This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with PGCPS Board of Education candidates. Stephanie Hinton is a candidate from District 8 (see district map here). Ms. Hinton 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 any candidate for the Board of Education.
Tell us about your background and why you feel that you would be an effective member of the Board of Education.
After 25 years of being a parent, teacher and advocate in Prince George’s County, I have a great understanding of the issues facing our communities. There are some tough problems facing our school system, but there are ways to start addressing them, and I want to be a part of that.
I have developed an eight-point plan that pulls from my experiences as a teacher at a Prince George’s County elementary school, as an educational advocate for special needs children and as a parent of two children who attended PGCPS. These points are focused on creating a safe, positive, healthy learning environment for all of the children in our county. They need healthy meals and clean classrooms. They need teachers who are motivated and supported. They need books that are current and accessible. They need parents who are communicated with and informed.
Much of this is lacking in schools around our county, and it is time for a change. I want Equality for District 8, and for every district in gorgeous Prince George’s.
What are two or three special challenges that you see in your school board district, and how would you work with the community to address them?
Communication is one of the largest problems facing our district. One of my eight points, holding town hall meetings will assist with working with the community. The town hall meetings allows parents, students, teachers, and community members to meet regularly to discuss concerns, as well as accomplishments. In addition, it will allow me, as the Board member, to inform the community about things occurring at the Board and within the county.
Low performing schools are a major concern within our district, especially within elementary schools. Approximately 85% of District 8 elementary schools are low performing. We have to change this around immediately. Three of my eight points speak directly to this issue. For instance, ensuring that students have adequate resources, reducing class sizes, and retaining quality teachers will help.
Special education is an issue that many parents, students, and teachers find challenging. It is important that parents are aware of their rights in order to advocate for their students. As the District 8 member, I will fight to ensure that the parents are able to speak to someone without traveling two hours one way on public transportation. I will fight to bring a parent resource center to District 8.
The school system has recently been under fire for several alleged incidents of abuse and neglect. How will you work to increase a sense of respect and security, for children and their families, in our school system?
One of the biggest issues in our school system is a lack of communication. My goal is to open the lines of communication with town hall meetings and an anonymous tip line for teachers and staff. Parents have to feel they can trust the system, and speaking to them directly will strengthen this bond. This is also a good opportunity to give them direction on what resources they have if they feel their child has been a victim of abuse or neglect at school.
In addition, faculty and staff have to feel like there is a safe space for them to report the issues that exist, hence the anonymous tip line. There are allegations that a staff member made a report to her principal, yet nothing was done about the situation. In the case that educators feel like their concerns are not being addressed, there needs to be another avenue for them to use.
What should be done about the massive backlog of building maintenance, renovation, and school construction? As a board member, what impact could you have on the school system’s capital programs?
Accountability is the key. There is no way we can afford to allow millions of dollars to be returned to the State because of missed deadlines. A few years ago, Potomac and Crossland High schools, among other county schools, were slated to have renovations done. Due to lack of follow through, the funds were returned to the state. This was a preventable mistake that is unacceptable.
Maintenance means that the materials are maintained to function, so if we do not keep things up to snuff then they will break, and then we are spending more to replace them. We have to ensure that the maintenance department is resolving simple issues, so they do not turn into major concerns — which becomes costly.
How will you address the transportation issues within the school system? For example, some school buses have been showing up late — or not at all, some bus rides are more than an hour long, and there are reports of students being pulled out of class before the end of the school day in order to catch their bus.
School transportation is a crucial part of a student’s day. A morning commute can change a generally good morning to a bad one. While there are going to be occasions where buses hit traffic, it should not be a pattern that our children are waiting for long periods of time.
School boundaries are part of the issue. We have to make sure that our kids are being allowed to go to the schools that are closest to them, so they are not making long trips to other parts of the county. We also need to expand our programming. Students who want to take advantage of great programs, like our International Baccalaureate or our arts programming, have to travel long distances in some cases to be able to participate in those schools. By adding more of that programming in other schools, students will be able to attend schools that are closer to home.
What improvements would you like to see in our special education program? Are you in favor of expanding PGCPS’s early intervention efforts?
I would like to see several improvements in our special education program. First and foremost is the process and the timeframe of diagnosing students. It takes approximately half of the school year for the entire process to conclude. I have seen personally how students begin the process in October and the final meeting occurs in April or May. This means that the majority of the school year is over, and the student who needed assistance did not receive it until the end of the year. The timeframe needs to be adjusted, so students can begin receiving services, if needed, within a month or two of the process starting.
Secondly, we have to ensure that our special education students are receiving adequate services. This includes instruction that meets the child where they are by solidifying their foundation, as well as, being pulled by their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Special education teachers should be required to work with their students every day of the week. Their schedule should look similar to that of a regular classroom teacher. Meetings should be scheduled around their students slotted time, to ensure our school system is in compliance.
Lastly, assisting parents with advocating for their children is vital. One of my eight points speaks specifically to this by establishing a parent resource center in District 8. There are currently two centers in Prince George’s County, but it would take our parents up to 2 hours one way on public transportation to get to either one — which equates to a half of day of work. It puts families at a disadvantage when they are not offered reasonable opportunities to fight for their students’ futures.
What are your thoughts on the way the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program is currently operating? Some of our TAG centers have waiting lists. Should every child who is TAG identified be given the opportunity to attend a TAG center?
Our Talented and Gifted program needs to be available to all of our identified students. The way the program operates, the majority of the schools function with a pull-out system. This means that the children are only offered about two hours a week of TAG instruction. While there are other options, this is the way the program functions at a majority of our elementary schools. There are very few center programs. Only 8 elementary schools and 4 middle schools function as TAG centers. We need to expand our capacity for our TAG children to ensure that they are all offered the chance to excel to the best of their abilities.
The county also needs to consider special TAG classes or programs for special needs students who are high performing but have Individualized Education Plans or the like. This would enable those students to get the services that they require while also being challenged in the work that they are doing.
The demand for language immersion schools and other specialty programs is high. What are your thoughts on expanding language immersion programs and other specialty programs?
Our world is becoming increasingly more global. Our business markets and news cycles are 24 hours a day thanks to technology. If we are going to prepare competitive, career-ready students, language learning is a must. While English continues to be a popular language, there is so much value to knowing a second (or third) language.
By creating more language immersion, and other specialty programs, we create a more well-rounded system, and as a result, more well-rounded students. This means our children graduate from our school system with a set of skills that makes them more culturally competent and globally competitive. Those are the kinds of things we should be working toward.
A judge in Connecticut recently ruled that the state must overhaul its educational system with particular attention to equitable funding. What aspects of that case are relevant to Prince George’s County and what impact could a board member have on funding inequities?
The structural bias that exists in our school systems exists at the federal, state and county levels. The Connecticut ruling is a great outline of some of the issues that are plaguing our public schools, and also, a good outline of steps that can be taken to address some of these disparities.
Funding inequalities cause problems like lack of resources, overworked staff and dilapidated buildings. By shifting funds from areas that are receiving more money to communities where there isn’t as much investment, we can make sure that kids are getting the education that they deserve.
One of my eight points is addressing pest control. That is one of the issues I would start with, as there are many schools in our county that have infestation problems. It is unfair to our kids to show up to a school that hasn’t been renovated since it was constructed that is full of vermin and insects. That is not a safe, healthy learning environment.
Additionally, I want to make sure we’re retaining quality teachers. Our salary and benefits need to be on par, if not better, than those of neighboring districts. If we are going to secure the best teachers for our children, we have to compete with neighboring counties that have two of the best school systems in the state, as well as, DC and Northern Virginia. In order to retain them, they need to be paid the proper wages, and given the support they need to successfully educate our children.
I think as a Board member, it will be crucial to spend time going through the budget and making sure that additional resources that are being allotted are reaching the parts of our county that are most in need. Investing in schools that lack computers in our digital age. Updating buildings that are quite literally falling apart with our children inside of them. Our school system has the funding to lessen the disparity between schools, it just needs to properly spent.
What do you think are the greatest obstacles currently facing the Board of Education? As a board member, how will you contribute to solving those problems and increasing the Board’s effectiveness?
One of the greatest obstacles facing the Board of Education are the limitations placed upon the Board with HB 1107. Because Dr. Maxwell has so much power, it takes away the authority of the Board, and thus, the voice of Prince Georgians. This makes it difficult to accomplish things because of the shortened reach of the Board.
There also seems to be a lack of communication, and a focus on politics over people. With all of the issues taking place in our school system, it is a shame that there is so much divisiveness. This is a time to band together to come up with solutions to the problems plaguing our children, not point fingers and stall the process. I hope to work with the other members of the Board to build relationships and build trust, so that we can reach a consensus and use our shared strength to make a difference.
Do you have any additional comments?
I have been honored to spend the last six months learning more about District 8, the many people in our neighborhoods, and the struggles of our students, but most importantly, I am blessed to see the hope that people have for our county schools.
I have spent 20 years helping children in our county become the best versions of themselves possible. It has been a pleasure to watch them learn and grow through that time. But there have been many days where I wished I could have more for them.
I believe there is more that we can be doing for our students. And in doing better for them, we will automatically be better for our parents, our teachers, our neighbors and our communities. It is my belief that the Board of Education should be fighting for more, and that is why I want to be the next representative for District 8.
Learn more about Stephanie Hinton here:
- Candidate Website: https://hinton4pgboe.wordpress.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hinton4pgboe
We also published a different set of questions and answers in advance of the primary election in April. You may read Ms. Hinton’s responses to that questionnaire here.