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