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.
What wrong things are being said? All our leaders are downplaying problems in our schools as the work of individuals, as isolated instances that have nothing to do with the administration, rather than as the failure of culture and leadership. Problems happen too often for that to be the truth. It is just making excuses and attempting to conceal the truth from the public. It is PR and spin. Now is not the time for PR and spin. Now is the time to engage with the parents of the children you claim to serve.
True leaders take responsibility for failure onto themselves and demonstrate, fervently and with conviction, that they will carry the burden of change. Our leaders have not done that. You have not given people confidence that you care. You have not reassured people that you have the conviction and intent to improve things, even if it is hard, even if it makes you look bad. The approach that has been taken makes the school system and our leaders appear much more invested in yourselves and your careers and your public image than in the students of Prince George’s County and in quality education. Leadership and administration sets the tone, and our schools are suffering because of the attitudes of our senior administrators.
So I am writing to ask what you intend to do to restore public trust in the leadership of our public schools. The non-answers that parents always get when problems occur are unacceptable. The County must eliminate evasive leadership that goes to ground in times of trouble instead of protecting our students and developing transparency and trust with the community. The County owes its citizens a detailed public plan to improve our school administration at all levels, with a transparent and accountable process for ensuring compliance with and progress against that plan.
Please be aware that I intend to make this letter and your response to it, whatever that response may be, public. I have also cc’d the State Board of Education and would appreciate a response from them as well.
College Park, Maryland
4 thoughts on “A Parent’s Letter to County Executive Baker”
Thank you for expressing so clearly what many of us are thinking!
I posted this on FB but I’ll post it here as well:
I fully agree with what was written in this letter. It’s time for some accountability. It actually wasn’t too hard of a decision to homeschool this year after our experience last year. There were such obvious problems with sometimes easy fixes that no one was willing to take responsibility for, and often the parents ended up with the blame for being “too hard” on the administration and teachers when trying to hold them accountable. I felt that the district and school’s interest was much more favored toward self preservation and protecting their own than the education and welfare of their students, and the former definitely got in the way of the latter. It is a shame, because there are good, hard working people in our schools just trying to do their jobs, but I can’t imagine thriving in the environment they are forced to work in. I just didn’t want my daughter to end up in one of these news stories, which part of me felt was inevitable with how everything has been handled thus far.
I too fully agree with what was written in this letter. Still waiting for some accountability.
Some two years later and I’m sad to report that the abuse at Dora Kennedy has gone from physical to mental. Still no real leadership or accountability for teacher actions. My son has been harassed by the same teacher several times throughout this school year starting just one week after the start of the year when he was accused of cheating. This was proven to be false. Then this same teacher continued to berate and admonish my son for any movement he makes even if he stretches his arms after completing all assigned work. At this point we filed a harassment complaint so the incidents could be investigated. We have yet to receive any read-out from that investigation. We believe that since nothing was done in regards to the harassment complaint the teacher and the principal felt they could ignore us, which they did. In June of this school year the same teacher concocted a reason to send my son to the office, for drinking water. The principal claimed to have conducted an investigation which lead to a two day suspension. When I asked for an explanation he refused to meet. He gave my son a form to give to us which stated the suspension. In looking at the form it falsely stated that a meeting between the parents and the principal had taken place. When we complained to his superiors we were told to talk to the principal, who refused to meet with us. We have spoken with other parents of DKFI students and they have expressed the same concern about the administration being non-responsive. At this point we fear for our son’s mental and health safety, he threw-up three times after he received the suspension letter from the principal. Most of the teachers at DKFI are exceptional, however there are some bad apples left over from when some things slipped through the cracks. Unfortunately these bad apples have found a friend in the new leadership. Perhaps the County Executive could take a closer look into this situation before it’s revealed that one of the county’s jewel has a major tarnish.
Concerned Parent of DKFI student