Q & A with District 5 Board of Education Candidate Cheryl Landis

image_cherylLandisThis is part of an ongoing series of interviews with PGCPS Board of Education candidates. Cheryl Landis is a candidate from District 5 (see district map here). Ms. Landis 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.

For the past 37 years, I’ve been an active volunteer, community organizer, and servant leader in Prince George’s County. I made a deliberate and decisive decision well over 10 years ago that upon my retirement from Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), I would transition to serve as an elected member of the Board of Education. On November 1, 2016, I will officially retire from PGCPS with 27 years of service. For 17 years (1989 to 2006) I served as the Executive Administrative Officer to the very same Board of Education I seek election to. During that time, I worked directly with numerous boards of education, both elected and appointed. For the past 10 years (2006 to present) I have served as the school system’s Strategic Business Partnerships Specialist, as well as Administrator for the Excellence in Education Foundation for PGCPS, Inc. I’ve also had the honor of serving as Chair of the Education Workforce Development Committee of the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce. I was recently selected by Junior Achievement of Greater Washington to serve on the Junior Achievement Finance Park Prince George’s County Advisory Council.

Each and every step that I have taken over the past 37 years has successfully prepared me to serve as an elected member of the Board. I realize the awesome responsibility and commitment of time that will ultimately come with the position. I understand that the mission of the Board of Education is to advance the academic achievement of all students through community engagement, sound policy governance, accountability, and fiscal responsibility. Because of my many years of experience, I have a very clear and concise understanding of the role of a Board Member. I have already defined my scope and purpose for working collaboratively with the Administration and my colleagues as an elected member of the Board. I will hit the ground running!

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?

Challenge No. 1 — Family & Community Engagement: Family and community engagement are important components to the academic success of a student. That is why educating our youth must be viewed as a shared responsibility between the school system, parents, and students. As an elected member of the Board of Education, I will take a “grassroots approach” to effectively increase family and community engagement by implementing the following strategies in District 5 schools:

  • Beginning January 2017, I will meet individually and on an ongoing basis with District 5 principals and PTA/PTO to assess the needs of the District.
  • I will work with District 5 schools to establish a fully engaged, highly functioning PTA/PTO where none exist
  • I will attend monthly scheduled PTA/PTO meetings on a rotating basis. The goal is to encourage, motivate and inspire parents in their efforts to support their children academically.
  • I will work collaboratively with the respective school principal and the established PTA/PTO to develop partnerships with the business community, nonprofits, community organizations, etc., that will supplement and support the academic achievement of District 5 students. All partnerships will be established in accordance with Board Policy and PGCPS Administrative Procedures
  • I will work with the Administration to develop programs and services that will enhance and expand academic opportunities to ensure that our students will graduate from PGCPS College AND Career Ready.
  • I will seek to develop partnerships that will provide academic enrichment opportunities for students such as: After School Programs, Conflict Resolution and Mediation, Health Care, Wellness and Fitness, Dental Support, Literacy Support, Gang Prevention and Intervention, Internships, Youth Employment, Student Service Learning Opportunities, Tobacco Free, Alcohol Free, Drug Free, Mentoring and Tutoring, Parent Engagement, Tennis Education, Youth Development Engagement, etc.
  • I will create parent, family and community engagement opportunities through meetings, workshops, listening sessions, etc.
  • I will provide professional development training to District 5 PTA/PTO on the process of fundraising for donations both in-kind and monetary in accordance with Board Policy.
  • I will work to bring needed resources to District 5 schools.
  • I will produce a quarterly District 5 Newsletter which will include appropriate information from each District 5 school to keep parents informed and engaged.
  • I will host an annual event to bring District 5 schools together which will include workshops for parents and students, sharing of information sharing, opportunities for networking, invited guest speakers, games and activities, etc.

Challenge No. 2 – Safe and Supportive Environments: The powers and mandatory duties of the Board of Education include adopting operating and capital budgets. As of this writing, many of the schools and facilities in School Board District 5 are in desperate need of either repair or replacement. As an elected member of the Board of Education, I will work to ensure that our students, teachers, and employees are provided with safe and supportive environments that are conducive to teaching, learning, and work. I will also work collaboratively with county, state, and federal officials to secure additional funding support for capital projects in School Board District 5. There are many processes already in place to help support and provide guidance to the Board of Education’s decision making as it relates to the Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

I do believe that the Board of Education does a “good job” in determining the allocation of capital improvement funds for the construction of new schools or expanding existing schools in Prince George’s County. However, there is room for improvement for doing a “good job” is a long way from doing an “exemplary job.” As an elected member of the Board, I will also seek alternative and additional processes that could potentially add value to current operations. At the end of the day, additional funding support is needed and I will work to secure same for District 5 schools.

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?

In response to the alleged incidents of abuse and neglect, an “independent” Student Safety Task Force was established by PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell. The task force was charged with: (1) conducting a thorough review of the school system’s current policies, procedures, processes, and practices; and (2) making recommendations to further safeguard children from harm. The work of the task force was part of an ongoing effort related to child safety and abuse reporting. On Tuesday, May 31, 2016, the task force released its recommendations which examined four key areas: (1) Culture and Climate; (2) Reporting and Training; (3) Screening of Employees, Volunteers, Vendors, and Contractors; and (4) Curriculum and Counseling. The major recommendations of the report are:

  • Reporting Procedures: The CEO should report publicly each year on system-wide efforts address the major recommendations of this report.
  • Accountability: The CEO should ensure that each principal conducts safety assessments and uses the results to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to include screening and training of employees, volunteers, vendors, and contractors; evaluation of physical facilities; and curriculum/lesson content reviews.
  • Oversight: The CEO should establish an Office of Monitoring, Accountability, and Compliance with direct reporting to the CEO, to assume responsibility for assuring implementation of procedures associated with policies approved by the Board, and to assure fidelity in training, awareness of individual responsibility to report to whom by when, and compliance.
  • Universal Precautions: The school system should develop and implement a “universal precautions” approach to screening and training of employees, volunteers, vendors, and contractors, to include a searchable database for rapid identification of red flags.
  • Curriculum: The school system should update the K-12 curricular content focused on preventing child sexual abuse that is developmentally age-appropriate, engaging of parents and guardians, and meets evidence-based criteria for effectiveness in mitigating instances of child sexual abuse.

A new Office of Monitoring, Accountability, and Compliance was established effective July 1, 2016. The Executive Director is Robin Welsh. I personally met with Dr. Welsh on August 29 regarding best practices contained in the vetting process I developed for prospective businesses and nonprofits who wish to partner with PGCPS. The office is charged with overseeing the fidelity of training, implementation, and compliance to the new procedures, protocols, and curriculum suggested in the report. CEO Maxwell also convened a workgroup of school system administrators to review and implement all or most of the 61 considerations and 28 opportunities to update, clarify, and/or enhance administrative procedures within the four key categories. He also concurred with the recommendations regarding yearly public reporting procedures; accountability for training; an update of the system’s curricular content on preventing and teaching about child sexual abuse, preK-12, in a developmentally age-appropriate manner; and the development and implementation of a “universal precautions” approach to screening and training to ensure that all individuals who come in contact with children in PGCPS schools on a regular basis must be trained and screened and approved before that contact is permitted. The approach will include a searchable database for rapid identification of red flags in consultation with outside experts in the field.

In spite of all that I have said thus far, and regardless of my desire to serve as an elected member of the Board of Education, I am a mother first and foremost. My daughter is a product of Prince George’s County Public Schools — e.g., Arrowhead ES, James Madison MS, and Forestville High School — graduated Class of 1988. My heart truly aches at the very thought of any child being sexually abused and neglected. Moving forward, it is incumbent upon the Board of Education to hold the Administration accountable by taking decisive control and showing deliberate leadership on this most critical matter. As an elected member of the Board, I will work collaboratively with my colleagues to respectfully command accountability from the Administration by requiring quarterly — not annual — public updates on the status of systemic efforts related to student safety, including data, strategies, and outcomes on steps taken to address the major recommendations of the Safety Task Force Report. I would also establish an ongoing “CALL TO ACTION” to all PGCPS employees — particularly the employees who work day in and day out with our students — as well as parents and families — to be vigilant, watchful and attentive to any dramatic or slight changes in the behavior of our students. The violation of child molestation and neglect will manifest itself in a child’s behavior (e.g., signs of withdrawal or anxiousness, acting out in class, displaying questionable behavior with dramatic or subtle personality changes, etc.).

At the end of the day, the education and protection of our children is a shared responsibility. Maryland State laws mandate the direct reporting of suspected child abuse, both physical and sexual abuse by every teacher, counselor, and professional employee of any school system. Any other person, including any volunteer of the school system, who has reason to believe a child is abused is also obligated to make such a report. I will also insist on professional development training for all employees and volunteers on the reporting process. As an elected member of the Board of Education, I would insist on the establishment of a Volunteer Coordinator position for PGCPS; said person would be responsible for maintaining a database of “ALL” volunteers who have received through the PGCPS Fingerprint Office the fingerprint back check or the criminal background check. As of this writing, no such position exists and to my knowledge, there is absolutely no way to track all of the volunteers within our schools, offices and buildings.

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?

In question (2) above, I noted as a special challenge for District 5 schools the desperate need for safe and supportive environments that are conducive to teaching, learning, and working. Contained therein I provided recommended strategies for improvement that I will strongly advocate for as an elected member of the Board of Education. I understand the process by which schools are identified for improvement. The PGCPS Department of Capital Programs develops a proposed annual 6-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and presents it to the School Board for approval. The CIP includes detailed capital project funding requests for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1, as well as 5 progressive years of planned capital projects. Capital projects are prioritized based on school facilities needs as justified in the Board-approved FY 17 Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP). It’s important to note that the CIP and EFMP are both fully aligned with the school system’s Strategic Plan and 5-Year Bridge to Excellence (BTE) Comprehensive Master Plan. The FY 2017 EFMP represents a major change in the way the School Board will plan for the future. It now includes a comprehensive school by school schedule for modernizing more than 133 schools; constructing new schools; reorganizing sixth grade to middle schools; and conducting planning studies to consider boundary changes and consolidations. The Master Plan Support Project (MPSP) also helps to develop a more effective way to prioritize school construction and renovation projects.

In February 2015, the School Board approved Educational Specification prototypes for elementary, middle, and high schools. These prototypes help provide transparency and consistency when developing individualized school specifications for new construction or renovation projects outlined in the CIP. The prototypes also provide guidance for determining the appropriate number of rooms and space standards for school renovation and new construction in Prince George’s County. Because they align to standards for determining State Rated Capacity (SRC), as well as local enrollment standards for existing and future schools, they assist the Board in determining future boundary changes, school additions, consolidations, or closures. Each school prototype (elementary, middle and high) includes spaces for general education courses, as well as a range of optional programs that can be tailored to meet the needs of individual schools. These options include such programs as English as a Second Language (ESL), co-teaching, and special education. Specifications for athletic areas, health suites, media centers, and other programs meet both state and PGCPS guidelines and standards.

As for timeline and public consumption consideration, the proposed CIP is generally presented to the School Board at one of its first August meetings of the school year. The plan is introduced as a ‘first reader’ initially, and then followed by a public hearing where community input is heard. A ‘second reader’ is scheduled following the public hearing where the plan is scheduled for action by the Board. Once approved, the plan is forwarded to the County Council and the County Executive for funding review, as well as to the State of Maryland. Both the County and the State review the details of the plan in anticipation of approving capital funds in the upcoming spring. During the time of review, community stakeholders have many opportunities to voice their opinions regarding the various capital projects contained in the plan. I am well aware of the fact that too many of the schools in School Board District 5 are in desperate need of either repair or replacement. I completely understand the CIP process and as a 27-year employee of PGCPS, I have established over the years strong and supportive relationships with the CIP staff and the Administration. This in and of itself places me in a position of influence which will add tremendous value to my efforts to effectuate positive change for School Board District 5 CIP needs.

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 current process for resolving transportation concerns begins with the Assistant Principal, followed by Transportation, followed by the Ombudsman Office — see below:

4 STEPS TO RESOLVING CONCERNS

Ms. Lori Carter-Evans
Director of Transportation
301-952-6570
loricarterevans@pgcps.org
Ms. Carlesa R. Finney
PGCPS Office of Ombudsman
301-808-8315
Carlesa.finney@pgcps.org
Parents must submit their concern online by
using the link below:
ombudsman@pgcps.org

Following the process as outlined above may be a bit cumbersome for parents as they seek resolve to their transportation concerns. As an elected member of the Board of Education, I will serve as an advocate who will support parents in their efforts to resolve transportation issues by working directly with the Transportation Department and the PGCPS Ombudsman. I have established over the years sound relationships with all of the staff in the Transportation Department, as well as the Ombudsman Office. In instances where students are allegedly pulled out of class to catch the bus, I will personally seek resolve on behalf of parents in School Board District 5.

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

The PGCPS Office of Special Education, Early Childhood currently offers free and inclusive early learning opportunities to children 2 and 3 years old. The Preschool Program provides children with a developmentally appropriate curriculum that includes learning centers for activities such as math and science, art, writing, dramatic play, computer learning, and much more. Parents must register their children at the Early Childhood Center located within their boundary. Space is limited and seats are filled on a first come-first serve basis. Parents who request placement outside of their boundary are subject to seat availability. In both instances transportation is not provided by PGCPS and parents must provide transportation for their children. As an elected member of the Board of Education, I would most certainly be in favor of expanding early intervention efforts for our neediest of students. I would also advocate for funding support to expand the number of Early Childhood Centers across the district. As it stands right now, placement is based on seat availability. I would also be in favor of providing transportation; however, funding is a major issue that stands in the way of progress. I am committed to advocating and service the parents and students in School Board District 5 to ensure that their educational needs are met.

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?

All students who are TAG identified should be given the opportunity to attend a TAG center. However, funding and the reality of available seats is what preclude the school system from allowing TAG identified students to attend a TAG center. Thus, we have the lottery which has been deemed as a fair and equitable process considering the realities we must work within. I would encourage District 5 parents to get involved with the Prince George’s County Association for Talented and Gifted Education (PGTAG), a parent group that supports and advocates for Talented and Gifted services.

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?

Without a doubt, I certainly do support expanding PGCPS Special Education Early Childhood Centers, services for TAG students, Language Immersion Programs and other specialty programs. However, as stated earlier, funding support is the main issue. As an elected member of the Board of Education, I will be steadfast in my efforts to secure funding support by working collaboratively with our county and state funding authorities.

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 PGCPS Department of Budget and Management Services is primarily responsible for preparing, managing, and monitoring the operating budget for the school system. The department prepares and provides fiscal and financial information to the CEO, Board of Education, schools, offices, state and county fiscal authorities, and the public at large. In addition, Budget and Management Services provides guidance, support and expertise to the offices and schools in budget formulation and management. In keeping with the fiduciary duties of the Board of Education, an inquiry to the PGCPS Chief Financial Officer would be in order as it relates to the Connecticut ruling and its possible impact on PGPCPS. Timely, meaningful and accurate financial and management information as related to school system operations would be requested by the Board of Education. It is important to note that one Board Member may indeed begin the conversation, but it will take the Board of Education as a whole — or a majority thereof — to effectuate positive change regarding funding inequities.

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 greatest obstacle currently facing the Board of Education is the Board of Education itself! The authority of the Board belongs not to individual members — or to a group of members. The authority rightfully belongs to the Board of Education itself. So during times of difficulty, the Board of Education must STAND UNITED AND SPEAK WITH ONE VOICE in order to: (a) weather the storm; and (b) provide sound and decisive governance over the school system as required by law. However, if the Board of Education is not unified and thus crippled in its efforts to provide sound governance and deliberate leadership, there will be dysfunctionality, dissension, discord, fragmentation, chaos and mistrust amongst the ranks. This is clearly unacceptable for if the governing body the school system is dysfunctional, then what filters down from the top into our classrooms will be toxic. It is our children who will suffer the most. The Board of Education has a sacred responsibility to protect and serve our students and families. This — in and of itself— leaves absolutely no room for adult issues and political gamesmanship. Full disclosure, accountability, and transparency must become the NORM for Prince George’s County Public Schools. As an elected member of the Board, I am committed to working collaboratively with my colleagues to develop a four-year strategic work plan that will provide structure and guidance for the Board of Education, inclusive of goals and outcomes to be measured along the way to effectively determine the success and/or failure of efforts to provide sound governance and leadership over the school system.

Do you have any additional comments?

With all that I have said thus far, I know that the road I must travel as an elected Board Member will not be easy as there are many issues afoot that have already cast a black cloud over PGCPS. These issues have divided us, one from another. Stones of doubt and innuendo have been cast and these unresolved issues have severely compromised the integrity, honor, trust, and respect that our parents so desperately need if they are to entrust the education of their children to PGCPS. But in spite of it all, I am prepared and fully equipped with a clear and concise understanding of what “WE” must do together to restore the dignity and worth of public education in Prince George’s County. The culture within our school system must shift; it must be redefined and refocused to a place where EXCELLENCE IS THE TRADEMARK in all that we do. This change in culture that I speak of requires a major shift in mindset from “I” to “WE.” Our humanistic nature automatically yields itself to the “me-first mentality” as we tend to think first about our own needs, wants and desires. But on the education battlefield where success is markedly decided in the classroom, there is no room for “I” for it is “WE” who must assume mutual responsibility for achieving our shared goal of achieving increased educational outcomes for our students. Because of my 27-year tenure with the school system, the struggles and learning curve that most new Board Members experience are not factors for me as I am expert at navigating through the school system. I am a seasoned professional who has the emotional and intellectual maturity that is needed to be an effective Board Member. I will hit the ground running! Calling for accountability, full disclosure, and sound policy governance is one thing; but it will be the strategies, priorities and collaborative focus areas that are established and implemented that will bring about the actual change. I have a very deliberate plan of action that will yield positive results for Prince George’s County Public Schools. Please visit my website at www.voteforlandis.com to review my Strategic Vision for District 5 Schools. There you will find specific strategies for successful educational outcomes for our students.

In closing, my promise as an elected member of the Board of Education is:

  • To always give you my very best
  • To make ALL decisions in the best interest of the students, parents, and families I seek to serve
  • To honor and respect your vote by adhering to high moral values, principles, professional standards, and integrity
  • To be accessible, transparent, honest, collaborative, and accountable — and last, but certainly not least . . .
  • To always give you my very best

Learn more about Cheryl Landis here:

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

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