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

img_0010_0This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with PGCPS Board of Education candidates. K. Alexander Wallace is a candidate from District 7 (see district map here). 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 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.

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 two or three special challenges that you see in your school board district, and how would you work with the community to address them?

One challenge is the high number of aging schools in District 7. While this district has received a handful of new schools and school renovations, such as Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School, Barack Obama Elementary School, North Forestville Elementary, and William Beanes Elementary Schools, there are still too many schools who have been overlooked by the county. We need to rebuild Suitland High School, as well as Drew Freeman and Benjamin Stoddert Middle Schools. Since my time on the Board, I have worked to push these three schools up on our priority list and construction/renovations in the coming years if we receive full funding from the State and County Council.

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?

The actions of the staff members that have been discovered have been outright disgusting and indefensible. It is because of these events, coupled with the unethical actions of previous PGCPS staff, from the Board of Education down, that has fractured the trust the community has. While these handful of staff members have been dealt with, for the nearly 20,000 staff members within PGCPS, we know that they wake up every day ready to teach, nurture, and grow our students. As Board Members, we need to promote that, governing by facts and not fears. We need to re-engage our stakeholders, on a macro and micro level. As the Chair of the Family and Community Engagement Committee, I have made this a top initiative for the committee.

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?

We need a strong coalition of students, family members, community members, businesses and nonprofit organizations, as well as PGCPS staff to go to the County Council and State of Maryland to hold our elected officials accountable. Over the next 25 years, we need about $8 billion for maintenance and new construction. That money primarily comes from the county and if we do not make the concerted effort to tell our County Council to fully fund our Capital Improvement Project plan, then we will see this backlog continue to stall. As the District 7 board member, I have had a strong impact on the system’s capital programs, primarily for District 7 by bumping up Suitland High School and Drew Freeman and Benjamin Stoddert Middle Schools.

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. 

The main cause of the transportation issue is that we have a shortage of interested individuals in becoming bus drivers. We need to increase the services and benefits given to our bus drivers, from wages to facilities in which they gather during downtimes. If you were to ask a person if they were interested in becoming a bus driver, chances are they would say no in a variety of ways  that needs to change. We also need to explore new, innovative ways to inform our students and families of bus arrival times and delays. Whether it is through text message alerts or email blasts, the school system can do a better job in informing our stakeholders.

What improvements would you like to see in our special education program? Are you in favor of expanding PGCPS’s early intervention efforts?

Our new Associate Superintendent for Special Education and Student Services, Dr. Gwendolyn Mason, has come to Prince George’s County after revamping the Special Education department in Montgomery County. One major improvement I would like to see is a shift from exclusive practices to inclusive practices in terms of incorporating our special needs students into the comprehensive classrooms. For example, for decades, many special needs students were sent to a specific classroom and a school-wide stigma was placed on any and every student who came in and out of that classroom. We should push away from this model and incorporate our special needs students, when applicable, into our comprehensive classrooms. This will not only remove that stigma on that “special classroom,” but it also allows for our students with no special needs to become more accepting of students with special needs.

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?

As a product of the Talented and Gifted program in Prince George’s County Public Schools, I know that our programs work and are in high demand. Every child who is capable of the rigor of the TAG program should be afforded the opportunity to be in a TAG program. We, as a Board, need to work to expand these programs where possible. Challenges we face, such as building capacity, hinder TAG program growth in certain regions of the county, causing use to decided whether we expand academic programs and have temporary trailers outside of the schools versus not expanding.

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?

A little known fact about Prince George’s County Public Schools is that we offer the highest number of academic programs to students compared to any other jurisdiction in Maryland. One of those is the language immersion program, of which one exists in District 7. I fully support the expansion of language immersion in our current sites, as well as offering more sites to more communities. I see the benefit of having a student who is introduced, at an early age, to multiple languages. Where the problem lies, for Board members, is the fact that these amazing academic programs go unnoticed by a large majority of students and family members because of the lack of advertisement and communication. We are working on improving our communications strategy to promote the great number of academic choice programs within PGCPS.

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?

Fortunately, in the State of Maryland, due to the great work of our General Assembly, our Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) funding formula is now a mandated fully funded program. Even with the GCEI, there still exists a large disparity in equitable funding for students within the county. The State is currently undergoing a two-year education funding commission that will report back to the General Assembly on new ways to equitably finance public education. I look forward to reading those results and working to either advocate for or incorporate them into PGCPS funding.

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?

The three greatest obstacles facing the Board of Education are: 1) The lack of trust from the community within our school system, 2) The steady, but slow growth in achievement, and 3) The internal combative actions and words of Board members. As a board member, I will continue to be collaborative on purpose with any and all of my colleagues who have the motivation to do work, not just talk about doing work. I will continue to actively engage my constituents through facts, not fears. I will continue to hold the PGCPS Administration accountable for the growth or decline of student achievement, while also realizing that the school system can only do but so much for a student without reinforced educational support from the student’s household

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:

We also published a different set of questions and answers in advance of the primary election in April. You may read Mr. Wallace’s responses to that questionnaire here.

             

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