I’ve lived in Stroubles Mill with my husband and two college-aged daughters for 15 years. Originally from New Jersey, I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Business Administration. After working as a human resources manager for 14 years, I taught at Blacksburg Middle School from 2006-2017. I now work in Student Services at Virginia Tech Graduate School.
The number one priority for education in our school system is providing our students with a safe, comfortable, and positive learning environment in which all students are treated equally, respected for their differences, and given the opportunity to be successful in whatever career path they may choose. In order to facilitate that broad concept, I would focus on the following: Greater focus on the whole child – Students need to develop academic, social and emotional skills. It is important to recognize differences in interests and abilities and provide curriculum that gives our students a well-balanced educational experience. AP and Dual education classes should continue, but there should also be an added emphasis on trade and CTE classes, recognizing that not all students must go to college to have a successful career. Our students should leave high school prepared to be independent adults. They should be provided not only with academic skills but life skills, that will assist them in becoming good citizens of whatever community they choose. While technology is a useful learning tool, we must create more of a balance in the classroom of computer-driven learning with hands-on and physical activity—at all grades. The current trend towards leveling in the classroom is one that should be carefully considered. Leveling at a young age can keep a child from developing the necessary social and emotional skills they will need in the future. Inclusion allows students to interact with those of different backgrounds and ability and helps to develop empathy towards others.
Supporting teachers—The county is losing some of its best teachers to early retirement and other positions outside the school system because of the pressures of teaching, increased workloads, lack of advancement, and lack of monetary reward. We must find a way to fund teacher salaries and bring them to a level at least equal to the state average. In addition, we need to recognize the personal sacrifices made by teachers during the school year and provide a way for them to balance their work and personal lives. Adding additional administrative tasks to an already overloaded class load causes stress, and many of our teachers are feeling these pressures. Recruiting new teachers is becoming difficult, and in order to recruit quality teachers we need to provide a quality salary package and work environment.
Community involvement and consistent, clear communication on School Board decisions—It is important that we allow input from teachers, parents, and students on policy and program issues. I plan to spend a great deal of time on a regular basis meeting with all parties, understanding their concerns, gathering their ideas, and making decisions based on this input. Even more important is the clear communication of changes and decisions, providing concrete reasons for why a decision is made. Lack of communication leads to rumors, conflict and loss of confidence in our administrators.
Students begin learning about the importance of voting in 8th grade Civics and again in U.S. Government during senior year high school level. I’d like to see more programs for other grades within middle and high school that educate students on their civic responsibilities and help them to see first-hand how our local government operates. I would like to bring speakers into the classroom who represent local government, conduct live debates during election periods, and support the formation of school clubs that focus on civic and political activism.
Registration events within the schools, with the assistance of student organizations, should be held several times throughout the year. The School Board could sponsor a contest among schools for best registration percentages.
Students should be given the opportunity to vote during school hours if they are registered voters. Educating students on the importance of voting and why voting matters in a way that young people can relate to should be encouraged. Organizations like RocktheVote are targeted to younger voters and should be used to educate civic responsibility and persuade students to become more involved.
To me, diversity is not only promoting awareness in regards to race and ethnicity, but also socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, religion and able-bodiedness. I believe it is important to give a voice to any student who feels marginalized and it starts with recognizing what are the differences in their experiences. Training should include awareness of and acknowledgment of these differences. But it needs to be training that is relevant to the classroom and can help teachers create a climate in their classroom that is open to diversity. Creating a climate of openness in the classroom, celebrating differences, teaching curriculum that exposes students to diverse cultures, and involving parents are all ways to help students to understand and value diversity. It is important to have open and honest conversation with students in the classroom and give them the tools to better understand and appreciate these differences in their peers. Teaching curriculum that is inclusive of these various differences will help students learn about others’ experiences. Reaching out to families and inviting them into the classroom to share information about themselves would help students - and the families - to create a greater understanding of their lives. Introducing into the classroom parents and other community members who represent diverse cultures, experiences, and identities will help bring reality to the challenges of, and appreciation for, living in a diverse world. I would suggest a staff member for each school whose primary responsibility is to coordinate parent involvement and work with the community to provide such programs.
I have been a strong supporter of expanding mental health support services for students. There is such great pressure on our students today and they often feel alone in their journey. These pressures can start at a young age, with an elementary school child who has difficulties at home and sometimes doesn’t get the basics that many of us take for granted - three meals, heat, decent clothing. Or they may be from a different culture and don’t feel like they fit it. As they move on to middle school, they are now being bombarded by social media and the need to live up to what they believe is the life they are expected to lead. Friendships start to change, grades start to become more important, pressure from home starts to build, and hormones are kicking in. Soon they are on to high school where complex relationships, pressure to decide upon a career, temptations of drugs and alcohol, and the continued social media hype that leaves them feeling inadequate are creating anxiety and stress.
Our world has become a very complicated place to live, even for adults. We have to give our young people support in managing all of these pressures I mentioned, as well as others I have not touched upon such as school safety, gender identity, and body consciousness. Encouraging student groups, such as the MCPS Students for Mental Health Awareness, that are teaching students and adults what is important today should continue and be encouraged.
Sofia Zhang Midkiff serves on the Montgomery County Public Schools Gifted Advisory Committee, Blacksburg Chinese School Board, and Haymarket Square HOA Board. Previous experience includes: Virginia Tech adjunct faculty for Strategy at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin School of Business; business consultant at IBM; marketing manager at Eriksson; and analyst contractor for the U.S. Department of Treasury. Sofia graduated from Stockholm University and Emory University.
Stable funding is my #1 priority for education in MCPS. If elected, I want to look into a revenue-sharing model that has been used in Salem and, also, establish a rainy-day fund. Long-term school budget planning is needed.
Hold a “Registration Day” at MCPS high schools. Find a day in the beginning of the school year and call it “Registration Day.” Have registration forms available at the front desk and other places in the school. Teachers can remind students to register when in class.
Invite people in the voter registration office to come and speak to the students. Once students find out that there is so much work behind the election, they will have more respect for the whole process, thereby creating more interest in participating
I would support a training program, to include:
Invite minority students and parents for discussions to better understand issues from their perspective.
Research project: Assign every participant to one country that MCPS students represent. The final presentation should include the country’s geography, history, cultural do’s and do-not’s, etc. Present it to the whole class at the end of the training.
Send out surveys to all families and ask them what is missing from diversity and inclusion in MCPS that should be addressed.
Outreach program, to include:
Regular meetings between MCPS and minority groups
Reach out to minority groups and ask if they can send invitations to MCPS for major events throughout the year, so MCPS can help promote and participate in these events.
Ask minority groups to propose and help organizing culture related activities at schools.
This is definitively needed.
Having regular sessions with students to educate the students.
Establish support groups for students who might have mental health issues. Participation would be voluntary. and all group information must be confidential.
Take a holistic approach. Remind parents and students to ensure proper nutrition (and work with those where that is a challenge), to get plenty of exercise, and to sleep enough. Possibly increase outdoor activities for students who do not participate any athletic team/club in middle schools and high schools. Also, educate students on the downsides of too much “screen time” and how to manage social media.