Get to know this year’s SMOB finalists

Juniors Hana OLooney (left) and Henry Kaye (right) are the finalists in this years SMOB election. Both candidates attend Richard Montgomery High School.

O'Looney and Kaye

Juniors Hana O’Looney (left) and Henry Kaye (right) are the finalists in this year’s SMOB election. Both candidates attend Richard Montgomery High School.

By Skylar Chasen

This year, high stakes surround the Student Member of the Board of Education election; pressing issues such as reopening schools, reallocating MCPS’ budget and searching for a new superintendent are on the table. The SMOB is widely considered the most powerful student position in MCPS, they will serve as the only student voice on the eight member MCPS school board. Montgomery County is one of two counties in Maryland that allows the SMOB full voting rights among the committee.

On April 22 and 23, students will have the opportunity to vote for their preferred SMOB candidate through a link sent to their MCPS inbox. Students across Montgomery County will choose between two Richard Montgomery juniors, Henry Kaye and Hana O’Looney. 

Henry Kaye

Kaye is an athletic Eagle scout who can almost always be found outside, running track or backpacking. He has never held a student government position before; rather, his campaign largely centers around his belief that student government needs to become more accessible to students in lower income areas.

“It’s so difficult for many students to become involved in county advocacy — a lot of the issues emanate from that,” Kaye said. “Because our students don’t have equitable representation, we lack diverse perspectives. I want to change that.“

In addition, Kaye hopes to promote creative ways of ensuring a safe return to school, such as investing in outdoor classrooms and prioritizing groups that are struggling more acutely with online learning. 

Kaye wishes he could visit schools to interact with students across the district — a pivotal campaign strategy for pre-pandemic SMOB finalists — but he’s glad the election process has still given him insight into the county as a whole, even if he’s not walking through various school buildings, he said.

“It’s been really fun to learn about the county because there is such a unique dynamic,” Kaye said. “It has given me the opportunity to learn about interesting challenges that we are facing and think about creative solutions.”

Hana O’Looney

Having attended schools in six different high school clusters all around the county,  O’Looney says she has seen Montgomery County from every angle.

“I’ve moved around quite a bit and through that experience I was really able to see the massive disparities that exist in our system based on who you are, your ZIP code, your income, on where you go to school — and that’s a really huge problem,” O’Looney said. “I don’t think that in a public school system, those factors should determine your education.” 

Similarly to Kaye, O’Looney is also looking to increase diversity within the county workforce, specifically among teachers.

“Currently MCPS teachers are 72% white, despite that fact that across the county white students make up about 24% of the student population,” O’Looney said. “That’s a huge problem.” 

Additionally, O’Looney has advocated for the introduction of free menstrual products into schools around the county over the past year. She believes this project, among others, has given her the experience and the knowledge to represent her peers on the Board, she said. 

If elected, O’Looney wants to quickly develop the reopening plan for the 2021-22 school year after getting sworn in on June 6th. 

“I really want to make sure we’re continuing to support students from a mental health perspective, amping up counseling and psychological support,” she said. “Another huge thing is creating more opportunities for students to socialize, such as bringing back safe homecoming and safe sports games for next year.”

Kaye and O’Looney encourage all students to vote. MCPS’ roughly 88,000 secondary students are given the unique opportunity to cast their ballot for their elected officials, a right O’Looney says her peers should exercise. 

“At the end of the day, education’s biggest stakeholders are the students,” O’Looney said. “So having a representative on the board who is a current student is so important, to make sure no decisions are being made about us, without us.”