Your Questions Answered: Board Member Addresses School Breakfasts, Special Education, Literacy, and Other Topics

On June 15, Board of Education member Lupi Grady hosted a listening session at Greenbelt Middle School for parents in District Two. Parents used index cards to jot down questions and comments covering a variety of topics. The cards were collected at the end of the meeting.
Attendees recently received a compilation of questions from the meeting (more than two dozen in all), along with answers gathered from multiple administrative departments. The questions and answers are posted here with permission. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see additional comments from parents.

Family & Community Engagement

  • Can the PGCPS Family Engagement committees publicize their plan (calendar) for engaging communities?

All Board committee meetings are publicly announced. As the dates are determined for the upcoming school year, those dates will be placed on the Board calendar, which is posted on the PGCPS website.

  • I would like to know how to become involved with the Parent Advisory Council.

Any interested parties should contact Sheila Jackson, Director of the Department of Family and Community Engagement.

  • How was the parent advisory council selected? What is their role? How do they represent parent concerns/issues?

The Parent Advisory Council’s role, responsibilities and selection process/criteria are outlined in Board Policy 1500. Generally, the Parent and Community Advisory Council serves as advisors to the Board on various topics of importance to parents and the community. The Department of Family and Community Engagement oversees the application process and Dr. Maxwell presents a list of proposed Council members to the Board for its approval. Each Council member brings forth insight and feedback (from a parent’s or community member’s perspective) on various topics that the Board may be considering or discussing.

  • Office of Constituent Services is not returning calls or emails. Needs to restart being responsive to parents during transitions. What is the plan to do so?

We will work to ensure that the office of constituent services is responsive.

  • Can we bridge and improve the cooperation and collaboration amongst the local PTAs? This helps continuity from elementary, middle and high school. When will this be solidify? Will this be available on the website?

The Family and Community Engagement Office has developed a strategic plan for this coming school year. An emphasis in the plan is to support strengthening PTA activities.

  • Can you accelerate and execute your strategic plan by integrating and informing your efforts with the PTA organizations? Is there a plan to engage the PTAs?

Yes, we hope to better engage PTSA organizations this coming school year through the Office of Family and Community Engagement. Any ideas?

  • I understand that there is a Parent Advisory Council, but I can’t find any information on who they are and what exactly they are supposed to represent. If they are supposed to represent parents, I would like to be in contact with them. If they are not supposed to represent parents, then what is their role?

All Parent Advisory Council are public meetings. When the dates for those meetings are set for the upcoming year, we will place them on the Board calendar. More information about the Council will be posted on the Board’s website for the upcoming school year.

  • I am still puzzled about the closure of the Office of Constituent Services (OCS). How will the Ombudsman be different from the OSC?

The Ombudsman will more actively resolve parent issues, and he/she will support assisting parents with navigating the school system. The Constituent Services Office collected complaints and worked with other offices to resolve complains. It is our hope that the Ombudsman will provide more direct and streamlined services to families.

Wellness/Food & Nutrition

  • Recess – How can each school in the county get 30 minutes/day? How can we work to change the policy for schools to not ​only have 15 minutes?

The Health Department in collaboration with the ​Board of Education’s Office of School Health Policy, Services, and Innovation are currently revising our ​health and wellness ​Administrative Procedure​s for the CEO​​. The current Administrative Procedure as to recess does not currently limit recess to only 15 minutes. Rather, it authorizes each school to work out when recess will be provided and for how long, but recess cannot be less than 15 minutes nor more ​than ​30 minutes per day.

  • Maryland Meals for Achivement – high sugar content and not enough protein. What other choices are there? How do we select our vendors for food? What is the process and can we look into other options?

Breakfast menus are planned by a team of two nutrition professionals (registered dietitians) in accordance with USDA guidelines that requires specific menu items, which are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and ChooseMyPlate.gov.

We are required to offer a 2 oz. equivalent grain, 1 cup fruit (which is usually broken down to ½ cup fresh fruit serving and ½ cup (4 oz.) 100% fruit juice serving ), and 1 cup fluid milk. Students must choose one fruit serving for breakfast. Additionally, breakfast meals must meet grade-level-specific nutrient standards for calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. USDA menu planning guidelines permit protein items at breakfast. PGCPS offers protein based items on average 2 to 3 times per week on the Maryland Meals for Achievement (MMFA) menu.

The MMFA breakfast program has several provisions that limit flexibility in the menus. Meals must be transported to the classroom in insulated containers before the student arrives and consumed in the classroom. To maintain the highest food safety and sanitation standards, all items offered have to be prepackaged in individual servings, unlike the entrée items offered in the traditional breakfast menu.

The standard practice for procurement of foods is to purchase from licensed, approved vendors through a formal bidding process. Nutrition Specialists frequently solicit input and feedback from students in menu development by conducting formal and informal taste testing of potential new menu items. Product specifications are developed to meet both nutrition standards set forth by USDA as well as student preferences.

  • Is there any information about specific wellness programs for the summer?

None during the summer by PGCPS but there are numerous opportunities through school based and private camps, as well as Parks and Recreation/Maryland National Capital Park & Planning (the latter which offer summer playgrounds throughout the county in many of our school buildings and community parks). Families can register their children to attend for the summer for S40.00 and less for  families receiving social service benefits. Breakfast and hot lunches are offered daily by Food & Nutrition Services.

  • How are we working to improve the mental health of our children? How are teachers being trained? What supports are available? Is mental health a part of ​the ​health curriculum?

All schools have counselors. Currently, we do not have formal programs to train teachers about mental health. Our health curriculum does address mental health.

Special Education

  • On 2016-2020 PGCPS strategy map under academic excellence there is no mention of any special programs to evaluate, improve, or investment in SpEd programs such as CRI, etc. Why is that?

The special education budget for 2016 increased by $11 million dollars over last year’s budget. We realigned the special education department and the student services department to provide more aligned supports for students in special education. We are in the process of determining which special education programs need to be evaluated.

  • As a parent of a child within SpEd programs, I wonder if your office is looking into evaluating current programs used to teach basic subjects like language and math. It seems that programs are old and outdated.

Our new Associate Superintendent for Special Education and Student services will be looking at current programs to determine which programs need to be evaluated.

Budget/Grant Funding

  • Where is the Race to the Top money and how is it being used?

The Race to the Top Grant officially ends June 30, 2015. The district was granted a 1-year, no cost, extension last year to support the expansion of services in the Advanced Placement (AP) / International Baccalaureate (IB) and Data Warehouse projects.

Approximately $1.3 million was allocated and spent specifically on the activities associated with the purchase of AP/IB exams that included both registration fees and annual dues; instructional materials related to Common Core; and technical contracted services within the Data Warehouse associated with technology services and software implementation for the Learn MD and Teacher Principal Evaluation projects.

  • Is there funding for deserving math students (summer school)?

Title I funding is used to support and enhance the teaching and learning of math for deserving students. In FY 2016, Title 1 is focusing on middle schools and also providing support to elementary students in strengthening mathematics skills. Through consultants from Marilyn Burns Education Associates the system provides ongoing professional development to administrators and teachers to enhance their understanding of the math curriculum and how to teach it effectively. Additionally, schools are provided with Math Solutions Professional Development School-Based Coaching which entitles them to four days of training and sets the foundation for continued support during the school year.

  • Are there literacy grants (Leadership)? The Literacy Program at Greenbelt Middle School has been doing wonderful things. They even have students working to start their own businesses this summer. It would be great to get support for this program.

There are a few leadership grants currently in progress at the district level that are implemented by the Office of Talent Development (Wallace Foundation Grant) and Curriculum and Instruction (Title II, Part A). There are no school-based leadership programs funded with grant resources at this time. Oftentimes, private foundations will support schools with no-cost in-kind services as collaborative partnerships where services are equally exchanged for mutual benefit in extra-curricular activities to help build student capacity within a specific subject area.

  • Does the school system access private grants to fill budget holes?

The school system actively seeks grant funding from various sponsoring federal, state, and local governmental agencies, private foundations, and outside business organizations that generally support a variety of self-contained specialty activities at both district-wide and school levels. Restricted grants are not used to fill shortfalls or funding gaps in the general operating budget. Funding received from restricted grants are designed and crafted to supplement and not supplant the overall district core instructional initiatives and activities as well as support various activities within the school. This model keeps the district in compliance with the cadre of federal statutory and regulatory requirements and guidelines when in receipt of entitlement and competitive grants from federal, state, and private foundational sources.

  • a) How can I look at the new proposed  FY 2016 budget?

Now that the Board has reconciled and adopted the FY 2016 budget staff can begin the work of creating the approved budget document. Our target date to have the document completed and available on the web is August 3, 2015.

  • b) Now that PGCPS in not getting as much funding as we had hoped, what’s on the table to be cut?

Based on a $97 million reduction from the Board’s Requested budget, the following items were not funded in the FY 2016 Board Adopted budget:

  • Increase Student Based Budgeting
  • Focus on Rigorous Literacy Instruction
  • Expanded art and foreign language opportunities
  • Increase targeted professional development based on school needs
  • Gifted & Talented Expansion
  • College and Career Readiness Expansion
  • Digital Literacy Initiative
  • Second Shift – Maintenance
  • Parent Advocates
  • Arts Integration Expansion
  • Building Maintenance
  • Curriculum Writing
  • Fully Staffed Ombudsmen Office
  • IB Expansion (Primary Years & Middle Years Programme)
  • Strategic Plan – Communication
  • Mentor Teachers (5.0 FTE)
  • Peer Assistance Review (PAR) Expansion (14.0 FTE)
  • Office of Continuous Systematic Improvement
  • Translation Services
  • Common Core Supports

Testing

  • Standardized Testing – how can it be reduced?

We have a committee composed of teachers, principals, and central office staff evaluating the voluntary tests that we administer. We made a decision to eliminate one quarterly test that we administered to all grade levels. We will continue to find ways to reduce the amount of testing we give to students.

  • Can you address and build an effective computer network infrastructure to support PARCC Testing?

Yes, currently we are not aware of any major network infrastructure issues that prevent the effective administration of the PARCC testing.

  • Why spend so much time & energy on PARCC & it doesn’t appear on plan? (I really think the testing is over the top, but it is done, please use it).

We are implementing the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards. PARCC assesses students’ attainment of these standards. We are required to administer the PARCC assessment to students. The PARCC assessments are leading indicators in our strategic plan.

School start date

  • New school year – can it go Labor Day – Memorial Day Weekend?

The proposed school calendar is developed by Dr. Maxwell and his staff in accordance with state law.

Teachers

  • When I spoke with teachers from a number of schools, they are, by and large, very discouraged and overwhelmed. Would you be willing to host a listening session for teachers? Teachers need a safe space to give feedback. They have ideas for improvements.

I will need to follow-up with Dr. Maxwell to coordinate a listening session for teachers.

Strategic Plan

  • Can you provide immediate access to the details of your strategic plan, so that in light of a budget short fall, please leverage the parents and community?

The strategic plan can be found on our website.

  • Why focus on SAT/ACT? These aren’t as meaningful as kids being ready for Algebra or Geometry, etc

SAT/ACT tests are important measures to determine college readiness. The SAT and ACT allow us to measure how well our kids are prepared for college in comparison to students around the country. Since it is a standardized measure that measures content such as Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II, it is a reliable measure for us to utilize.

  • How do you define literacy? Literacy is often only reading.

In Prince George’s County, we define literacy as the following:

Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak, listen, and use numeracy. In Prince George’s County Public Schools, our focus on literacy emphasizes the ability to:

1. Report, Evaluate, Gather, Synthesize, and Comprehend information and ideas (REGS-C);

2. Conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems (Original Research);

3. Analyze and create print and non-print texts in media forms (Media Forms);

4. Use numbers to process information, solve problems, and interpret data (Numeracy).

Recommendations and Feedback from Parents

  • Communications need to be increased – weekly newsletters, FB posts, listservs. Tell us about opportunities, services, parent classes, parent meetings beyond PTA meetings, grant opportunities for parent groups.
  • Can you please check into the “Tagalong” program under the specialty programs lottery. It appears that the program is no longer in existence so it should be removed from the website or the program reinstituted. Specifically, I attempted to get my daughter (going to 7th grade next school year) into Greenbelt Middle School. I tried to do the Tagalong, through the lottery, but found it was inoperable. Then I tried through the Transfer Office. I sent a couple of emails to the supervisor there but they were unresponsive. I wanted to eliminate having to go to two separate middle schools but was unsuccessful.
  • PTA listservs should be used to communicate with parents about different events or updates.
  • When we ask teachers about new programs and research on use of new programs to help SpEd students, we are told that no new programs are being considered at all. As a parent looking for the best for our children, we do not see any effort on use of private owned programs that are available out there for parents to buy, but schools are still using really old programs that are out dated. Private SpEd schools use real good programs and they see real results and increase in ability to read and write within schools. It will be beneficial to explore obtaining new programs to help move our students along.
  • Would like to see community forums at which parents could hear/learn about the implementation plans for each of the five (5) strategic areas.
  • Training the teachers on how to use technology to effectively teach students; including managing expectations on the technology students have available and providing the support students need to use the technology is important.
  • For kids getting specialized education, supports at the middle school and high school levels drop off, forcing kids who have not improved enough by that time to go to non-public schools (more restrictive environments) or give up on supports. There should be something for these kids.
  • More recess in early grades should be mandatory. We should never allow recess to be taken away as a punishment.
  • Literacy instruction should be research-based (Orton-Gillingham or Wilson methods) and in EVERY classroom.
  • Wellness – bring back recess & recess monitors
  • Curriculum – My son’s Kindergarten Class is too accelerated and structured. He says, “school is no fun; it is boring; it’s a long day; there’s too much work.” I want to see more play, more recess, more child centered learning, less testing, less structure. Process vs. Product!
  • Really, one day’s test does not say as much as over all work.

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