Letters from the PTA President

Characteristics of a Piney Branch Future Leader

posted Jul 11, 2018, 5:36 AM by PBES PTA   [ updated Jul 11, 2018, 5:36 AM by Jenny Cohan ]

  1. Our future leader must understand what makes Takoma Park and Piney Branch unique. Examples include the rich diversity of our student population, a school that serves students across only three grades, and a school that serves many students who speak English as a second language.
  2. Our future leader must have deep experience developing a positive, safe, and orderly school culture and climate where all children feel emotionally and physically safe, and where they are given opportunities to practice restorative approaches to conflict resolution.
  3. Our future leader must have successful experience being a strategic advocate within a large school district and “managing up” in a big bureaucracy. This means, in practical terms, advocating for physical space upgrades and maintenance, ensuring small class size, supporting our teachers, and navigating other district-wide mandates and policies - an especially important skill set for Piney Branch’s new principal since a five-classroom renovation is planned for the near future.
  4. Our future leader must demonstrate sensitivity to issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and have experience with open, transparent, and vulnerable conversations with students, parents, staff and other stakeholders.
  5. Our future leader must have a clear vision of what excellent teaching and learning look like in practice for students in Grades 3-5. S/he must have experience supporting teachers in their efforts to reach such a vision. S/he must have experience building a school culture where children feel inspired and develop a love of learning.
  6. Our future leader must be collaborative and partner with other building administrators, teachers, parents, and students, and with the administration and staff at neighboring Takoma Park Elementary School and Takoma Park Middle School.

Letter from PTA president Fred Azcarate on the Principal Selection Process

posted Jul 11, 2018, 5:35 AM by PBES PTA   [ updated Jul 11, 2018, 5:35 AM by Jenny Cohan ]

Fellow Piney Branch Parents

First, thanks to all the volunteers who helped organize a great Pool-A-Palooza on Wednesday night – Thank You!. Much thanks to everyone that showed up and had a great time in the pool and out of it, especially our Parents and Teachers who swam races for all of our enjoyment.

There are a lot more events coming up – and I’ll detail them in another email I’ll send out later today. I do want to update everyone on the Principal Selection Process.

As folks know, almost as soon as we found out that Ms. DuBois was leaving the PTA appointed a Committee, Co-Chaired by Dalia Hochman and Lyssia Merriman who have done a great job representing our interests in this process. As part of their work they summarized some of the parent discussion last week, which I will paste in below.

As you know, MCPS Director Eric Wilson came last week and detailed the overall process. Here it is:

  1. Job listing posted on the MCPS job site for about a week.
  2. Conversation with parents (which was done at that meeting) regarding characteristics we’d like in a new Principal.
  3. Online survey on characteristics (to teachers and staff) open for 4 days (which included 2 weekend days) Thanks to all who were able to get online to fill out a survey.
  4. MCPS Staff review of applicants to get to approx. 3-4 to interview
  5. MCPS appointment of Parents/Teachers/MCPS Staff to in Interview Panel
  6. Interviews of applicants for no more than 30 minutes/candidate. All questions created by MCPS staff. No questions or follow-ups allowed to be asked that have not been created by MCPS staff and pre-approved. Panelists will see the questions right before the first interview.
  7. MCPS staff do a post interview review to get to 1 or possibly 2 candidates that get sent to the Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent and Associate Superintendent.
  8. Superintendent makes a recommendation to the Board of Education at it's April 12th meeting for appointment
  9. New Principal starts on July 1.

A number of parents (including myself) who were at this meeting were a little taken aback by the process:

  1. The speed of the search relative to the start date.
  2. Limited (in both time and scope) of parent and teacher input.
  3. For most of interview panel the invitation is to watch the proceedings (since you aren't allowed to ask questions) and participate in short discussions after each candidate.
  4. The shortness of the actual interviews.

Since that meeting MCPS has appointed an interview panel of 15 people, including 4 members of the MCPS Central Office Staff, 6 members of the PBES Staff, and 5 parents

I was told by the MCPS Director that I wasn’t allowed to know the names of any of the panelists, even the parents (even though I am one of the parents on the panel). He did provide me with demographic information for the panel (though my own race/ethnicity was wrongly characterized). Based on the information he provided we have no Black or African-American parents represented on the panel. When I was provided with this information, I pointed it out and said this seemed like a grave oversight given that our school has a 36% Black or African American population. I have not heard back but I intend to pursue this issue with MCPS.

PTA parents and leadership have tried to participate in this process by:

  • Reaching out to Eric Wilson by email and phone to discuss the search process and encourage a more open listening session for the central office to hear the priorities of parents (which took place on March 7).
  • Attempting to insure Black and African American parent representation on the interview panel
  • Writing sample interview questions parents would like asked, and delivering to Eric Wilson
  • Working with Eric Wilson to promote the survey developed by the Central Office on Facebook and the PTA listserv, as well as encouraging more DirectEd phone calls to encourage parents to take the survey.
  • Expressing concerns at meetings with Eric Wilson regarding transparency, diversity, and candidate search best practices

Recommendations made to Eric Wilson on changes to the process including:

  • Parents and teachers on the panel should be able to write and ask at least one question each
  • Parents and teachers should have access to candidate resumes, writing samples, and other application materials
  • Parents and teachers should be able to identify one another ahead of the interviews, to discuss the priorities of their constituents
  • Interview questions should be dynamic, focusing on past experiences in tricky scenarios
  • Follow-up questions should be permitted
  • Interview length should be longer than a half-hour

We have been successful in some of our efforts (ensuring there was a conversation about actual characteristics we’d like to see in a new Principal on March 7 – the original MCPS plan was simply to take questions on the process they laid out).

The PTA Board views the failings in this process as key equity issues:

  1. The interviews are in Rockville (assuming all parents from Takoma Park being able to get to Rockville)
  2. The interviews are on a weekday (again a parent will have to take time off of work to observe the interviews)
  3. The interviews are from 1-4pm (elementary schools end at 3:50 so parents are responsible for arranging childcare and pickup)
  4. We were told that they wanted to have the parents and teachers selected to represent the diversity of the school and yet we are not allowed to know who they have selected.
  5. The PTA has had to initiate every conversation regarding our questions about the process. The only proactive communication we received was being asked to spend PTA funds to provide a specific list of snacks for the interviews in Rockville.

In my opinion this search has not been the most transparent or inclusive process and significant mistakes have been made in the implementation. Despite that, I’m sure the PBES teachers, staff and parents on the panel will do all we can at the interviews next week (March 21 from 1-4pm in Rockville) to get the best possible Principal for our school.

The good news in all of this is in all likelihood we will know who our new Principal is by April 12 (though they won’t start until July 1).

As always, if anyone has any questions, comments, suggestions for me please feel free to contact me at anytime.

In solidarity,


Fred Azcarate
Piney Branch Elementary School PTA

Danilo - Madsen 5th
Alexander - Richie 3rd
Ana Natalia - Pre-K, TCS

Letter from the PTA President

posted Jul 10, 2018, 10:38 AM by Jenny Cohan   [ updated Jul 11, 2018, 5:32 AM ]

January 16, 2018

Fellow Piney Branch Parents:

Just wanted to relay a couple of updates regarding some important issues/meetings:

  1. Important meeting [update, Tuesday, January 23] – 7:00 – 8:00 pm in the Media Center to discuss the impending Principal transition. While we haven’t been informed yet about the substitute Principal, I hope that information will be forthcoming at this meeting or right before. Eric A. Wilson MCPS Elementary School Director for our School will be in attendance to answer our questions regarding this transition. He’ll be joined by Principal DuBois and Assistant Principal Greenberg.

  2. Update on the new elementary school for the Down County Consortium. While there is still no information on the MCPS site, the City of Takoma Park has populated information on the process and background documents here.

    The City of Takoma Park staff representative to this committee raised a number of process and substantive concerns that resulted in a letter from our City Manager to Superintendent Smith. Here is a copy of that letter. These concerns and additional questions will be discussed at the Takoma Park City Council Meeting tomorrow – the meeting begins at 7:30, I believe these issues will come up at the work session scheduled to start at 8:30pm – so maybe some of us can go right to the City Council meeting from the PBES meeting tomorrow night!

  3. I know a notice went home with 5th graders today. The incoming 6th grade parent meeting is scheduled for Monday, January 22 at 6:30pm at the TPMS Cafeteria (snow date – 1/29 at 6:30pm)

As always, thanks for your support. Please feel free to let me know of any questions or concerns you may have.

In solidarity,


Fred Azcarate
Piney Branch Elementary School PTA

Danilo - Madsen 5th
Alexander - Richie 3rd
Ana Natalia - Pre-K, TCS

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