This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Arun Puracken is a candidate from District 9 (see district map here) running in the general election. Mr. Puracken answered questions generated by members of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools. An earlier version of this post was published in May.
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 a 7th/8th Grade Social Studies Teacher at Accokeek Academy. I graduated from Largo High School and UMBC. After college, I taught in Baltimore City for a year with Americorps, and then came back home to teach in Prince George’s County. Teaching has been my entire professional career.
I currently serve as the Social Studies Department Chair as well as the Advisor for the Student Government Association/ Debate Team, Teacher Representative for the PTSA, and Teacher’s Union representative at his school.
I am focused on more accessible and strengthened speciality academic/vocational programs, equitable technology access, raising educator compensation, creating community schools, fully staffing schools, prioritizing facility maintenance/renovation, and ensuring appropriate boundaries to reduce classroom size.
I want to be on the Board of Education because not one elected member of the Board has taught in a public school in this county. That is a very valuable perspective that is missing. Secondly, my experiences at Accokeek Academy has shown me the great inequity in the system. I teach in a $30 million building with a Chromebook for every child in my classroom. So many families, students, and my colleagues at other schools do not have the same access to this quality of educational experience. My goal with this campaign is to bring this equity and ethics back to PGCPS.
What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?
- Strengthening and making more accessible high quality speciality academic/vocational programs
- Raising educator compensation
- Fully staffing/repairing schools
What qualities do you believe are most important in a Chief Executive Officer?
First, I believe that a Chief Executive Officer should be referred to as a Superintendent or another school-centered term/methodology instead of CEO, which to me, instills a singular business mindset. It is important that we do not turn schools completely into a business model as it can place economic incentives as leverage for decision making starting from the top tier leadership.
Secondly, a CEO should have a true fundamental understanding of what makes schools successful. We have great inequity in our system as it relates to speciality/academic and vocational programs, technology access, educator pay, school staffing/ maintenance, and ensuring appropriate boundaries. When leadership does not understand that, they can never create over successful outcomes because the vision is flawed.
Thirdly, a Chief Executive Officer should be a great manager of people. As in any managerial capacity, you have to possess the ability of understanding many moving pieces and personalities and facilitate operations in ways that achieve the best outcomes. Great managers also have to listen to those in positions “under” them but then make the best decision for the group.
If you had the opportunity to chair one of the existing Board of Education committees, which would you choose and why?
I would chair the Academic Achievement Committee. I believe that my perspective as a teacher will put me in a unique position to help with student academic achievement. I believe that when we fix some of the great inequities in the system, that will open the door for academic achievement to improve.
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?
I believe that current level of parent engagement is low across the county. Schools that are new and have more programming have higher parental engagement. I have been to many other PTSA’s where turnout is 10-15 parents. I believe that as a school system, if we improve our operations and output, we can increase parental engagement. Although parents should be involved anyway, it is still our responsibility as a school system to re-instill the integrity into the process and bring people back which will increase local investment including investments of time, energy, and effort.
What are your ideas for addressing inadequate facilities and alleviating overcrowding, while communities wait for new school construction and renovation to take place?
A complete audit has to be done of all facilities in the county. Schools should then be fully repaired in order of need. This is not a luxury but it is a necessity. Additionally, all building facility managers/leads should attend trainings on best practices for maintaining and leading their facilities. Although they may be experts, schools are not maintained and led in the best ways and focusing on those best practices are essential to reiterate.
Name one book you have recently read. What did you learn from it?
The last book that I read was Courageous Conversations About Race by Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton. I have classrooms that although are predominantly black, are still diverse. What happens often in my classroom when conversations about race occur, non-black students feel discouraged from participating. I have also experienced white students express discomfort. I learned that the discomfort is necessary because of the content but that does not mean that the conversations should not be approached in an inclusive way which seeks to hear different perspective and be open. Also, the goal is not merely to impose what we believe as the only truth but to get people to see the meaning behind the perspective of others.
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?
We have to focus on equity. Certain schools have quality specialty programming, technology access, fully staffed schools/ special education departments, classroom materials, parental engagement supports, state-of the art facilities. I am not saying that fixing these inequities will drastically improve student academic outcomes immediately, but it is a necessary start. To me, the problems with fraudulent gradation rates and inconsistencies/ irregularities are a reflection of academic achievement. We have to always examine what we can do as a Government before we look at instruction. A focus on equity should be a governmental priority.
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 wholeheartedly support the expansion of speciality programs. At Accokeek Academy, our Talented and Gifted center is very coveted and desired. The lottery causes families to falsify their addresses or falsely engage in shared housing in order to get into the school. Strategic planning around speciality programs not only brings equity of access, but it instills faith that all of our local neighborhood schools can deliver a high quality public education. This will also help raise property values across our communities which will encourage people to move into homes across the District.
Do you have any additional comments?
I have had the greatest experience teaching in public schools in this county. I love my job. My experience, however, is not a reflection of many of my colleagues and community neighbors. I have been fortunate but I recognize the importance of others experiencing what I have had. It is this realization and the negligence of my school board member which has motivated me to be the change that I want to see in District 9.
My school board member advocated for the removal of the Talented and Gifted Center from Accokeek Academy as a way of relieving overcrowding and improving the outcomes of other schools. You do not bring equity by taking from one school and giving to another. This type of decision making is not the quality of progressive leadership that is needed in our schools.
We need new leaders to represent a new direction for PGCPS. The super majority of power held by the County Executive and his appointed and supported elected Board of Education members have resulted in a lack of independent and constituent-based decision making. In 2018, that can all change.
Learn more about Arun Puracken here:
- Candidate website: http://www.puracken.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/arun.puracken
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/ArunPuracken
Read responses from other District 9 candidates:
- Sonya Williams (incumbent)