What Went Right on the First Day of School

Several Prince George’s County parents have shared with us what made their child’s first day of school successful.

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  • I appreciate how organized things were the first day — from the kindergarten teacher explaining exactly how things should go, via her letter to parents, to the school sending home everything we needed to know for those first couple of weeks. I was really impressed at how clearly things were laid out for us as a new family at the school.
  • My kids were so nervous returning to school. What made their day was seeing their teachers from last year, who made a point of smiling, waving, and asking about their summers. It was a simple thing, but it really made them feel at home and welcome!
  • Our son started high school this year. The summer “bridge program” offered by his high school provided an excellent orientation to the new school and made the transition from middle school much easier.
  • My son enjoyed the get-to-know-you activity that his third grade teacher organized for the class on the first day.
  • It was lovely to see so many teachers outside the school helping to direct traffic and welcome the children as we arrived on the first morning. And as soon as I walked into my second-grader’s new classroom I could see how well-prepared and well-organized her teacher was because of all the lovely personalized touches for each student. They really made the kids feel as if they belonged, and filled me with confidence for a great year ahead.
  • We have been working to get a more appropriate schedule for our middle school daughter. Even though the situation has been stressful, I’ve been really grateful for the caring response and advocacy from the TAG coordinator at the school. Way to not be dismissive!

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A Parent’s Letter to County Executive Baker

by Caroline Small

Dear Executive Baker:

I am writing as a parent of a young child who should be starting in Prince George’s County Public Schools next year. I am considering moving out of this County because of the situation with school leadership that I have witnessed over the last year, particularly but not exclusively with regards to the current Head Start situation. I love Prince George’s County, so I am hoping that there will be a change in the way leadership is responding to these recurring situations, so that my confidence can be restored.

CEO Kevin Maxwell’s public responses to the loss of federal Head Start funds, as well as to the recent situation at Dora Kennedy and the instances of sexual abuse, are wholly inadequate. Once a problem is reported, it is not “poor judgment” on the part of “a few people.” It is a problem with the administration. Likewise the school board’s failure to be aware and monitoring is a failure of leadership. The emphasis from the County has been on “ensuring the program continues” — showing much less concern about understanding and correcting root causes of the failure. That, combined with the fact that the problems were not corrected initially, makes it appear that the County does not recognize the severity of this problem.

Even more importantly, though, the response suggests that none of our leaders are willing to step up and take responsibility for the shoddiness of the leadership that has been demonstrated up to this point. You have stated that nobody will be asked to resign or held publicly accountable for this failure. As far as I can tell as a parent, there is no accountability at any level, and therefore I believe the commitment to reform is insincere.

Our teachers are, for the most part, valiant. But the leaders of our school system — and you— are saying exactly the wrong things. School leadership in this county is closed off, disengaged, and suffering from a trust deficit with the community.

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Prince George’s Schools Team up with the Clean Water Partnership on Green Stormwater Retrofit Projects

by Carmel Jones

CWP Partners Nardi Construction and Soltesz reviewing design plans for L...

Eighteen schools in Prince George’s County were evaluated this year to receive green stormwater retrofits as part of the county’s Clean Water Partnership (CWP), a $100M public-private partnership with private company Corvias Solutions, to retrofit 2,000 impervious acres with green infrastructure in order to achieve regulatory compliance.

The CWP Schools program, designed to assist Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) with treating and managing stormwater runoff through the application of Best Management Practices (BMPs), will guarantee that PGC’s federal stormwater standards are met, while also providing an educational legacy for future generations committed to improving the water quality in our communities.

Courtyard Demolition at Capital Heights Elem. School

The program includes an educational component, and select schools will receive instructive signage, educating students about the benefits of managing stormwater runoff and displaying how installed BMPs will perform at each site. At the end of the summer, students and faculty from the schools will also have an opportunity to participate in a volunteer tree planting session that will support the installed BMP devices. These educational learning sessions will take place during school hours and will give students a hands-on experience in preserving our environment.

The initial eighteen schools identified to participate in the program include elementary, middle, and high schools in Prince George’s County. These schools include:

  • Bond Mill Elementary School
  • Calverton Elementary School
  • Capital Heights Elementary School
  • District Heights Elementary School
  • Frances Scott Key Elementary School
  • Friendly High School
  • Gwynn Park High School
  • High Point High School
  • John Hanson Montessori
  • Laurel Elementary School
  • Magnolia Elementary School
  • Oxon Hill Middle School
  • Parkdale High School
  •  Potomac High School
  • Rosa L. Parks Elementary School
  • Scotchtown Hills Elementary School
  • Templeton Elementary School
  • Walker Mill Middle School

Completed Retrofit at Rosa Parks Elem. SchoolIn the initial phase of the program, each school was given an individual plan, which included a customized package with pictures and concept designs, as well as a dialogue to help each school understand the purpose of the BMP devices. The retrofit needs for each school were pre-identified by the school’s students, faculty and maintenance staff, and customized to fit the unique needs of each facility. Since then, various types of BMPs, including bio-retention cells, sand filters and swales, to name a few, are now being installed by local workforce on the outdoor grounds of each location to capture and treat previously untreated stormwater runoff from the sites impervious surfaces.

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A Closer Look at Findings from the Federal Investigation Into PGCPS’s Head Start Program

by Genevieve Demos Kelley and Amy Alford

Federal funding has been withdrawn from the Prince George’s County Public Schools Head Start program, after PGCPS failed to correct problems identified in a federal investigation conducted in February. The school system has been cited for failing to “report instances of child abuse and neglect to Federal, State, and local authorities as required by applicable laws; therefore, putting children at significant risk for mistreatment and abuse’ (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 4).

The federal Office of Head Start sent a letter to Board of Education Chair Segun Eubanks, outlining findings that point to failure failure at several levels of organization within the school system.

Failure to Report Use of Humiliation as Punishment

  • On December 17, 2015, a teacher at H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center forced a 3-year-old child to mop up his own urine, while still wearing his wet clothing. The teacher used her personal cell phone to take photos of the child, and sent them to the child’s mother, including the text abbreviation “LOL,” along with a description of the incident.
  • The child’s parent was upset about the matter and on December 22, she spoke to the Family Services Worker (FSW), a PGCPS employee assigned to family-based case management. The FSW “likely discouraged the parent from making a report at the time, as she told the parent she would have to report it as a mandatory reporter” (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 3).
  • Several weeks later, on January 12, the parent did make a report to the FSW. However, there is no record that the FSW immediately reported the incident to the Maryland Department of Human Resources Child Protective Services (CPS). Maryland law requires that educators make an immediate report of suspected abuse by telephone, and a written report within 48 hours of the telephone contact.
  • The Regional Office of Head Start learned of the incident when the child’s parent notified the office, via telephone, on February 5.
  • The Program Supervisor of PGCPS’s Head Start program did provide some documentation, including a timeline, to the Regional Office of Head Start on February 10. However, PGCPS refused to provide additional documentation after multiple requests were made. This “limit[ed] the Administration for Children and Family’s ability to perform its oversight responsibilities to ensure Federal requirements were met and children were provided safe and secure environments” (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 4)
  • Though the child was forced to mop his urine in an open area of the classroom, two assistant teachers claimed that they did not witness the incident.

Failure to Ensure Teachers Maintained Confidentiality

  • It was reported that teachers in the Head Start Program and regular volunteers in the school system took inappropriate photographs of children (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 5).
  • The Regional Office requested that PGCPS provide its policies and procedures regarding taking photographs of children in the Head Start program. PGCPS refused.

Failure to Ensure that Teachers Use Positive Methods of Discipline

  • On June 9, 2016, two children in the Head Start Program at James Ryder Randall Elementary School were forced by a teacher and an assistant teacher to stand in the classroom holding objects above their heads. According to the report, “The first child was crying and calling the teacher’s name, and the teacher yelled at the child and instructed her to continue holding the object. The second child accidentally dropped the object and was also yelled at and instructed to continue to hold the object (see”Overview of Findings,” p. 7).

Failure to Ensure that No Child is Left Unsupervised

  • On June 9, 2016, a five-year-old child walked home after being left unsupervised during school hours. The child had been released from the nurse’s office and told to return to her classroom, but the class was at the playground. Not being able to find her class, the child returned to the nurse’s office and was unable to open the door. She left the building and walked home (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 8).
  • This incident was reported to the Regional Office on the same day by the PGCPS Head Start Director.

Read more:

Read the entire letter from the Office of Head Start to Board Chair Segun Eubanks, as well as the enclosed report, below.

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A Teacher’s Perspective on the Junior Achievement Finance Park

by Natalie Barnes

IMG_7453When I first heard that all eighth graders would be participating in the Junior Achievement Finance Park curriculum, I was not looking forward to the experience. I assumed that it would be just one more thing to try to fit into the already jam-packed school year. However, in the end, I was delighted by the experience and look forward to participating in the future.

I attended a training at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year that shared highlights of the curriculum and took us on a tour of the location. I was still a bit confused, but the coordinators promised that once we looked at our curriculum guides, it would make much more sense. And they were right. The curriculum guide was well put-together, with color-coded organization, clear instructions, and detailed explanations. It also provided teaching suggestions, extension activities, and probing questions. The county required that we only cover a few lessons (shared between social studies and math class), which were mandatory material for the experience. However, there was a plethora of additional material for students who needed differentiation or teachers who had more time to further explore the content. Overall, the curriculum took approximately a week in math class and a week in social studies, although teachers were free to customize this for their classes as long as they met the minimum lesson requirements.

Each student had his or her own workbook.  These were consumable workbooks that were designed to be engaging to students with various graphics as well as plenty of activities and space to work—all in full color.

The fourteen required lessons covered four main topics:

  • Income
  • Saving, Investing, and Risk Management
  • Debit and Credit
  • Budget

Income and Budget were covered in math classes while the remaining topics were taught in social studies classes. While many situations were geared to future careers and salaries, students also spent a great deal of time analyzing situations and jobs that are common for middle and high school students. Many of my students were engaged as they examined current and future potential situations, applying the principles of financial literacy to their own lives. This became even more true as we prepared to attend the Financial Park.

The entire field trip was free of charge to students, ensuring that every student could come. The buses were prompt and because they were not school buses, students were excited to attend, and they felt like this was a special experience. When we arrived, they were ushered into the Financial Park auditorium to receive a brief overview of the day’s activities. But after only a few moments, they were split into groups and assigned a volunteer who would serve as their group leader for the day. Many of the volunteers were teachers, parents, student teachers, or community members. The students were often pleased to be working with an adult they knew. It was particularly advantageous to some of our students with learning disabilities or other special needs as they were able to be placed with supportive chaperones who allowed them to participate fully. We had a group who spoke very little English, which was assigned to a chaperone who also spoke Spanish, allowing the day to be conducted bilingually, truly allowing all the students to engage with the activities.

As they were assigned groups, each student received an iPad and a fictional scenario about their job, salary, marital status, and family situation. From there, they determined their monthly gross income and monthly net income, using the iPad. On the iPad, they then set a budget, allotting money for housing, transportation, utilities, food, clothing, entertainment, etc. During the budgeting time, they explored the Finance Park, which has various stations devoted to each of these categories, allowing students to research costs before making a final decision. After lunch, students then revisited each of these stations and actually “purchased” items. They had to first decide on renting an apartment or buying a house and then owning a car or using public transportation. Many times they had frustrating realizations that they simply could not afford the home or car of their dreams and had to settle for less expensive options. Once they had determined their housing and transportation options, students were then given a “debit card” linked to their iPad and account. They went shopping to the various stations around the Finance Park, buying different products and quickly realizing that their money supply was not endless. After their purchasing time was up, they worked through reflection activities with their chaperone and made any final changes to their monthly spending. One aspect of the reflection included a random event that caused them to spend money (e.g. the car needed repairs, the refrigerator stopped working, a child broke her arm).

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“After School Satan” Club May Come to PGCPS School

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The Washington Post reports that The Satanic Temple has a new extracurricular program dubbed the “After School Satan Club,” with plans to introduce clubs at nine schools across the country, according to the program’s website. Prince George’s County’s Bradbury Heights Elementary School, in Capitol Heights, is on the list.

The club’s name is misleading. The Satanic Temple does not advocate the worship of Satan—or any other supernatural being. Its stated mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people. In addition, we embrace practical common sense and justice.” The After School Satan Clubs will encourage “a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view.”

The After School Satan Clubs aim to provide a contrasting voice to the Christian message of the Good News Clubs, an evangelical ministry that organizes after-school clubs run by volunteers. According to the After School Satan Club’s website, “[o]nce religion invades schools, as The Good News Clubs have, The Satanic Temple will fight to ensure that plurality and true religious liberty are respected.”

Parent permission is required to attend either the After School Satan Club or the Good News Club.

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Tulip Grove Renovation More Than Two Years Behind Schedule

by Lori Morrow

IMG_8106 (1)June 20th , 2016 was my daughter’s last day at Tulip Grove Elementary School, and it was a bittersweet farewell. Tulip Grove students and staff were originally scheduled to return to a newly renovated building this summer. However, the Tulip Grove community is still waiting for construction to begin, though state funding was approved two years ago.

September 2012: The updated Parsons Report (or Facility Conditions Assessment) identified Tulip Grove Elementary School as one of three schools with a Facility Condition Index value greater than 75%, indicating the need for major repairs and renovation. (The Facility Condition Index is the ratio of the cost of repairs to the cost of replacement.) Tulip Grove had previously been identified as one of nine schools recommended for replacement in the May 2008 Facility Condition Assessment Study.

2011-2013: Meetings about educational specifications and designs took place over this two-year period. Ultimately plans for a major renovation and addition were approved, adding approximately 15,000 sq. ft to the current facility to meet newer school standards while maintaining the State Rated Capacity of 411 students.

October 2012: Funding Request was submitted for FY2014 funds

November 2013: Presentation slides from GWWO Architects, Inc. listed the following timeline:

  • Design Development (DD) Submission: Oct. 11, 2013
  • Construction Document (CD) Phase: October 2013-February 2014
  • Permit Submission: March 2014
  • Bid Phase: April 2014-June 2014
  • Construction: July 2014-December 2015

December 2013: Parents were invited to a preliminary community meeting with the PGCPS Capital Improvement Program (CIP) team to discuss swing space where children would be housed during the construction period. Initial options of transporting children to vacant PGCPS facilities at Berkshire Elementary or Middleton Valley Elementary were not received well as these schools are 19-21 miles from Tulip Grove Elementary School.

February 2014: The CIP Team returned for a second community meeting to discuss swing space. Most community members expressed a desire to find a location in the greater Bowie area. (Meeting summarized in City of Bowie memorandum)

March 2014: Swing space was still undecided although parents had been actively engaging with the PGCPS Board of Education since the February meeting. (See this story in the Gazette, and this story in the Capital Gazette Bowie Blade, both from March 2014.)

April 2, 2014: The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President was notified that Prince George’s County would allow Tulip Grove to use the Meadowbrook facility, which had been the site of an elementary school that closed in 1981, as swing space.

June – August 2014: The Meadowbrook facility was renovated and prepared for use as a school again.

August 2014: Students began the 2014-15 school year at “Tulip Grove @Meadowbrook”. Because the school site was across a major road from the school boundary area, all Tulip Grove students are now eligible for bus transportation, increasing the number of bus routes from two to seven.

Fall 2014-Winter 2015: There was minimal communication from the CIP Team to the PTA regarding construction updates. Neighbors around Tulip Grove could see that little had changed at the old school site. Per the timelines provided by PGCPS staff, the project was behind schedule before students began the 2014-15 school year, but that information was not communicated to parents.

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