Q & A with Jeana Jacobs, District 5 Board of Education Candidate

Jeana Jacobs Turquoise Standing1This is part of a series of interviews with PGCPS Board of Education candidates. Verjeana Jacobs is running for re-election to the Board as one of four candidates from District 5 (see district map here) whose names will be on the ballot in the April 26th primary election. Ms. Jacobs answered questions generated by members of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools. Leading up to the election, we will publish responses from other candidates as well.

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools does not endorse or oppose any candidate for the Board of Education.

Tell us about your background and why you are running for the Board of Education.

I am an Attorney, Licensed Consultant by Maryland Nonprofits Standards for Excellence Institute, and trained Mediator by the American Arbitration Association. I have over 25 years in public service working with multiple complex bureaucracies including non-profit organizations, government/quasi-government agencies, urban education systems and labor unions. Working with diverse stakeholders, I support group identification of a shared agenda and always seize opportunities to build respect and trust. In various leadership roles whether as Chair of one of the largest school districts (Prince George’s County), in the United States for almost six years, President of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, or as Vice Chair of the National School Boards’ Council of Urban Boards of Education, I have been effective in bringing divergent stakeholders to the table to tackle contentious, yet necessary issues with the focus on improving the quality of education.

I am running for re-election to continue to strongly advocate on behalf of students, parents, teachers and others who work tirelessly with our students. There is still work to do to continue to fight to reduce overcrowded classrooms, ensure services for our special needs students, and help to empower parents be the best advocates for their children. This is my life’s work. I care deeply about student success. 

What are your top three goals for PGCPS, and how do you plan to accomplish them if elected?

My goals for the next term are to (1) Ensure accountability of student based budgeting so that schools get their fair share of the nearly $1.8 billion dollar budget allocated for the school district; (2) Continue to fight for Pre-Kindergarten for ALL students; (3) Continuous improvement of neighborhood schools, to include special education services

I will accomplish these goals through joint community effort. I will continue to find ways to empower families to be the best advocates developing strategies to resolve problems and achieve results – one issue at a time. In addition, I will continue to do the work necessary to be an effective board member – engage stakeholders at all levels, and collaborate with my board colleagues and the CEO through policy development and best practices.

What experience do you have working with parents or parent organizations, and how will you increase parent engagement with the system?

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as an elected member of the board listening to and addressing a variety of issues and concerns that impact education in our community. Working with the new ombudsman process as well as continuing my Advocacy series in the community I will continue to engage parents and parent organizations. I have always maintained that the key to the success of our school district is the meaningful welcoming and engagement of parents. It is my responsibility to assist parents and parent organizations in navigating our large school system. I regularly visit schools in and engage with school based groups. I have been honored to serve throughout the State of Maryland and Nationally regarding educational issues and community engagement in that process whether through legislative discussions, college and career readiness task forces, or parent strategy meetings etc.

Current board policy states that daily recess for elementary school students must be from 15 to 30 minutes long (See Administrative Procedure 6130). Do you support changing the policy so that children get longer recess periods? If so, how would you revise the policy?

I do support increased recess for students. As the current Board of Education Chair of the Policy, Legal and Legislative Committee, I have already placed this item on May agenda to review the current policy. It also appears however that some schools are inconsistent in following the current policy. Prince George’s continues to have one of the shortest school days in the State so we would need to be creative but it could be done. We have compiled sample policies from other jurisdictions in Maryland but there is also a current push in Miami Dade around this issue that may also be worth considering. 

Do you support adding world languages to the elementary school curriculum for all schools? If so, how would you lead this initiative?

I support world languages; more importantly I support children being able to read. Our current focus on literacy is designed to ensure that students can be successful in the basics. Adding world languages is an excellent and necessary idea as we continue to compete globally. We currently struggle unfortunately to ensure adequate trained teaching staff. I would support a phased in approach after considerable community input and what I would call a “World Language” conference for the school district. To be successful and not have us set us up for failure, implementation of world languages for more than 100 elementary schools would need to be well thought out, budgeted appropriately, ensure aggressive recruitment and professional development.

Test scores show a significant achievement gap between girls and boys in the county. What can be done to boost achievement for boys and to make schools more boy-friendly?

Generally, boys and girls learn differently. Teachers have the task of knowing their student’s strengths and areas where they need intervention. To the extent that society treats boys and girls very differently, we must ensure that the education environment is conducive to addressing students varied learning styles. I believe that happens when the CEO and his team are open to non-traditional ways of teaching and learning, willing to ensure that pedagogy is about the student and not about a particular test. I have a son and care deeply about this issue, not just because he is a boy, but he is an African-American boy so I am conscious that he will need additional supports to ensure he gets the educational opportunities necessary to be successful in society. I am also open to creating a focus group to look at the issue of “boy-friendly” schools to ensure I represent the interests of student vulnerabilities in any form.

What can the school system do to reduce teacher burnout and keep morale high? How should teachers be evaluated so that we can ensure a high-performing workforce for our schools?   

I am pleased to have received the endorsement of the Prince George’s County Educators Association.

The school system can reduce class sizes, provide meaningful professional development and pay teachers more money! I have led the fight for all of these things and will continue to do so.

I do believe that teachers must have some form of evaluation based on student outcomes/achievement. However teachers need support – evaluations must be about growth, not gotchas. Teacher evaluations based on student performance should be a factor but not the sole factor for evaluating performance. Professional development, mentor teaching, classroom management assistance and overall supports are great tools for determining whether a teacher has in fact chosen the right profession. 

Do you have any additional comments?

Yes.

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as your elected member of the Board of Education for nearly 10 years. We have been on this crusade together, and together we have made a difference. The state of education impacts us all, whether you have children in the school system or not. You know my passion and commitment to a quality education for all students. The work, although hard, has been my greatest pleasure in that together we have fought to bring the best education possible for the children in our community. The key to our continuous improvement is proven effective leadership and the understanding of how national education issues impact our local school system.

I am honored to be supported by the Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA), and even happier that our county finally has a National Voice education issues based on my recent election as Vice Chairman of the Council of Urban Boards of Education representing over 100 school districts nationwide!

I’m asking for your vote and your continued support to keep fighting for the most precious commodity in our community……..Our Children!

Learn more about Jeana Jacobs here:

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