Prioritizing Education

Ryan reading to his 6-month-old son Jack.

As the son of a public school teacher and as a graduate of Maryland public schools, I take education very seriously.  That’s why prior to joining the City Council I served on the City’s Education Committee – advising the Mayor & Council on education policy issues and working with local schools to provide approximately $50,000 in supplemental grants to support after-school programs and other educational initiatives.  (The committee was recently renamed the Educational Enrichment Committee.)  As part of the committee, I also helped recognize best practices and outstanding students and faculty with the City’s G.R.E.A.T. awards (Gaithersburg Recognizing Educational Achievement Today).  Additionally, we ran school supply drives to collect donations of pencils, backpacks, markers, notebooks, and any other items that kids in need could use.  Finally, during my time on the committee, we helped to start the “If I Were Mayor…” essay contest in the City, which led to the annual appointment of a Junior Mayor from a local elementary school.  The essay contest has grown by leaps and bounds.

Of course, the City of Gaithersburg does not have jurisdiction over local schools (with the exception of traditional building codes and permits).  Schools are primarily funded and operated by the County (with a lot of financial help from the State), which is obviously doing a stellar job.  For the third year in a row, Montgomery County Public Schools have the highest graduation rate among all the large school districts in the entire nation.  But that doesn’t mean the City can’t play a key role in supporting our students and teachers with grants, scholarships, and programs to build upon and improve an already strong public school system.  The Mayor & City Council regularly submit letters, give testimony in county and state hearings, and meet with all sorts of officials to ensure that Gaithersburg area schools get their fair share of funding and other resources and remain among the very best.  And our annual Gaithersburg Book Festival incorporates reading and writing contests, workshops, and featured authors of popular children’s books – all with an eye toward inspiring the younger generation to get excited about reading and writing.  This year, in response to the Mayor’s Book Club challenge, in the month of April, Gaithersburg third graders in nine different schools read 9,948 books!

Outside the traditional educational arena, we also provide scores of other youth programs with a large educational component – sports programs and leagues, art classes, musical events, summer camps, swimming classes, theater, cultural programs, and much more.  Our two city-run youth centers are hubs of educational activity for our middle and high school age students, and our other outstanding facilities like the Arts Barn and the Activity Center also house many of these great programs.

Ryan at the GHS groundbreaking with fellow Councilmember Cathy Drzyzgula and City Manager Angel Jones

But in a particularly shining example of the City’s strong support for public education, the Mayor & City Council had a wonderful opportunity on May 26 to attend the groundbreaking of the new Gaithersburg High School building.  I was honored to be there to celebrate this major milestone.  Community activists and local officials, led by the intrepid Steve and Laurie Augustino, have been fighting for many years to obtain the state and county funding for the badly needed modernization of this aged, circuitous, and insufficient facility. I attended many a meeting and hearing to educate people about this project and advocate for making this dream a reality. It was a very proud moment for the City as official after official from the county – County Executive Ike Leggett, Superintendent Jerry Weast, School Board President Chris Barclay – all recognized Gaithersburg as the greatest city in the world!

Construction has already begun on the new school building – located on the site of the current school parking lot.  It will be a LEED-certitified “green” building and will add to the revitalization of the Route 355 streetscape.  But most importantly, it will be the high-quality, modern learning environment that our students deserve.  Certainly others have done much much more, but I am proud to have played a role in advocating for this pivotal project which is one more keystone in the evolution of our bustling city, and I am thrilled to see the new Gaithersburg High School become a reality.  As long as I serve on the City Council, I will continue to make education a top priority.

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