This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Pamela Boozer-Strother is a candidate from District 3 (see district map here) running in the June 26 primary election. Ms. Boozer-Strother 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 your plans to move our school system forward. Why do you want to be on the Board of Education?
I am running for the Board of Education because District 3 needs a leader with organizational and financial management experience and is someone present in our District every day to advocate for children and families.
I was born in Prince George’s County and returned 13 years ago as a resident of Brentwood. At that time, I immediately became an active resident of community organizations and town committees focused on children, education and economic development.
I am now the parent of a 2nd grader at Mount Rainier Elementary and a dedicated activist who is determined to put children first as the District 3 representative on the PGCPS Board of Education.
I have been a voice of our District 3 community at Board of Education meetings for many years, advocating for equity in class size through a boundary change with Thomas S. Stone Elementary as well as increased investment in new school buildings, our dual-language immersion schools, second language learning options and social services.
I fully support the Board of Education soon-to-be-enacted Community School policy that will bring expanded heathcare and social services to our students and families in partnership with government and nonprofit organizations. This is critical opportunity to move our school system forward and I want to be a leader of this work.
I am a big believer in the power of the arts in education. I have contributed to raising more than $20,000 over the past three years to Mount Rainier and Thomas S. Stone Elementary Schools visiting artists programs. This year, I was awarded the Mighty Joe Impact Award from Joe’s Movement Emporium.
I served as a Board Member and President of the Gateway Community Development Corporation (Gateway CDC), which has driven the arts-centered economic revitalization of the Route 1 corridor. I have experience with building planning, budgeting and construction through my oversight of the Gateway Arts Center.
In my Gateway CDC leadership role, I worked successfully with elected officials at the municipal, county and state level to bring resources to the children of Prince George’s County. This is critical experience for the role as a Member of the PGCPS Board of Education. I am endorsed by Senate and Assembly leadership of the Maryland legislative districts that overlap with Board of Education District 3, including Senators Rosapepe (District 21) and Pinsky (District 22), and Delegates Jimmy Tarlau and Diana Fennell (District 47).
Having earned my MBA at American University while serving as the executive director of national association, I have strong fiscal management skills.
What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?
Build 21st Century Schools: District 3 is feeling the strain of overcrowded and old buildings, many built in the 1950s. These schools do not provide the healthy and safe environment students and teachers deserve. As a parent with a student currently in PGCPS, I know what students and parents are experiencing. I will organize school families to advocate for 21st Century Schools and move forward delayed plans in Hyattsville.
Ensure Equity: Every child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. We need to recognize where we are not serving our students with special needs and fix it. We need to end bullying through restorative justice, not suspensions and punishments that keep children out of school. We need to match the goals of the Board of Education Equity Task Force with a financial commitment. I will advocate for expanded investments in the Community Schools model and Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, TNI@School.
Equity in school funding is an essential part of my vision for PGCPS. In the coming year, the Maryland General Assembly has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to increase and make equitable public school funding by adopting the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission. These funds will support early childhood education, teacher training, college and career readiness, resources for at-risk students and greater accountability of our school system. I will focus the Board of Education on our role as advocates for state funding.
Support Educators: Every child deserves to learn from teachers who are well supported. Teachers should be paid fairly and given the opportunity for professional development. Funding teacher professional development and fair pay is critical to raising the bar for teacher quality in PGCPS.
What qualities do you believe are most important in a Chief Executive Officer?
The departure of CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell will bring opportunity for change, but also some uncertainty for our staff, students and families.
We do not face an easy task in the hiring or our next CEO. For the past decade, I have monitored the news of superintendent hirings, firings and resignations in major school districts and understand the difficulties of hiring someone who will serve successfully for many years.
The residents of District 3 deserve a Board Member that will bring leadership and executive transition skills to the job. I have developed many of these skills through my career and education. I have served on the search committee for a position that was at the time a major leadership role in Prince George’s County – the executive director of the Gateway Community Development Corporation. I understand hiring for a position that is accountable to our many stakeholders – residents, Town Councils and Mayors, County Councilmembers, the County Executive, and our State Senate and Assembly members.
I will work with residents of District 3 to make sure our message is heard by the next County Executive and the search committee that the new CEO/Superintendent must have outstanding academic leadership credentials and experience in our critical needs areas:
- Reputation as a manager that understands that the community and families are the heart and soul of our public school system.
- Management of a school district that has experienced fast student population growth and a track record of bringing new buildings online quickly.
- Understanding of our diverse community and a commitment to our immigrant population.
- Experience with the Community Schools model that brings healthcare and social services to our schools.
- Belief that the arts are fundamental in public education and a commitment to continuing to roll out the Arts Integration program to all our schools.
- Past history of supporting fair teacher pay.
- Reputation of a good working relationship with their Board of Education.
If you had the opportunity to chair one of the existing Board of Education committees, which would you choose and why?
I want to chair the Parent, Family and Community Engagement Committee to align policy to the committee goals to foster meaningful and productive relationships with parents and the community-at-large.
What are your impressions of the current level of parent engagement in our schools, and what ideas do you have for improving/encouraging parent and community engagement?
My experience is that the vast majority of parents want to be highly engaged at school and support their children and their children’s teachers, however, there are real and perceived barriers to participation.
First, it should be expected that every school principal is welcoming of parental engagement. Additionally, they should be given the skills and resources to support a strong PTA and in-class volunteer program.
I bring many years of leadership of a Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) at Mount Rainier Elementary (MRE). We have a mission to support all children in our community. This has facilitated joint efforts with the Thomas S. Stone Elementary (TSE) school community. Until this past year, there was not a strong PTO at TSE and we worked together to ensure as much equity as possible when it comes to accessing community resources on behalf of our students.
I know first hand the difficulties and successes of parental engagement and highlight here what is working and not working:
- The role of the Parent Engagement Assistant is critical. In District 3 schools this requires a Spanish/English bilingual staff member to engage the majority of parents. This position should be in every school in the county.
- Be flexible with how you convene parents. At MRE, we host the PTO meeting on the first Tuesday of the month during in the evening and on the 1st Friday morning of the month. On Tuesdays, we lead in English and translate Spanish and on Friday mornings we lead in Spanish and translate to English. This works because our Spanish-speaking parents led this decision-making process to change business as usual of how the PTO convenes and plans activities.
- Confront that the safety policies made in crisis last year had a chilling effect on parental engagement at the elementary level in particular. Parents, particularly those of our youngest learners, connected with teachers at drop-off and pick-up prior to the new rules.
- Reduce the fingerprinting fees or eliminate them all together. Create MOUs with every law enforcement agency in communities to do fingerprinting on behalf of PGCPS. It is a burden for many parents to get to Upper Marlboro during traditional working hours.
- Encourage teachers to develop their own plan for parent volunteers in the classroom and ask for specific help. Parents do not know what teachers need unless we are told.
- The new Office of the Ombusdman has been very helpful to parents, however, what is needed are trained mediators to help principals, teachers and staff have conversations with parents, who are often in distress, that help everyone work together with a focus on the child. I have heard way too many stories just in the past few months about difficult parent-school communications, or and lack of communication, that ultimately ended with more distress, including expulsions.
- As a member of Board of Education, I will help to establish and strengthen PTA/PTO/PTSO’s in all District 3 schools and will promote the Family Institute Conference and workshops by marketing the value of these services.
What are your ideas for addressing inadequate facilities and alleviating overcrowding, while communities wait for new school construction and renovation to take place?
First, we need to throw out all of the rules about how we build buildings and accept the reality that parts of Prince George’s County, including District 3, are urban environments where all of the land is developed and where remaining parkland must be protected. The days of two-story buildings with required acres of land is out dated and will continue to hold us back.
We need to look at new building techniques that are faster and less expensive. What matters is adequate classrooms for the student population, a healthy and safe environment for students and teachers and the academic curriculum. While enough outdoor space is needed for recess and physical education, existing municipal, county and PGCPS fields can be used for sports.
Every new school should have a community center portion of the building to address longer-term needs of students that are not met just by small class sizes and a new building.
In District 3, it is looking like we will not have any new buildings for at least 4 years. PGCPS must make a major expansion in the funding of paraprofessionals and other classroom teacher support staff such as reading specialists and in-class/pull-out talented and gifted specialists among others that help split of classes for portions of the day.
At the high school level, I support proposals to reduce class size by expanding evening high school with an emphasis on career and technical education programming.
Name one book you have recently read. What did you learn from it?
I borrowed Miss Burma, by Charmaine Craig, from the Hyattsville branch of the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System. I choose the book because it is based on the lives of the author’s mother and grandparents, all born in Burma. While a fictional account of the history of Burma since just before World War II, it gave me context to understand Burma (Myanmar) when 700,000 Rohingya people fled the county to Bangladesh because of ethnic cleaning by the Myanmar government.
There have been questions surrounding graduation rates and grade fixing in Prince George’s County. According to the WABE report, Prince George’s County students continually scored among the lowest on the SAT. What can the school system do to improve the quality of a Prince George’s County education?
I do not use SAT scores as the sole measure of education quality. The issues I address above and below will help to improve academic achievement of all PGCPS students.
I will provide oversight to the December 2017 modifications to grading that were introduced after the Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) performance audit to determine if there was grade manipulation to increase PGCPS graduation rates.
Many specialty programs (e.g. language immersion, performing arts programs) have waitlists because demand exceeds the current capacity, and some students travel long distances to attend a specialty school. Do you support the expansion of specialty schools? Why or why not?
I am really proud of the success of the specialty schools in PGCPS. I think we have been smart about how we have rolled these out and funded their growth. We still have more investments to make and I will be a big supporter of making sure all existing programs are a success. For example, our three new dual Spanish immersion schools are well positioned to go to the 8th grade. This will require a commitment to increase teacher and resource funding until we reach the full rollout and stay at those levels to support K-8 for many years to come. Additionally, this will require existing building expansion or new buildings to fit all grades. If this program can also successfully grow to include a new high school, I will support that.
What I want to see PGCPS do now is take everything we have learned from these specialty schools and develop models for our neighborhood/community schools. This can be done through a school community based process that defines the specialty curriculum most desired and then rolled out similarly to arts integration and career and technical education programs. At the top of my list is adding 2nd/3rd language instruction at the elementary school level. We have accepted for way too long in this country that language learning is something you do in high school. This is failed model and we must embrace language teaching as a core part of elementary school.
There are incredible opportunities to partner with nonprofit organizations in providing specialty instructions in arts, environmental science, STEM and other academic interest areas. We already have many elementary schools that have the resources to organically grow in the way I envision, however, it is not consistent throughout the PGCPS.
Learn more about Pamela Boozer-Strother here:
- Website: https://www.pamelaboozer-strother.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pam4pgcps/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/pam4pgcps
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pamelastrother/
Read responses from other District 3 candidates here: