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SILVER SPRING—County Executive Marc Elrich received detailed recommendations from his Transition Team on ways to improve life in Montgomery County in seven key areas.
The report, compiled by a team of 222 members, outlines areas of improvement that the county should prioritize, including; growing the economy, helping youth and families, work towards a greener county, more affordable housing, safe neighborhoods and effective government.
Information for the report was gathered in the time between Elrich’s election to the position of county executive in November of 2018 and his inauguration in December of the same year.
The Transition Team gathered ideas and information from the community through listening sessions according to Neel Saxena, who was a part of the process.
“We were broken into groups,” Saxena explained, “and each group talked about components of the desired outcomes.”
The team formatted its recommendations using a framework called Results-Based Accountability, which is an organized and data-driven system of thinking and implementation.
Elrich noted that many of the recommendations were ambitious.
“But we aim to meet them,” Elrich said, “and I want to make significant progress in all areas. I also intend to stay engaged, to listen, and to be held accountable.”
Saxena explained that for him an outcome he would like to see within the realm of equity and inclusiveness would be addressing the model minority myth that stereotypes Asian Americans as always successful.
“I’d like to see more inclusion in conversations that pertain to low-income communities,” Saxena said, who is also the executive director of Asian American LEAD (AALEAD). “For example, including Asian-American students in discussions about free and reduced lunch programs.”
Elrich has an interest in improving early education and childcare for residents in Montgomery County. The Transition Team report includes extensive research into the academic achievement gap and kindergarten readiness.
The report indicates that in both elementary and middle school children who received free and reduced-price meals had significantly lower literacy and math scores than students who did not. Students in the data set from 2018 were broken into three racial groupings; Hispanic or Latino, Black or African American and all other races.
At the elementary school level, only about 50 percent of black students receiving free and reduced lunch were meeting math readiness compared to about 70 percent of black students who did not receive free or reduced meals.
The achievement gap is even more gaping when categories are compared across races.
For example, 43 percent of Latino or Hispanic students that receive free or reduced lunch met literacy readiness while about 87 percent of students from all other races that did not receive free and reduced lunches met the same guidelines for literacy.
The report does not shy away from the problems facing students in the county. It notes that a lack of bilingual curriculum makes an uneven playing field for children, which is made worse by a disproportionate response to disciplinary actions based on race.
“Schools are also segregated by geography and socioeconomic factors, and there is resistance from the community to adjust school boundaries,” the report explains. “The teacher population also does not have the diversity to reflect the students they educate.”
The team lays out in the report ways to fix the problems facing students like increasing diversity in MCPS staff, training staff on racial equity and trauma response training, along with individualizing the schooling system to track each student’s performance each year.
They even recommend year-round schooling options for schools with concentrated levels of poverty that would also connect students and their families to resources. They suggest including resources that address issues that might affect academic performance like health, economic, or emotional issues.
Another area the report dives into is safety in neighborhoods. Violent crime in Montgomery County is relatively low, according to the report. However, the rate of violent crime has remained fairly steady since 2012 with a slight dip in 2014.
“Safe neighborhoods don’t just have low crime; they are walkable, active communities with places for people to congregate and have fun,” the team wrote in the report.
Every year, the report indicates, that violent crime rates hover just below 200 incidents per capita, or per 100,000 residents.
In 2017, Montgomery County saw 189.6 incidents which were up slightly from 2016 where the county saw 175.1 incidents. Research conducted by the Transition Team focused mostly on gang-related violent crime, although they write, they are aware that not all violent crime is related.
The Transition Team’s report indicates a nearly equal number of positive factors, that the county is doing well, to negative factors, that the county either needs to address or should improve its current strategy. They note that drugs and easy access to guns are negative factors.
“It is easy to move guns between jurisdictions without records and to exploit existing loopholes,” they write.
They also indicate an over-reliance on old or outdated methods in response to violent crime.
“Crime suppression rather than prevention and intervention, and a reactive criminal justice system all address the symptoms rather than the root causes of gang violence,” the report states. “This focus on symptoms, when compounded by ignorance and bias in the system, causes legitimate associations among youth of color to be criminalized.”
But the team also highlighted areas in which the county is doing a good job addressing issues that lead to crime, like programs run through the county and non-profit sector. They point to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Youthful Offender Program which provides services for substance abuse and mental health screening.
The report compiled by the Transition Team is meant to be a beginning that helps to focus on plans to reach key goals. The report will now go to Outcome Leadership Teams that will push for policy implementation that fulfills the set goals.