This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. K. Alexander Wallace is a candidate from District 7 (see district map here) running in the June 2 primary election. Mr. Wallace 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?
Prior to my appointment in 2015 and election in 2016 to serve on the Board of Education, I spent nearly a decade advocating for the issues facing students and the youth of Maryland through my work serving on the Maryland Youth Advisory Council, the Maryland Higher Education Commission, and the University System of Maryland. For four years prior to my serve on the Board of Education, I also served in the Office of (late) State Senator Ulysses Currie (District 250 as his Legislative and Constituent Aide. It was through this position where I had, both, the pleasure and responsibility of briefing the senator on key educational issues facing the county and state, as well as advocate for students, families, and communities for educational equity, funding, and constituent services.
My academic background is rooted in Urban Public Policy and Administration with a study focus in Education, Housing, and Economic Policies. Through my academic career at Towson University (Undergraduate) and the University of Baltimore (Masters), I have been able to hone my intellectual understanding of educational policies and how they should be implemented.
Combining my experiences in advocacy, governmental affairs, and educational policy field of academic study, I have been able to be a meaningful voice to many of the impactful changes for our school system – from helping to develop our county’s Community Schools initiative and authoring the new Educational Equity policy to representing our county of the Board of Directors for the Maryland Association for Boards of Education and the Washington Areas Boards of Education, what I want to continue to bring to the Board of Education is a pillar of consistency in proper governing, an unapologetic nature towards educational equity, and a broad understanding of educational policy and law.
What do you believe are the most important characteristics of an effective school board?
An effective school board, just like any other effective governing body, must have a deeply rooted understanding of each other’s strengths and passions, as well as a general understanding and respect for one another and their way of approaching governance. During my tenure on the Board of Education, i have been a part of many different make-ups of the board – from serving with members who have been on the board for a decade to those who served for a little less than a year. Throughout my tenure, I am proud to say that I have partnered with nearly every single board member I have served with on a key initiative that either one of us had. If re-elected, I will continue to be a collaborative voice on many important issues facing our school system that our Board of Education can tackle together.
What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?
- Complete the rollout and implementation of the educational equity policy and Equity Task Force recommendations, as well as advocate for the overturning of the Governor’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (Kirwan Commission) legislation.
- Fight for the funding of the Build to Learn Act, which would allow for the rebuilding of Suitland High School, the county’s only high school that serves as nine school board districts, nine councilmanic districts, and eight state legislative districts.
- Author and adopt board policies on digital learning/distance learning, given the recent exposure to our need for a districtwide plan for online learning, and Restorative Justice Practices so that, years from now, our school system will have a foundational document to serve as a guide for progressive student disciplinary actions.
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?
Unfortunately, the Board of Education currently is not properly using our advisory councils to their best abilities. As a leading voice for the engagement of our stakeholder groups, and as the past Chairman of the board’s committee on Family and Community Engagement (now defunct), I oversaw our system’s work and advocated for the funding of the Family Institute program, the revamping of the Parent and Community Advisory Council, and wrote the policy that established a countywide Alumni Advisory Council. It goes without saying that, without the proper engagement of our stakeholders, our system will not reach its full potential.
I believe, strongly, that we must approach and fund innovative programs that progressively engage parents and other key stakeholders. Long gone are the days of parent group meetings on a certain day of the month, at a certain, and in a certain room. We must find ways to bring our parent groups out into the community more, especially in the areas and communities that are having a harder time committing to a specific meeting’s date, time, and location when their schedules, not including their child(ren)’s schedules, are more fluid and spontaneous as ever before.
Moreover, I will advocate for the reestablishing of the board’s committee on Family and Community Engagement. We must regain our oversight authority into this very important pillar of our system’s success and, if there is no opportunity to conduct this oversight, the board and system, together, will suffer.
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?
Yes, I do. I fully support the expansion of current seat capacity, as well as the grade-level progression of specialty programs, especially the language immersion programs that have had an impact on the educational journeys of many of our students. As it relates to transportation, our administration recently unveiled a Transportation Task Force which spoke, direct, to the transportation worries of many families of students in these speciality programs – from inconsistencies to travel times.
What responsibilities, if any, should school districts assume for dealing with such societal problems as poverty, hunger, emotional illness or drug abuse?
The school system of any jurisdiction should see itself as the greater catalyst for progressive change in a community, that includes advocating for the ending of food insecurity, economic justice and empowerment, and the removal of societal woes that hinder student academic growth.
In November of 2019, I introduced legislation to create a Universal Meals Program for all elementary aged children in our school system as a way to tackle and take on food insecurity, food deserts and swaps, and student hunger and meal-shaming practices. Also, Board Policy 0101 – Educational Equity establishes an administrative community performance index that will, in essence, grade a community based off of many of the factors identified in this question as barriers to educational success and must be properly brought down for the betterment of students in the classroom.
Lessons learned from COVID-19 pandemic: What kind of education policies and procedures would you like to see PGCPS adopt or what is one thing you would like to see done differently when school buildings reopen?
As aforementioned, our system must start with a foundational board policy on digital education that calls for the Chief Executive Officer and the administration to develop and implement a 1 : 1 electronic device plan for all students of a certainly grade-level and the professional development of all educational-based staff members.
As we plan to reopen our buildings in the fall, we must still be cautious to the fact that our logistics will have to be amended and the historical culture of the typical schoolhouse will be changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We, as a board and administration, should allow for mental health services to be taken advantage of as well, for students and staff members.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing public education in Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland?
The greatest challenge facing public education in Prince George’s County is the harsh reality that we, as a county, are not adequately funding our school system with local revenues, but instead through state funds – this making our school system and county my susceptible to the ebbs and flows of statewide politics. This hamstringing has been done through the Tax Reform Initiative for Marylanders (TRIM), which has allowed for the inequitable distribution of resources.
The greatest challenge in education facing the state is the proper passage and funding of the Kirwan Commission’s Blueprint for Maryland’s Future – which, unfortunately, is tied to the Built to Learn Act and further delays major statewide construction projects that could relieve the overcrowding of the schools in the northern part of the county.
Do you have any additional comments?
I wanted to send a note of thanks to all of those at PGCABS. You all are a much-needed pillar for our school system and school board. Without the voices of advocates, we, as board members, would not be able to properly do our jobs. Please continue to fight for the services and resources we need for PGCPS.
Learn more about K. Alexander Wallace here:
- Website: www.KAlexWallace.com
- Social Media Handles:
- Twitter: @KAlexWallace
- Facebook: @KAlexWallace