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Civics 101: Student member of school board begins year in office

by Tori Newby

Contributing Writer

There will be no easing into her new role as student member of the school board for Hana O’Looney.

The rising senior at Richard Montgomery High School, who was sworn in as the 44th student member of the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Education, will be tasked with many responsibilities this upcoming school year, including helping the board select a new superintendent and make a decision on charter schools.

As MCPS prepares to fully reopen after the coronavirus pandemic forced school closures, O’Looney also must help ease students back into in-person learning — a huge, unprecedented responsibility for the Student Member of the Board (SMOB).

Middle and high school students in MCPS in April voted for O’Looney to serve a one-year term on the Board of Education for the 2021-2022 school year.

With voting privileges on the board, the student member is responsible for representing students in countywide decisions. O’Looney plans to visit all 65 middle and high schools in MCPS throughout the school year in order to hear input and feedback from various student populations, including students in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs and Free and Reduced-price Meals System (FARMS).

Since O’Looney was a freshman, she has been involved in Montgomery County Regional (MCR) Student Government Association (SGA), and she believes the connections she built throughout the county during that experience will help her as SMOB.

As part of MCR, going to meetings at other schools “really exposed me to the discrepancies in educational opportunities … [and] a diversity of student experiences. I’ve never been in ESOL, I’ve never been in FARMS, but speaking to students who are, from really every single region of the county, really made me aware of all the different programs that are available [and] experiences that students can go through,” O’Looney said. “Not everyone is always going to be up to date with what the Board of Education is doing all the time, … but I’m hoping to use those connections to pull relevant students into conversations that will impact their lives.”

One of O’Looney’s first focuses is easing students back into in-person learning as schools prepare to fully reopen.

As SMOB, O’Looney will be voting on allocating parts of the county’s $2.7 billion budget, and she hopes to direct some of that money towards more school psychologists and mental health programs for students, who may be struggling as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Looney will also advocate for designating more money to certain parts of the county that need it most.

“[I am] looking at an equitable spending of money, not just an equal spending of money,” she said.

Following the retirement of Superintendent Jack Smith, O’Looney will participate in the process of appointing a new superintendent, which the newly elected SMOB views as an opportunity to find a leader that can represent more minority populations in MCPS.

“We are a very diverse county, meaning our needs are also very diverse,” O’Looney said.

She hopes to appoint a superintendent who may have similar experiences as some of the underrepresented communities in the school system.

Later this summer, O’Looney will also be voting on the introduction of charter schools to MCPS. Charter schools are publicly funded yet run independently from the county, and O’Looney plans to receive more student input before making a decision on how she will vote.

As SMOB, O’Looney receives a $5,000 college scholarship, Student Service Learning hours, and an honors social studies credit. For the 2021-2022 school year at Richard Montgomery High School, she will be taking five classes first semester and four classes second semester in order to balance SMOB responsibilities with schoolwork.

Beyond high school, O’Looney is considering majors in political science, economics and media journalism.

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