Q & A with Lupi Grady, District 2 Board of Education Candidate

2018-03-19 Teacher Union Photo

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Lupi Grady is the incumbent from District 2 (see district map here) running in the June 26 primary election. Ms. Grady 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 seek to run for re-election to the Board of Education because this work matters.  As a parent of two children attending Prince George’s Public Schools, I am invested.  I believe in public education. I came to the United States at the age of 7 years old and did not speak English.  I still remember my teachers.  I am so grateful to them to this day.  My parents worked very hard to provide for my sister and younger brother, so it was difficult for them to have the time and to know how to support us in our academics.  My parents did not know how to navigate the education system or to advocate on our behalf.  We were encouraged to work hard and respect our teachers.  My sister and I had to learn to be very independent and as we set the path, it helped our younger brother succeed.  My personal experiences help me to understand the students that we serve.  I see myself in many of our students, who with the proper supports and guidance can excel in their academics and have a bright future.

The issues in our education system are complex and how the school board goes about doing the work is important.  A Strategic Plan was established for 2016-2020 (adopted March 2015) with five focus areas that include Academic Excellence, High-Performing Workforce, Safe and Supportive Environments, Family and Community Engagement and Organizational Effectiveness.  The Strategic Plan serves as a road map and our budget decisions must align with the aforementioned key priorities.  As we enter our fourth year as a Board of the strategic plan, it is imperative to assess the impact of our investment as it relates to budget decisions.   What is effective? How do we determine progress? What data points are we measuring? Are we measuring the right data points?   How is progress being monitored?  These are discussions that need to be examined to better determine how we move forward.  This year, I participated in an Equity Taskforce that was tasked to define what is equitable for our students.  The task force began its work of examining educational equity gaps and invited a series of presenters that informed the discussion.  The taskforce outlined specific recommendations for policy, establishing a diverse workforce, family & community engagement, quality instructions and budgetary resource allocations that are outlined in the report.  The recommendations will be shared with the entire Board and community in the coming months.

Relevant to moving our school system forward is the work of the Kirwan Commission.  As indicated in their preliminary report and potential recommendation on an increase of funding, there is an opportunity to align our work for optimum student success.

Being on the board for almost four years, it has its challenges and I am consistently learning and growing in my understanding of the issues.  The work is not done in a vacuum and the perspectives are many around a diversity of issues.  The issues brought to my attention have varied from recess, transportation, cell towers, the selection process of Principals, meetings with potential partners that can support our students’ academic success, the overcrowding of schools in the north, homelessness, language barriers; and bullying to mention a few.  As the issues are brought to my attention, I work towards solutions, addressing existing system or lack of systems in partnership with parents, administrators and Board colleagues.  This work cannot be accomplished in silos as an individual Board.  I am committed to this work and we have to be steadfast in our efforts to continue to move our school system forward.

What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?

Capitol Improvement Program (CIP)

Two of the biggest challenges we have is maintaining our facilities and building new schools to support the growth in enrollment in the county.  The Capital Improvement Program (CIP) is designed to resolve the overcrowding of the schools in the north which is a challenge for students and teachers.  The CIP is also designed to maintain our aging school buildings.  For example, in District 2 the majority of the schools are over capacity.  There is an Elementary school with up to 13 temporary classrooms (temps), a Middle School with 11 temps and a High School with up to 21 temps.  This poses real challenges to not being able to reduce classroom size, expand pre-k, increase of enrollment; and it impacts the day-to-day operations such as the scheduling for lunch periods and overall courses.  Teachers are actively engaging students in every classroom that is available to them.  The up keep of the facilities and the demands are great.  I recently visited a Middle School that has to have the floor gym replaced, that will cost $100,000 and this was not a planned “repair.”  This Board has increased funds to provide some flexibility in the budget when unprecedented repairs need to happen for the betterment of our teachers and students.  I am committed to continuing to advocate for these funds going forward.

I have stayed up to date and have attended meetings with architects, teachers, community members and the Principal to discuss the renovation of William Wirt Middle School (MS).  The planning is underway.  The renovation of the new school is needed and I believe it will boost the morale for students/teachers and the overall quality of education in District 2.

Diversity Workforce/Teacher Compensation

I have actively participated in the Diversity Workforce Taskforce that discussed the recruitment of teachers, training and retention. We discussed the importance of creating a pipeline with partnerships with different Colleges/Universities to attract new teachers.  We also noted the need to “grow our own” and build on the existing talents that we have by providing opportunities for those interested in moving into managerial or leadership roles.  This would include creating clear pathways so that those teachers that are interested advancing to the Administrative level would know what steps to take to acquire the required certifications.  I am committed to advocating for compensation for teachers as that has been my number one budget recommendation, every year that I have been on the board.

Transportation has been an ongoing issue since I joined the Board due to a shortage of bus drivers. Through the Academic Achievement committee we have had in depth conversations with the school administration about transportation challenges and solutions.  We have students arriving late to school and missing in seat instructional time.  This has been the issue that I have received the most correspondence and feedback from parents.  The Board has been supportive of increasing funds in order to hire additional staff for the call center, and add new bus drivers to address the demands and be responsive for the entire school year.  This current school year, an application (app) was also piloted that notifies the parent/student if the bus is going to be late and it estimates the time of arrival. The orange vest program went into effect this year as well to ensure that our small children are safe when getting on and off of the buses to go home.  There are now two (2) job fairs being held monthly in order to increase the pool of bus drivers.  Now, PGCPS offers paid bus driver trainings in order to improve retention and this has been effective.  These are all new practices that have taken place within this past year.  I will continue to advocate for resources when needed, but also will stress the importance of evaluation regarding what is working or not, so that we can continue to move in the right direction and work towards solutions.  Our children deserve to get to school on time safely with no interruptions to learning. Parents should not have to be concerned with bus routes.  This spring, a pilot GPS notification system went into effect that will keep parents and students informed of where there bus is located at all times. The GPS full roll out will go into effect next academic year.

One of the most impactful transportation related testimonies for me has been when members of 2250 that came before the Board to discuss the conditions of the garages and bus lots.  A couple of weeks after their testimony, I went on a tour along with a couple of Board colleagues to look at the conditions firsthand.  It was a rainy day, so it was perfect because I got to witness how our employees work under those conditions.  Currently there is 1 bus lot finished (Mullikin Bus Lot) and Crossland will be finished within the next month or so.  Each bus lot costs about 2 million dollars to build a garage and a bus depot.  The PGCPS Administration has bided out projects for additional garages and a bus depot.  We currently requested four million ($4,000,000) annually in order to build a Garage and a Bus Depot per year.  This is 100% covered by Prince George’s County funds.  This is a 6 (six) year plan.  This means if funded; we should have garages and bus depots on each of our lots.  It is my understanding that there was a 2008 plan to work on these garages and bus lots, but it was not until 2013 that funding and the renovation of the garages and bus lots commenced.  If re-elected, I may not see all the garages be renovated during my second term, but I am a strong advocate that the renovations stay on course.  Our transportation staff deserves better work conditions, and with the new garages and bus depots we will fulfill that promise.

What qualities do you believe are most important in a Chief Executive Officer?

The Chief Executive Officer wears many hats but overall has to have a clear vision that focuses on the students’ academic achievement. With that focus, the CEO should be knowledgeable of best practices in maximizing student achievement and is supportive of teachers.  In the role of the CEO, it is beneficial that he/she is a good Manager that directs the administrators to accomplish goals and monitors progress and evaluates performance. Equally important, the CEO needs to be flexible and manage the unforeseen requests, advocate for state funding; and be informed of new legislation that can impact the school community.  A CEO should be collaborative, willing to partner with the business and non-profit sector to bring resources in support of student academics.  Communication is important and the CEO should be willing to attend school events and public meetings to engage with the community as well as send written updates about the progress of the work. Lastly, the CEO must understand that he/she are accountable to the students, parents teachers, support school staff and community stakeholders, hence creating platforms to receive ongoing input and guidance regarding solutions are essential.

If you had the opportunity to chair one of the existing Board of Education committees, which would you choose and why?

I currently serve on the Policy and Student Academic Achievement Committees.   The Board members are interested in gaining understanding of the issues that impact our students and their families.  I believe that through the committee work, board members have been able to address core issues with administration in response to the concerns of the students, parents and educators.  I would like to Chair the Student Academic Achievement Committee to provide continuity and build on the existing work that has been discussed with administrators.  For example, last academic year, we requested for a standard document that can be shared with all 11th and 12th graders that would serve as a guide to the college application process.  The head of the Counseling Department worked on the document and presented to the committee this year, and will be sharing with Guidance Counselors.  There was further discussion and feedback to make this an electronic document, and one that can be easily updated with additional resources and be accessible to all of our high school students.  

Through the Academic Achievement Committee, we have been discussing many pertinent issues with administration such as the following:

  • Impact of Literacy Coaches on Instruction and their impact and we have requested for teachers to be surveyed that receive such support to determine effectiveness;
  • Special Education and English Language Learners students sub-groups;
  • Student-based budgeting;
  • Review of Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) data and strategies to boost student readiness;
  • Attendance and school discipline, data including suspensions and restorative practice;
  • College & Career Preparation Resources/ Naviance; and
  • Guidance Counselors

The focus at our committee meetings has been to discuss funding, program effectiveness, student supports, data and systems. If re-elected, I plan to follow-up on the aforementioned items to continue to improve systems and understand how to better allocate resources.

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? 

The level of parent engagement in schools varies per school.  Most schools have a core group of parents that implement different activities or support different events in partnership with the Principal and teachers.  I find that most parents are interested in knowing how to support their children academically and learn about additional resources.  I would continue to build partnerships with core District 2 community entities to reach out to parents and offer information sessions based on their interests and needs.  I have partnered with schools and non-profits to speak against bullying and how to properly report incidents.  I have joined morning coffee sessions and PTA meetings to answer questions about the budgeting process and allocations.  I believe that these efforts can be more systemic in nature, and have discussed this work with administration.

I have supported and would continue to support efforts such as the “College & Career Readiness Summit” that has high attendance of students and parents every year, up to 1,000 in attendance.  Middle School students are also able to attend and key workshops are offered to students and their parents.  I have supported and would continue to support “Estudios Universitarios”, a partnership with the University of Maryland that attracts Latino students and parents from across the district-wide.  This event has brought in attendance 600 to 1,000 students and their parents.  Both events provide a wealth of resources to our students and parents.

While there have been progress, there is a need to improve communication so that parents/community can better understand process of budget, CIP and knowing their rights as parents.  Along these lines, the feedback that I have received and calls have also been in regards to knowing more details about program options and criteria.

For example, while progress has been made with the budget process, there is room for improvement.  Board members have provided feedback to administration in regards to the budget process and made the documents more user-friendly. The Budget Committee has also been proactive in scheduling earlier meetings, starting as early as August to discuss budget and clear alignment with our strategic plan.  These are practices must continue because it allows Board members and administration to meet and discuss budget items and priorities.  The Board has also communicated the importance of receiving community input.  This school year 2017-2018, a link to a survey was included in the “Parent Engage” newsletter to solicit input from parents/community members.  I want to continue to work towards improving our communication mechanisms/systems in order to solicit input in regards to the budget process.

Lastly, there is Board policy 1100 currently being reviewed in first reader about Community Schools that is an evidence-based strategy under the federal Every Student Succeed Act.  This policy has received a lot of feedback from my colleagues and much feedback from PGCEA. Our school system is comprised of 60% of students that are Free and Reduced Meals, FARM.  Many of our parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet.  Our students, families and communities are in need of different and innovative supports and resources.  Teachers wear many hats, not only having to address the academic needs but also the social/emotional needs of students.  I believe that Community Schools in Prince George’s County Public Schools can truly serve as a hub for the targeted communities.  The Community School Coordinator plays a key role in assessing or mapping the needs of the school community.  The current policy that is being reviewed includes a steering committee of multiple stakeholders that would be responsible for the oversight of the implementation of Community Schools.  Schools would be able to express an interest and apply to become Community Schools, and they can begin to receive technical assistance.  This process would allow for Principal/School administration to have buy-in so there is a true commitment to the evidence-based model.

What are your ideas for addressing inadequate facilities and alleviating overcrowding, while communities wait for new school construction and renovation to take place? 

In regards to overcrowding, I have looked at other models from other schools districts that offer evening schools as an option for the older youth that may also want to work during the day.  We need to look at under-utilize schools to determine use and engage parents/community to provide feedback and look at all options.  I try to use every opportunity to educate community leaders about this matter, and request their support to advocate towards increasing capital funds from the state level.  Maryland has budgeted about $330 million for school construction and Prince George’s receives about $50 million.  PGCPS also receives about $110,000 from the county government and our request is over $400 million.  I have also been open to new ideas about construction that are being discussed by administration and Board members such as Sonya Williams as it relates to Public Private Partnerships that can help expedite the construction of facilities.

Additionally, I supported the SB0332 – PG County School Construction Master Plan Workgroup: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2018RS/bills/sb/sb0332T.pdf.

This bill will establish a work group of different stakeholders and on or before December 31, 2018, the Workgroup shall report its findings and recommendations to the Prince George’s County Executive, the Prince George’s County Council, the Prince George’s County Board of Education; and the Interagency Committee on School Construction.

Name one book you have recently read. What did you learn from it?

I have been reading “I’ve Been Thinking…Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life” by Maria Shriver.  Being a Board member can be very demanding and emotionally taxing.  I believe that self-reflection is important to doing this work.  As a wife, mother and a professional there is a lot to juggle.  This book is allowing me to reflect and I am learning that I have to appreciate my journey that I am traveling in, and be content with doing my best.

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?

PGCPS strives to continue to provide rigorous educational experiences for all students.  We have restructured the SAT Preparation Courses we offer to align with the newly revised SAT assessment, to ensure students are better prepared for the assessment.  We provide literacy and numeracy coaches for our low performing schools, as an additional support to teachers to help with pedagogy and meeting the diverse needs of our students will yield positive results.  We provide professional development to our teachers to address the content needs of our students.  We provide summer experiences to students at each level (ES, MS and HS) to provide additional academic support for the upcoming school year, for both advanced students and students who are having difficulty in grasping concepts.​  I would be interested in having a focus group with teachers to understand their perspectives and feedback about the interventions that serve as best practice for instruction.  I do believe that we have to put in place early intervention and academic supports and target key transitions for students to succeed.

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 support the expansion of language immersion and performing arts programs. There has been a strong parental support and an interest to see the language programs have continuity from primary to high school years.  The expansion of language immersion, performing arts and specialty programs have been strategic, keeping in mind the access to the north, central and south for students and families.  The challenge for the north is the overcrowded schools.

Learn more about Lupi Grady here:

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