Follow-Up Needed After Last Year’s Changes in PGCPS Recess Policy

playground_6394.v01b.25percentLori Morrow presented this testimony during the public comment portion of the July 12 Prince George’s County Board of Education work meeting.

Good evening Dr. Eubanks, Board Members, Dr. Maxwell, staff and community members,

My name is Lori Morrow.  I have been a PGCPS parent for 10 years and am active with the Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools. I chose to speak about recess tonight because it is a concern I continue to hear from parents, and it is also something principals have the ability to change for the upcoming school year if they wish.

Last summer, PGCPS updated its Health and Wellness Procedure 0116, and one of the changes was a recommendation to provide 30 minutes for elementary recess, with the minimum required time increasing from 15 to 20 minutes. This spring I submitted a Public Information Act request to find out how many schools actually met that 30-minute recommendation. The answer I received, and I quote: “Upon review, there are no records available to show school responses for compliance with the updated AP 0116 for this request.” I take that to mean the administration does not actually know.

Included in my reply was the spreadsheet of recess times by school prior to the update.  It was enlightening to learn that before 2017, approximately HALF of PGCPS elementary schools had 15-minute recess. At the same time, a quarter of schools managed to provide 30 minutes. With studies that show increased recess can improve student focus and academics, why were so many principals content to do the minimum, and are they still just meeting the minimum?

We appreciate that the wellness policy was updated last year, but I would love to see the administration and the Board of Education do more to encourage all principals to provide 30-minute recess. For the parents and community members out there, don’t settle for the minimum. If you believe kids should have 30 minutes for recess, advocate for it at your school. The framework is there and the principal has the authority to make it happen. I also learned there are no MSDE or PGCPS policies prohibiting middle school principals from implementing a break or recess period. I would love to see some of them experiment with schedules that give middle school students a mental break from their hour-long classes.

Ultimately I’m disappointed because this reinforced complaints that even when the policies and procedures are in place, schools may not be following them. For example 0116 also states that “Withholding of recess as a punishment is prohibited,” but many people, including my rising 5th grader, have examples where it is used that way either for individual students or the entire class.

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Reflections of a PTA Leader

100_3401by Lori Morrow

I recently attended the Maryland Parent Teacher Association (PTA) convention on July 14-15. It was good to connect with other Prince George’s County Public Schools and Maryland PTA leaders. And since my last convention was seven years ago, it was great to refresh myself on PTA operations. After reflecting on the weekend, here are recommendations based on my experiences as a PTA/PTO president and board member:

  1. State your mission. This was emphasized in every convention workshop.  Why are we here? What is the purpose of our organization? Whether you are a PTA or PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), your mission should be clearly stated in your bylaws or guiding document. Read it out loud at Board or Membership meetings.  Type it as a header or footer on your flyers. It serves as a reminder that all  actions should support that mission as well.
  2. Read your bylaws. Reading bylaws and guiding documents should be one of the first things new board members do. Make your bylaws available for all members (and potential members) as well so that there is transparency in how the organization operates. For PTAs, bylaws must be updated and submitted to the state PTA every three years. If your bylaws state that you follow Robert’s Rules of Order, become familiar with them and use them to help conduct meetings in an efficient and orderly manner.
  3. Publish standing rules. These are the day-to-day policies and procedures that your PTA/PTO follows that are not covered in your bylaws. Standing rules are established by the local organization or committee and do not need to be submitted to the state. Examples of standing rules could include policies for reimbursement; procedures to follow in planning events; procedures about maintaining binders for board members; or job/committee descriptions that are not outlined in the bylaws.
  4. Be transparent. I cannot emphasize this one enough! Let members know when and how decisions are made. Provide explanations for budget and committee decisions. The board should never operate in secret.
  5. Don’t take it personally. This can be a challenge because we are all human and it is easy to become emotional with decisions that impact our children. There will always be someone who questions a decision or is not happy with an outcome. As much as possible, take a step back and lead the PTA/PTO as you would a business. Follow the bylaws and rules that will help you make decisions in the best interest of all children.

  6. Collaborate. Talk to staff, parents, and the community members and be open to other opinions and ideas. Work as a team to make things happen, and respect that sometimes your board or membership may vote in a way that is different from what you would do on your own. Network with parent groups outside your school as well. No matter what the issue is, chances are good that someone else has faced it before.
  7. Be inclusive. Invite everyone to join. The best recruiting tool is face-to-face communication, but hardcopy forms, emails, social media, and phone calls can work too. Never assume that someone won’t be interested before they are even asked. PTA/PTO membership is open to anyone that shares your mission, so reach out to extended family, neighbors, community members, and local businesses. In the same vein, never turn away a volunteer. There is always something else that can be done. Ask what they are interested in doing, or how much time they can commit.
  8. Keep good records. All officers of the organization have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure the organization stays in good financial standing. Know what the obligations are legally and financially, and ensure that the PTA/PTO is meeting them. You will not be in this position forever. Keep in mind what information would have been useful when you were starting and write it down.
  9. Know your limits. Being a PTA/PTO leader does not mean that you are single-handedly responsible to plan and execute every event, fundraiser, and activity of the organization. Delegate, work as a team, and sometimes you just have to say “no” when you don’t have enough volunteers to make things happen. It is okay.
  10. Think advocacy. There are PTAs and PTOs that are great at planning events and fundraisers and family nights, but don’t forget to return to your mission of advocacy. It is the difference between doing a fundraiser to support something once, and advocating for permanent funding at the county or state level to make sure that thing will continue on. As a group of parents, teachers, staff, and community members, we have a powerful voice and influence when we use it.

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What to Do Over the Summer: Read the New Grading Policies, Get Fingerprinted, Attend a Pop-up Event

by Lori Morrow

For anyone who needs a break from thinking about the systemwide controversies in Prince George’s County Public Schools,  here are some other things to do this summer:

1. Find out which PTA/PTO committees need members for next year and volunteer.
2. Ask school staff if there are areas that need to be spruced up before the school year and gather some friends to help.
3. Read the new PGCPS Grading & Reporting Administrative Procedures 5121.1-.3, so you are familiar with them before school starts.
4. Volunteer to ask nurseries/home improvement stores for flowers, mulch, garden items to beautify the school.
5. Volunteer in the community with your middle schooler or high schooler to work on their service-learning hours.
6. If your elementary school has 20-25 minutes for recess, talk to your principal and ask them to increase it to 30 minutes per the recommendation in AP 0116.
7. Check out the Family & Community Engagement Pop-up events this summer (see the calendar at pgcps.org).
8. Get fingerprinted and do your volunteer training before the school year starts.

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But What Can I Do? Thoughts After a Contentious School Board Meeting

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The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Robyn Kravitz

What an interesting, frustrating, challenging, yet energetic time to be a Prince George’s County resident!

I’m new-ish to the county. My family moved here two years ago thanks to the Air Force. However, in that time I have seen many hurdles within our school system. The most recent hurdle involves the employment, performance, and resignation of Dr. Maxwell from PGCPS. Here are some basic facts that feel important:

  1. Dr. Maxwell’s contract was renewed for 4 years by County Executive Baker in 2017.
  2. Dr. Maxwell announced that he would transition out of the position. But he was not fired.
  3. Other counties in Maryland have been required to pay large severance packages upon the departure of their CEO or Superintendent on top of massive legal fees.
  4. The Board of Education approved a package that is expected to be accepted by Dr. Maxwell and provide a clear path to Dr. Maxwell’s departure from PGCPS.

Now as parents, where do we go from here? I see two very distinct actions we need to take head on — be an educated voter and volunteer in your local parent-teacher organization.

If you love the decision by the Board of the Education, get out and vote this fall for the candidates that supported this package through the system. If you disagree with the package from the Board of Education, get out and vote this fall for the candidates that offer a view you align with. The way we hold our elected officials accountable for the decisions they make is to show up at the polls in November and vote.

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Board of Education Primary Election Results for Prince George’s County

Residents of Prince George’s County Board of Education Districts 2, 3, 6, and 9 had the opportunity to vote for a school board candidate in the Maryland primary election on Tuesday. The two candidates with the most votes will go on to the general election in November.

Incumbents did very well at the polls: In the three districts where incumbents ran for re-election (Districts 2, 6, and 9), incumbents won the most votes.

Here are the Maryland State Board of Elections unofficial results for the four school board races:

DISTRICT 2:

Rob Anthony, 16.4%

*Lupi Grady, 49.3%

*Joshua M. Thomas, 34.3%

DISTRICT 3:

* Juwan Blocker, 25.7%

*Pamela Boozer-Strother, 47.2%

Irene Holtzman, 12.4%

Catherine Bennett Nwosu, 14.7%

District 6:

*Carolyn Maria Boston, 29.4%

Caleb A. Camara, 4.6%

Pat Fletcher, 14.0%

*Belinda Queen, 24.8%

Ava Richardson, 7.4%

David Shelton, 4.9%

Anthony Triplin, 14.9%

District 9:

Matt Green, 8.1%

Don D. Massey, 8.9%

*Arun Puracken, 28.7%

*Sonya Williams, 54.3%

(*) Candidates will appear on the ballot in the general election.

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Prince George’s County Executive Candidates’ Appointment Priorities

In the June 26 election, Prince George’s County will be selecting the person most likely to become our next County Executive. The Democratic primary has nine candidates, which will be winnowed down to one, to face the one Republican candidate and any third-party candidates who may be added to the November ballot.

As a grassroots organization focused on building parental and community engagement with Prince George’s County Public Schools, PGCABS does not endorse candidates, but we feel it is important to help the public learn how these candidates will approach their responsibility to shape the path forward for PGCPS and public education in our county through their appointments of PGCPS’s next CEO/superintendent and appointments to the Board of Education.

To this end, all ten current candidates were sent the following question:

What criteria will you use in filling the position of PGCPS CEO and the appointed positions on the Board of Education? Please be specific about what sort of people you will seek for these positions and whether or not you will replace the current board members.

The responses from Angela Alsobrooks, Billy Bridges, Donna Edwards, and Paul Monteiro are linked below, unedited except for light formatting adjustments. Sam Bogley replied with a biographical statement that did not address the question. Lewis Johnson, Michael Kennedy, C. Anthony Muse, and Tommie Thompson, as well as Republican candidate Jerry Mathis, did not reply to our request.

Candidates’ responses are linked below:

 

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Donna Edwards Discusses Appointment Priorities for Schools CEO and Board of Education

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Photo credit: Donna Edwards

In advance of the June 26 election primary election, Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools (PGCABS) sent the following question to all ten County Executive candidates:

What criteria will you use in filling the position of PGCPS CEO and the appointed positions on the Board of Education? Please be specific about what sort of people you will seek for these positions and whether or not you will replace the current board members.

Here is the response from Donna Edwards (Dem):

Some say that it doesn’t matter whether the board is elected, appointed or a hybrid. I disagree. It matters to those who work in the system and those who are affected by the system. We need to restore the voice of the voter when it comes to our School Board. We should establish criteria for board service. I have served on numerous national boards and on boards in higher education. I have never served on a board that does not have criteria for service and a description of the time and responsibility expected in service.

I would set up a process that includes current elected school board members, educators and parents to solicit and interview candidates for appointed positions. I would make my appointments with recommendations made through this process for all vacancies. I support enabling the board to select its own chair among the members. If we continue with the current CEO-CE structure, I will ensure that we have a CEO who has the confidence of parents, educators and taxpayers. As the County Executive, I would devote my attention to requiring the budget restructuring that I described above and have regular reporting requirements from the CEO to me and to the School Board, which would include policy and budget review. I would be a strong advocate within our delegation to restore an elected school board.

Search criteria for a CEO would include candidates with experience in:

  • K–12 teaching
  • Managing large scale organizations
  • Education public policy
  • Fiscal oversight of a multimillion dollar budgets

The one I select from among the three Superintendent nominees will then be part of a Town Hall Tour (in North, Central and South County) to hear public concerns and demonstrate the leadership and vision necessary to unite all stakeholders in common purpose.

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