Q & A with John Richardson, District 7 Board of Education Candidate

20160606_083607This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with PGCPS Board of Education candidates. John Richardson is a candidate from District 7 (see district map here). Mr. Richardson answered questions generated in advance of the primary election 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 are running for the Board of Education.

My passion is grounded in public service where all citizens’ quality of life, educational growth as well as development is a priority. I’m a veteran frontline educator with more than 17 years combined experience which include serving as a Career & Technical Education Teacher (formerly vocational education), Assistant Principal on the secondary level, Dean of Students, Testing Coordinator and Summer School Principal. It was a pleasure serving 2 ½ years in the Maryland General Assembly as a Constituent Services Liaison for Legislative District 25.

In addition, I have served in ministry for over 17 years in the capacity of Sunday School Teacher, Youth Pastor and Pastor. Moreover, my experience includes honorably serving our country in the United States Marine Reserves while matriculating at the University of The District of Columbia (UDC) where my Bachelor of Science Degree in Printing Management was obtained. Subsequently, my Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction Degree was obtained at National Louis University. 

I’m running for Board of Education because all of my professional experiences have prepared me to effectively represent the constituents of District 7. I am a proven leader who has prepared students for college and careers. I have improved the academic achievement of students, improved parental involvement, implemented policy and engaged the community in the educational process. Furthermore, as Chairman of the MD4 Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Project Community Task Force, I have collaborated with local and state government agency representatives along with concerned citizens on a $24 million dollar project currently in progress between Silver Hill Road and Forestville Road that will continue to save lives while enhancing our community!

What are your top three goals for PGCPS, and how do you plan to accomplish them, if elected?

In my opinion, academic achievement and our consistent ongoing ranking near the bottom quartile compared to other school districts in the state of Maryland despite incremental gains that are celebrated yearly is a significant problem. My top three goals are below:

  1. Improve overall academic achievement and ninth grade promotion rates.
  2. Engage the community in the educational process while improving parental involvement which can assist in creating safe welcoming environments.
  3. Improve communication between the Board of Education, schools and all stakeholders.

I’ve already started collaborating with stakeholders about accomplishing the aforementioned tasks. Upon being elected, with the help of a core group of diverse leaders, we will organize a Town Hall Meeting to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to provide feedback and input. Also, we will have ongoing sessions throughout the year not only assessing our weaknesses but creating strategies to maintain where we are strong and overcome all challenges. In addition, we will assess our progress and make changes as needed. 

Improving communication takes a conscious effort which includes being considerate of a parents’ time. Events must be planned way in advance with timely notification to parents, guardians, caregivers and students. Oftentimes, community leaders and the citizens at-large are unaware of the great things happening in our school system. I use most social media platforms to keep my family members, friends and the community informed which will continue during my term as a Board Member. I utilize email blast campaigns, group text messaging, instant messaging and a host of other forms of communication to keep people informed.

What experience do you have working with parents or parent organizations, and how will you increase parent engagement with the system?

My experience working with parents and/or parent organizations was obtained during my tenure as a teacher, dean of students, baseball coach, assistant principal, key club faculty advisor, athletic director, basketball coach and constituent services liaison. The first four weeks of each school year, I always contacted parents to introduce myself informing them of my standards as a teacher and what was expected of their son or daughter in my class. A majority of the parents always assumed I was calling because their son or daughter had done something wrong or performed poorly on an assignment. Oftentimes parents would say, “You are the only teacher we’ve heard from since our child attended this school!”

As an assistant principal, I had to attend PTA meetings and met with parents in formal or informal hearings related to some form of suspension. Ongoing working relationships with parents were established during my terms as an athletic director and coach of various sports. Moreover, I worked effectively with parents for five years as a Key Club Faculty Advisor getting them involved in the life of each school while creating community oriented student leaders and improving parental involvement at the same time.

The best way to increase parent engagement is to use multiple assessments, conduct parental improvement sessions throughout the district regularly, include key stakeholders to develop strategies based on data obtained in assessments along with sessions then plan family oriented events. All entities of the community must and will be included!

Current board policy states that daily recess for elementary school students must be from 15 to 30 minutes long (See Administrative Procedure 6130). Do you support changing the policy so that children get longer recess periods? If so, how would you revise the policy?

Parents and guardians nationwide have been advocating for more unstructured play time or recess for elementary school students. Although policies regarding daily recess vary in Local Education Agencies from state to state, evidence reveals that daily recess is needed to enhance a child’s overall growth and development academically in becoming a productive citizen. In a policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics back in 2013, it highlighted the fact physical, emotional, social and cognitive benefits were related to recess that was well supervised. 

I definitely support changing the policy so students will have longer recess periods. Currently, the aforementioned policy says, “Recess should be given for no less than 15 minutes per day and for no more than 30 minutes per day.” I would revise the policy to no less than 20 minutes per day and for no more than 30 minutes per day. The policy gives each school freedom to work out their respective master schedule to include recess. If possible, students may be able to get a total of 30 minutes but multiple recess periods may be needed to accomplish this task!

Do you support adding world languages to the elementary school curriculum for all schools? If so, how would you lead this initiative?

I have discovered that some school systems nationwide have considered adding world languages to the elementary school curriculum. The challenge for school systems is full funding which will permit a world language immersion program in all elementary schools. As a result, school systems may start the world language program in a few schools throughout their respective districts. 

Moreover, I would support adding world languages to the elementary school curriculum because students are at a crucial age where becoming multilingual is easier as opposed to their transition into secondary school. I would lead this initiative by creating partnerships with embassies, foreign dignitaries, non-profits and businesses with the emphasis on sponsoring a program in particular schools. In addition, I would advocate for more funding for this initiative on the County and State levels.

Test scores show a significant achievement gap between girls and boys in the county. What can be done to boost achievement for boys and to make schools more boy-friendly?

Nationally for years there has been a significant achievement gap between boys and girls in our country from K-12. One gender may perform better in math while the other performs better in reading. We can read multiple sources of information and discover how females outperform males. Males and females learn differently but it doesn’t exempt a male from competing academically with his female counterpart. Oftentimes most males are preoccupied with activities that aren’t academically stimulating while most females are reading regularly and challenging themselves.

In order to boost the achievement of boys, schools can take an assessment of their home and school life while disaggregating testing data for a breakdown of strengths as well as weaknesses. Furthermore, school would have to identify resources, support systems or the lack thereof between school and home. Data collected will be crucial in illuminating indicators that impede achievement while assisting in the development of strategies that will boost academic performance. Based on empirical data, the school can lay out a plan of success that includes short-range and long-range goals.

Making schools more boy-friendly shouldn’t be hard. I would implement the following things to accomplish this task:

  • Recruit more male teachers, assistant principals and principals
  • Ensure the school setting is student centered which includes cooperative learning, constructivism and multiple intelligences educational philosophies
  • Establish partnerships with male mentoring organizations that will be active during and after school
  • Establish relationships with fathers, uncles and big brothers in an effort to engage them in playing a major role toward academic achievement
  • Encourage all schools to participate in Men Make A Difference Day founded by Dr. Michael Robinson and Fatherhood Forum founded by At-Large Board Member Curtis Valentine

What can the school system do to reduce teacher burnout and keep morale high? How should teachers be evaluated so that we can ensure a high-performing workforce for our schools?

As a veteran teacher and front line instructional leader who served in the capacity of assistant principal, I fully understand the challenges of teachers who have to balance their life between home and a classroom. Countless days or nights preparing rigorous lessons and grading papers while being held accountable for differentiating instruction to ensure all students learn at a high level on standardized tests can put lots of pressure on teachers. The pressures of performing at a high level, fear of receiving a poor performance rating along with other stressors can create anxiety leading to what we call teacher burnout.

In order to reduce teacher burnout I would use the following strategies:

  • Conduct a thorough first year teacher orientation
  • Survey all teachers to obtain valuable input
  • Establish and maintain a highly effective mentor-teacher program
  • Provide research based professional development that trains teachers how to manage stress
  • Establish partnerships with health and fitness clubs that will provide a discounted membership fee for educators
  • Create opportunities for teachers to share their challenges in a judgment free zone where they will be given strategies to overcome any obstacle.

Teachers should be evaluated using multiple assessments to determine their knowledge, skill, ability to plan, teach and prepare students for college or a career. It is imperative that administrators receive ongoing professional development. They should shadow a highly effective instructional leader to effectively rate teachers according to the framework professional practice components and qualitative measures. Methods of evaluating teachers’ performance may include the following:

  • Informal observations
  • Formal observations
  • Walk-throughs
  • Portfolios
  • Self-Assessments

Do you have any additional comments?

I have the best interest of educators, parents, students and all citizens of Capitol Heights, Clinton, Coral Hills, District Heights, Marlow Heights, Morningside, Suitland, Temple Hills, Upper Marlboro as well as Westphalia. My desire is to be elected by the constituents. We can hold each other accountable as partners in the mission to improve our school system. I would like to thank the Prince George’s County Advocates For Better Schools for inviting me to participate in this very important process which gives voters and parents an opportunity to learn more about each candidate. Thanks for taking time to develop such thought-provoking questions. I look forward to collaborating with your organization and all stakeholders in the future.

Learn more about John Richardson here:

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