Juniors Sam Ross and Praneel Suvarna are the Two Finalists for Student Member of the Board (SMOB)

Courtesy Seyun Park


Written by Seyun Park of Walter Johnson High School’s student newspaper, The Pitch. Republished with permission.

Montgomery Blair High School junior Sam (Samantha) Ross and Clarksburg High School junior Praneel Suvarna were selected as Student Member of the Board (SMOB) finalists at the SMOB nominating convention on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Ross and Suvarna will continue to campaign for a full-voting seat on the MCPS Board of Education, with the county-wide election scheduled for Wednesday, Apr. 17.

The nominating convention narrows the group of SMOB candidates to two through a series of two ballots. Delegates from every middle and high school in the county, including 12 from WJ, convened at Watkins Mill High School Wednesday to decide the two finalists from a group of eight candidates.

Ross, one of the two finalists, currently serves as Director of Community Relations in the Montgomery County Regional SGA, chief of staff in the SMOB Advisory Council and is an intern in MCPS central offices. Ross, who draws recognition with her distinctive green hair, has a long history of student advocacy, including testifying in front of the Board 13 times and working with the current SMOB Sami Saeed.

Ross defined her campaign as centered around four tenets: safety and well-being, achievement, engagement and student life. As part of her campaign, Ross has called for “reimagined” grading policies, more college and career resources, the continuation of restorative justice and standardization of advisory and homeroom periods across the county, all with a focus on student input.

“We have so many issues across MCPS where students just don’t feel heard, students are the primary customers of MCPS, and with student perspective, voice and solutions, we can fix those issues. Without student voice, they will just stay issues,” Ross said.

Suvarna, the other finalist, is the MCR-SGA Vice President and Clarksburg’s junior class president. Suvarna, like Ross, has also worked extensively in student advocacy, working as MoCo for Change Field Organization Director and MCR Environmental Affairs Coordinator and testifying to the Board seven times.

Campaign policies from Suvarna include expanding access to Narcan to help fight the drug and opioid crisis and creating SMOB Advisory Council subcommittees specifically for Northeast Consortium and Downcounty Consortium schools, which have traditionally been underrepresented in countywide student advocacy.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have been a part of so many different experiences, both in and out of school … it’s always the highlight of my day to be able to talk to a student about something they’re passionate about. Representation is so important to me and I want to be able to show every student in the county that they matter,” Suvarna said.

Although Ross and Suvarna and many of the candidates share similar ideas for making MCPS better, the candidates distinguished themselves through two-minute speeches in the first round and well-thought-out responses during a candidate Q&A session during the second round.

“I have known Praneel and Sam through my student advocacy journey. These two students are incredibly talented … in my personal opinion, this is a very tight race for both candidates as they are hardworking, passionate, and have experience” WJ sophomore and delegate Anna Jhon said.

Ross and Suvarna were both candidates for SMOB last year, and are familiar with the election process. However, being named finalists was an emotional moment for each of them.

“I’ve worked so hard and so long to make a change … if you watch a video of Sami announcing [the finalists], you see me just start to cry tears of joy as we walked out,” Ross said.

Saeed announced the two finalists to the crowd inside the auditorium, with thunderous applause and cheer following his announcement. Suvarna echoed the excitement he felt when he was announced as a finalist.

“[It was] one of the most exciting and intense moments I’ve had and it almost felt surreal as I walked back onto stage,” Suvarna said.

If elected, Ross will be the first SMOB from Blair since Sebastian Johnson in 2006, while Suvarna could be the first Clarksburg SMOB since Dahlia Huh’s 2015 term.

Paint Branch High School junior Shaylie Allmond and Sherwood High School junior Mitu Tegene each made it to the second round of the voting process but were eliminated in the second ballot. Each ballot used a ranked-choice voting method, which allowed delegates to choose their top three candidates, with their first choice weighted with a three, second choice two and third choice one.

The other four candidates were Gaithersburg High School junior Andy Diaz Amaya, B-CC High School junior Bryan Doukouris, Gaithersburg High School sophomore Christopher Luna Cruz and Northwood High School junior Rhyder Miles. Although the four were eliminated in the first ballot round, candidates expressed how valuable running was.

“The last five weeks have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ve met new friends all around the county and if I could do it again, knowing the outcome, I still would,” Doukouris said.

 

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