Q & A with K. Alexander Wallace, District 7 Board of Education Candidate

img_0010_0This is part of a series of interviews with PGCPS Board of Education candidates. K. Alexander Wallace was appointed to the Board of Education in November 2015 and is one of two candidates from District 7 (see district map here) whose names will be on the ballot in the general election. Mr. Wallace answered questions generated by members of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools. 

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

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

In the spring of 2015, I went to the Board of Elections and filed for my candidacy to run for the District 7 seat on the Board of Education for Prince George’s County, a county that I was born and raised in. In November of 2015, the County Executive appointed me to represent District 7 and the County Council voted to affirm my confirmation, 9-0. I am proud to say that I currently represent District 7, a district where I was born and a district where I graduated.

I am running to remain on the Board of Education because I have the necessary experience it takes to fulfill the duties of a Board member. The Board is required to increase academic achievement, engage the families and communities, approve educational policies and procedures, and to oversee the nearly $2 billion budget. Throughout my nearly 15 years of combined education policy, community engagement, and grassroots advocacy experience, I have had the honor of working in the Maryland General Assembly and on Capitol Hill where I helped advocate for better educational polices and equitable funding and resources for children of color and children living in poverty – many of whom live in District 7.

I am a product of the county school system, K-12 (Patuxent Elementary, Gwynn Park Middle, Frederick Douglass High, Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High). I furthered my education at Towson University (Undergraduate) and the University of Baltimore (Graduate) where I spent countless years working with the University System of Maryland, the Maryland Higher Education Commission, and the Maryland Youth Advisory Council to advocate for pathways to higher education for Maryland’s youth by making sure education was affordable, accessible, and of high quality.

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

  1. Fighting for higher wages, more resources, and enhancing support services for our educators. It is a shame that our school system invests in our educators, many who start with us fresh out of college, and our neighboring jurisdictions swoop in, years later, and hire them to work in a different district because the salary, work conditions, and support services are better. I do not fault the educators for leaving. Instead, I am working to make sure our school system is developing and implementing impactful staff development practices and our school-level administrators are building a schoolhouse culture that is encouraging and supportive. Furthermore, we, as a Board of Education, in working with CEO Dr. Maxwell, have to develop a plan to decrease classroom sizes and increase wages for our educators.
  2.  Attracting more school construction/renovation funds from the county and state. District 7 has its fair share of old schools. From the broken seats of Suitland High School’s auditorium to the pothole-filled parking lot of Arrowhead Elementary School, many of the schools in District 7 have much needed repairs, if not a full replacement, that need to be completed. At the same time, District 7 has some outstanding facilities that should be the model of how our school system develops constructing schools – from Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School to Suitland Elementary. Despite these highlights, I am not satisfied with just a few schools or a few communities having remarkable schools and I am proud to say that Suitland High School is next on the county’s list to be rebuilt/renovated, with funding starting July 1st, 2016 (pending County Council approval).
  3. Engaging our families, communities, and alumni. When I was being confirmed by the County Council in November 2015, I made it a point to say that one of my sole objectives was to engage those individuals who are directly impacted by either the success or failure of our school system – our county’s families and communities. During my appointment process, I also made a promise to District 7, of which was not represented at all for nearly six months, that I would represent them full-time for as long as they did not have representation. So, on the same day I was confirmed, I quit my job to represent District 7 on the Board of Education! That is how dedicated I am to serving my lifelong neighbors and I am proud to say that several of my Board colleagues have commended me on my level of service and dedication to attending community events to engage the community and to update them on the happenings of the school system.

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

As a current member of the Board of Education, I serve on the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Committee where one of our top charges is to develop procedures and programs to enhance the relationships between PGCPS and our stakeholders. Often times, society wants school systems to focus on “parental engagement”, which is fine on the surface. However, by simply focusing on parental engagement, we risk not developing key relationships with other members of a student’s family that may actually have more of an impact on their educational success. Many of the students in District 7 come home form school to a grandparent that helps them with homework or drives them to an after school activity. Many students in District 7 have older siblings who help them with their homework while their parents work a nightshift for their job. Of course, engaging parents is essential, but let’s not narrow our focus of engagement because we, as a school system, may miss our intended goal. Next school year, PGCPS will be implementing a new program entitled the “Family Institute”, a program designed to embrace and empower family connections with their student’s educational tenure in PGCPS. Families and students will have the opportunity to attend free workshops and seminars to learn more about how to be an advocate for their student’s education. The school system has held several focus groups for the implementation of this program and I sit on this focus group to represent the Board of Education.

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?

School systems, nationwide, have battled to find the appropriate balance between core-academic time and extracurricular time. Here in Prince George’s County, we are no strangers to this battle. Many citizens want higher student achievement in reading/language arts and STEM and think more academic time is necessary to achieve that goal. Others believe there should be a holistic approach to how we look at a full school day, especially four primary education. I, for one, believe that there should not be a range for principals to choose from (i.e. 15-30 minutes). I believe longer recess times actually benefit the student’s entire day in school. I side with Dr. Claire McCarthy of Harvard University’s Medical School who, in 2013, said that recess is necessary for the health and development of children and should never be withheld for punishment or for academic reasons. My focus, as a member of the Board of Education, will always be the social growth of our students, whether it is working with our high school students to implement a student-driven anti-cyberbullying campaign or working with community leaders, like PGCABS, to push for longer recess times for our primary students.

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

When I was a student in the school system, I took two years of French in middle school and four years of Spanish in high school. This exposure to different languages and cultures enhanced my understanding of the world outside of my community, county, state, and nation. Unfortunately, because I did not use either the French or Spanish language on a regular basis, I lost those very same skills that the school system invested in me – and that is a shame. We need to expand world language programs on all levels, but more importantly, we need to make sure the feeder school logistics are correct. If my child goes to Longfields Elementary School (District Heights) and takes Spanish, but the feeder middle school has Chinese courses, that would be detrimental to the progression of that child’s education. PGCPS does have language immersion programs that service some students, incoming Overlook Spanish Immersion in District 7, but certainly more can be done.

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?

There is no hiding that our school system needs to improve some areas’ and some demographics’ scores on student assessments. If I could point out one reason why the gender gap in student achievement exists, I would but there are too many to list and explain. Not only do we need to focus on the gender gap, but also the ethnic gap, the special education gap, and the socioeconomic gap. As a school system, we will not increase our state ranking of 23rd of 24 jurisdictions until we can address and close all these gaps. As a member of the Board of Education’s Student Achievement committee, this very question of how to close the gender gap in student achievement is something that, I agree, needs to be addressed.

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?

With any profession, burnout and low morale among employees is something that exists. It should fall upon the employee’s supervisor(s) to instill a workplace environment that prevents burnout and low morale. When it comes to the teaching of children, a job that takes a special type of individual and that opens itself to a high level of burnout due to long hours and large workloads, our school system administrators must continue to implement workplace professional development and social events that will enhance employee buy-in into the mission, vision, and values of their school and the entire school system. When our teachers have bought into the school system’s mission, vision, and values, the dedication and passion they give to their work of educating students will be reflected in their classrooms.

Do you have any additional comments?

I want to thank the Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools for developing this format for voters to learn about the candidates running to represent them on the Board of Education. As the incumbent member representing District 7, I look forward continuing to work with my neighbors in Suitland, District Heights, Forestville, Westphalia, Upper Marlboro, Camp Springs, Temple Hills, and Hillcrest-Marlow Heights to better our school system and to build A Better Tomorrow, Today!

Learn more about K. Alexander Wallace here:

Update: We have published a new set of questions and answers in advance of the general election. You may read Mr. Wallace’s responses to that questionnaire here.

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