Photo courtesy of @nickasante on Instagram
In a year with few educational continuities, MCPS students will see one soon: a new Student Member of the Board. With Henry Kaye and Hana O’Looney being chosen as the two final candidates at the SMOB Nominating Conference on Wed. Feb. 17, the annually elected position, currently held by 43rd SMOB Nick Asante, will soon be cycled again.
“SMOB and NomCom is a great experience for students. It introduces kids to government, and what it’s like to campaign, run or advocate for important issues in our county or state,” Kaylen Chang, a WCHS delegate to the conference, said. “It was the first NomCom online, which organizers kept emphasizing.”
Unlike past years, where unelected delegates from around the county’s high schools journeyed to one central site for the conference, this year’s event was held on Zoom. After opening remarks and speeches, each of the 10 initial candidates presented a four minute video speech for delegates. This was followed by an initial round of voting in which delegates halved the field.
“It was also my first NomCom, and this event is usually held at a school. There were [about] 400 participants in the zoom call and they were mostly students,” Chang said. “The first round, we voted for three people- our first, second, and third choice….[through] electronic google form ballot.”
The five remaining candidates then entered a question and answer portion, lasting about 30 minutes, before the second round of voting to determine the final two candidates for SMOB; the position holds one of the nine seats on the MCPS Board of Education and possesses full voting power within the board- giving real say within MCPS’s large operating budgets, initiatives and decisions.
“The questions were pre-set, but outside the meeting I got to learn more about the candidates on their Instagram,” Chang said. “There were many issues covered during this event from schools being ADA inclusive, the [climate], access to menstrual products and a safe return to schools… It was definitely different because sometimes [candidates’] Wi-Fi cut out or sound just stopped.”
In the second round of voting Kaye and O’Looney’s succeeded in making the SMOB “general election.” With them both being juniors at Richard Montgomery High School, their victories mark a noticeable trend of SMOB activity coming out of the MCPS IB magnet school.
“Both spoke on issues students could connect with but also campaigned well. Many other candidates along with the finalists visited MCPS schools before NomCom, via online zoom calls,” Chang said. “[Their speeches] were both pretty different in content and honestly I think that’s good. It shows our county has a variety of views and thoughts from SMOB candidates on how to improve education. That’s a great thing because we need diverse voices in student government.”
MCPS students are now faced with deciding who, out of O’Looney and Kaye, they think will best represent the MCPS student voice as the 44th SMOB. While the two candidates have similarities in grade and school, both offer unique resumes and proposals in an especially unique election year; one that has seen sprawling full-scale online campaigns in favor of traditional mixed in-person and online campaigns with frequent trips and visits to MCPS schools.
“I truly think this SMOB election is the most important… [one] during my personal time here in MCPS,” O’Looney said. “From reopening schools to the boundary analysis, the future of the SRO program to the antiracism audit and the ongoing superintendent search to impending budget cuts, there has really never been an election quite like this one with as many important, defining decisions coming up during a singular SMOB term… I think it’s important to elect someone who has demonstrated a long history of commitment to our school system and our students.”
O’Looney has been running an ongoing online campaign Hana4Smob which has included attending various club and organizational meetings, school-sponsored student Zoom visits, live streams, social media “office hours” and voluntary one-on-one student meetings.
“I think delegates… resonated with my vision for progressive change in the county, and saw that I had the experiences and substantive record of action to back up the promises that I was making,” O’Looney said. “I am running… because I don’t think your zip code or your identity should dictate [your] opportunities. Regardless of who you are, what your parents’ financial background is or where you go to school, you should have access to the world-class education that you deserve.”
Her resume includes marks such as serving as Vice President of the countywide SGA MCR, being Chair of MCPS’s official countywide female empowerment organization Moco Empowher and being the primary student rep in multiple MCPS and County Council policy workgroups. She has also led projects involving ending PARCC exams, menstrual products in schools and mental health programs, among others.
“I have dedicated every spare moment of the last five years of my life to fighting for educational equity and improving this school system,” O’Looney said. “I’m not just talking about change. I will be an active, persistent and communicative SMOB because the changes I will fight for at the Board table are continuations of changes I have successfully fought for for years.”
Although this article serves a mere surface-level preview of both candidates, MCPS voters can find much more detail about candidates across their social media platforms and campaign trails.
“To learn more about my campaign, please visit my website at www.hana4smob.com where you can learn a little more about me, my qualifications and experiences in MCPS and the policies I plan on fighting for at the Board of Education,” O’Looney said. “[This] in addition to links to watch some of the events I have spoken at, or schedule a one-on-one meeting with me. My social media is @hana4smob on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat.”
O’Looney is joined in the general election by RM counterpart Henry Kaye, who’s campaign “Henry Kaye for SMOB” has also been active across virtual platforms. His campaign has likewise included Zoom meetings and Instagram lives, and is joined by plans to assemble advisory teams at MCPS schools which would connect with him personally.
“The voters of MCPS need to choose a leader who does not perpetuate the MCR to SMOB pipeline, who has an innate understanding of the economics, who will include all voices into the conversation and who will work tirelessly to bring… change MCPS students need,” Kaye said.
Similar to his counterpart, Kaye has expressed the importance of this year’s election both to MCPS stakeholders and Montgomery County as a whole.
“This SMOB election is different than most because the next SMOB will be tackling issues such as COVID-19, SRO removal, a $100 million revenue loss and host of other problems,” Kaye said. “We need a SMOB who will rise above and tackle these issues head on.”
Kaye’s candidate resume includes attributes such as owning and running his own local business, participating in varsity track and field and being an Eagle Scout. This is joined by a host of other skills and occupations such as welding or ice hockey, and a continued emphasis on solutions and needs he sees missing from MCPS.
“In my speech, I emphasized the fact that many past SMOB candidates have proposed grandiose ideas without solid plans to enact legislation and make change. This resonated with… delegates because they are tired of these grandiose proposals that are seldom enacted,” Kaye said. “I also highlighted the fact that the barrier to entry for student advocacy is too high…. If a student does not speak English, has family responsibilities or lives far from the Board of Education, it is difficult to get involved and see the change that they need occur.”
Both candidates have stressed issues like a physically and mentally-protected return to schools and issues of equity within MPCS, but each offers unique experience, solutions and approaches. To assess these differences and their prospective vote for SMOB students are also able to survey online resources provided by Kaye’s campaign.
“If you are interested in getting involved, I invite you to check out our website henrysmob.com where you can find a google form to join my advisory counsel,” Kaye said. “I also invite you to find us on Instagram and Twitter at Henry_smob. And, please always feel free to reach out via email at [email protected].”
Students in grades 6-12 will have until mid-April to learn more; the annual “Meet the Candidates” experience, allowing students to view candidates head-to-head, will be held virtually at a not-yet-determined date. Assuming MCPS students are back in-person, an early election day will be held on April 15 for approved schools with “extreme hardships.” Otherwise, the general election day is scheduled for April 21, with online ballot polls opening at 7:30 a.m. and closing at 3:30 p.m.. Results will come out at 5:30 p.m., but if the election happens while MCPS is still in distance-learning, the election window could be expanded and results delayed until later that night.
“A big subject for candidates this year [will be] the many movements like BLM or disability rights that saw a resurgence in support,” Chang said. “To really get votes, both candidates will need to incorporate these movements not just passively in their speeches, but give plans about incorporating them in our curriculum and teacher training.”