Asking the Right Questions

Google has exceeded all expectations in finding answers to every conceivable question we could think of. But as any college professor can tell you, having all the answers is not the consummate goal of the human race. Just as, if not more important, is asking the right questions.

I have lived a total of about 27 years in Montgomery County. I have lived the last five years in Germantown. And only in these last five have I been on a quest for the right questions: what are the real issues that face this county? What core hangups bog us down? What might God be most concerned with?

Well, I’m still at it. Still talking to lots of people, making lots of connections, taking in the wisdom and insight from folks much wiser than myself.

You may be on the same journey and have different answers. Fair enough. But here are the burning questions I am embracing as I try to be a responsible citizen of this fine county:

How do we close the achievement gap?

Our Board of Education has adopted the goal of making it just as likely for a Black or Brown student to be admitted to a competitive college/university from Montgomery County as an Asian or Anglo student. This is an enormous undertaking. Hence, the push for pre-K school, free breakfasts, lunches, and even dinners, free medical check-ups, counselors, tutors, etc. To take a non-English-speaking refugee from, say, El Salvador – traumatized, poor, lacking resources, with an unknown educational background – and in a matter of years have them be able to compete at the same level as someone who has grown up with an abundance of resources around them since birth would be nothing short of miraculous. What drives the BOE’s commitment to equity? What would closing the achievement gap actually look like? What are metrics? What sacrifices would be involved? On face value, it’s a worthy cause. And if any county would have the resources to do so, it would be Montgomery.

How do we end poverty?

There are scores of social service agencies working in Montgomery County all doing good. Each one of them can justifiably say ‘we have helped X number of families/ individuals this year.’ And we can all celebrate their contribution. But are we making progress? Is poverty overall decreasing? How do we measure it? What social services actually move the needle and which are simply remedial, bringing relief (needed as it may be!) vs. addressing the root causes?

How do we ‘sell’ the Ag Reserve?

One of our county’s greatest resources is the Western third of the county – 93,000 acres -which has a zoning code that prohibits residential development of any more than one dwelling unit per 25 acres. It was established in 1980 to protect this pristine farmland from eventually being gobbled up by developers. The benefits are many: stable income for the county, long-term food supply to our residents that is local, fresh food readily available, and an escape for city dwellers needing a break from crowded, urban life. But it comes at a cost: more dense development upcounty. Denser development means higher housing costs. Higher housing costs make it harder for the working class to stay housed. The Ag Reserve was established by the wealthier side of the county who have deep roots here. Is it really good for the whole? If so, how can we ‘sell’ it to those who did not grow up here but who will eventually be deciding on zoning policies?

These are my top three questions for living in Montgomery County. What are yours?


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