeing right now is chronic absenteeism,” Ross said. “I believe a large contributing factor to that is that students don’t see a reason to come to school.” By increasing college and career preparation in schools with high-quality counseling and revitalized teaching practices, Ross hopes to boost attendance rates and encourage high achievement.

Ross’ SMOB campaign, like many before her, centers heavily around the importance of student wellbeing and happiness. One of her main focuses is the state of MCPS’s school lunches. “I think we should be doing more to explore our options in terms of food supplying,” Ross said, who is pushing for more accommodating Kosher, vegetarian, vegan and Halal meal options. “I just think we can do better for our students.” Another key aspect of her platform is to unblock many websites that increase student engagement, modernize cell phone policies and add more electives to middle and high school curricula. Ross plans to also support funding for the development of arts programs, athletics and other extracurriculars in schools. At a time when underfunding for the arts is becoming increasingly common, a student advocate who understands the importance of these enriching programs would be a valuable addition to the Board of Education.

“My campaign slogan is, ‘Let’s get it done.’ And the number one question I’m asked about it is well, okay, what is ‘it’? I would say ‘it’ is listening to students.”

— Sam Ross

As the Montgomery County Board of Education continues to face new obstacles in the ever-changing landscape of public education, including transparency issues, the SMOB must have a track record of effective leadership, feasible ideas and the character to enact meaningful change in our community. The Tide’s Editorial Board views Sam Ross as a candidate who will start her candidacy strong and lead the county to new heights as the 47th Student Member of the Board of Education. “My campaign slogan is, ‘Let’s get it done.’ And the number one question I’m asked about it is well, okay, what is ‘it’? I would say ‘it’ is listening to students,” Ross said. “I want to show that I am experienced, I am knowledgeable. I do know what I’m talking about. And I do have the best interest of the entire school system at heart when I say we should be listening to students—we should be taking students’ ideas seriously.”

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