Nick Asante wins SMOB 

In a not unexpected victory Thursday, Nick Asante, the Chief of Staff to current Student Member of the Board of Education Nate Tinbite, won the nomination for the Student Member of the Board seat. His SMOB campaign centered around security, changing the curriculum, mental health support, communication, and addressing the opportunity gap. He won with 61% of the vote against Victoria Kidder. Nearly 11,000 students casted ballots this year according to a Montgomery County Public Schools press release, a significant drop from last year, where around 75,000 students casted ballots. His term begins on July 1. 

Asante has been active in student politics for some time, starting from Student Government Association President at Clemente Middle School, working his way up to the Montgomery County Regional SGA Chief of Staff, and finally to Nate Tinbite’s chief of staff. Tinbite, in turn, was the chief of staff to SMOB Matt Post, who gained national attention for his advocacy on gun control. Now he is Tinbite’s successor.

Asante has testified on behalf of Montgomery County Public Schools’ boundary analysis, which studies the school boundaries in the context of several factors including school building usage and capacity and school demographics. While opponents fear school communities being torn apart as a result of the analysis, the analysis itself only serves to gather data and does not recommend school boundary changes. Asante will be one of eight Board of Education members that make decisions based on the collected data — including about school boundary changes.

Mental health occupied a central role in his campaign. Asante ran on increasing the number of school counselors and psychologists to help students deal with their emotions. He argued in a past interview that counselors are not accessible enough to students and school psychologists need to be available every day. Currently, psychologists split their time between multiple high schools during the week. He suggested reducing MCPS central office staff to pay for the expansion.

Asante wants to expand security cameras and other more low-tech security measures, as well as balance an expansion of the School Resource Officer program with the social anxiety that could stem from having an officer with a gun in school. He wants to reevaluate school bus stop locations in order to ensure that they are safe in collaboration with MCPS. 

His campaign focused on transparency in the process of which schools get renovated. The Capital Improvements Program, which is passed by the Board of Education and subject to approval by the Montgomery County Council, sets the funding levels for building improvement and renovation for the next six school fiscal years. Asante said he would improve the communication about it, ensuring people know what is getting renovated and why.

As just about every other SMOB candidate before him, Asante wants to let all middle school students use their phones at lunch. While some middle schools have allowed students to use them, many principals warn of students texting in class, sharing test answers, as well as bullying and rumors spreading, Asante said. Tinbite, the current SMOB, promised to amend the Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook during his campaign, but did not get the proposal through the Board of Education. Asante instead plans to communicate through individual conversations with principals and convince them to allow phone use.

Asante openly acknowledged that all his plans are not possible to implement in a year. He said he realized that because of his experience in student government and working with SMOBs. The SMOB’s role, he said, is to lay the groundwork for policies and “get the ball rolling” on projects, hoping their successor will continue the policies. If he is lucky, he might just be able to do that for his predecessor, Nate Tinbite.