This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Dr. Alethia J. Simmons is a candidate from District 4 (see district map here) running in the June 2 primary election. Dr. Branch 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 want to be a voice that articulates the Heart of students, teachers, staff and parents. My education and professional background of 40+ years as a public school student, educator, administrator, nonprofit organization founder/CEO, community leader, author, tv host, ordained minister, mother of a District 4 High School graduate and presently a grandmother of a PGCPS middle school student, I know firsthand the cry from those who are often overlooked in our busy quest to provide academic excellence. Hence, I am humbled by these experiences and look forward to the opportunity to dedicate myself to connecting the pieces that will strengthen Prince George’s County Public Schools.
- DC Teachers College, Washington, DC, BS degree, Elementary Education
- Trinity College, Washington, DC, MS degree, Guidance and Counseling
- Maple Spring Seminary, Capitol Hgts, MD, MS degree, Biblical Studies
- Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, DMin degree, Theology
- Classroom Teacher, DC Public Schools
- Educational Counselor and Program Coordinator, EOC, Washington, DC
- Teacher, Counselor, Principal, Training Development Specialist, Special Assistant, Administrator of Higher Education and Educational Services, DC Dept of Corrections
- Substitute Teacher, PGCPS
- CEO, 7 Keys to a Mother’s Heart Ministry, Wash, DC and MD, non profit organization
- Associate Minister, TNMBC, Washington, DC
What do you believe are the most important characteristics of an effective school board?
- An effective school board establishes a clear vision, mission, defined goals, core values and a strategic organization plan for moving forward,
- Operates as a team that is goal oriented, committed, flexible, dependable, helpful, supportive, willing to generate ideas/solutions, trustworthy and respectful of one another,
- Develops program objectives and educational policies that will facilitate continuous. student achievement and classroom instructional excellence.
- Maintains open channels of communication that engages relationships with staff, parents, students and community partners.
What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?
- Address school infrastructure (renovation, new construction, etc) and engage private sector for innovation, staff shortage, teacher accountability and salary increases
- Facilitate and increase partnerships with local businesses, public organizations, churches, etc.
- Enhance use of technology
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?
Today, parent engagement within our schools is at an all time low. Many schools throughout District 4 do not have active PTA and some schools are led by classroom teachers instead of parents. Suggestions to improve parent and community engagement include:
- Develop relationships with parents, contact them regularly to share their students’ performance and progress (both positive and negative)
- Encourage their participation in student learning and create an environment that solicits their support
- Maintain regular communication between home and school, i.e. text, emails, etc.
- Solicit their concerns, address them and follow up
- Work around their work schedules
- Host informational and skill development zoom meetings, conference calls, etc.
- Reach out to the community (churches, nonprofit organizations, fraternal organization, businesses) for resources, support and partnerships
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 support specialty programs. In fact, my recommendation would be to expand program offerings.
- These programs provide specific skills they are interested in and connect them with other like-minded students.
- They develop students with an appreciation and proficiency for other languages, disciplines and cultures.
- They provide students with an opportunity to explore their passion, enhance creativity and excel in their gifted and talented subjects.
What responsibilities, if any, should school districts assume for dealing with such societal problems as poverty, hunger, emotional illness, or drug abuse?
First of all, teachers and staff should be informed and educated about the societal problems that plague their school district. When a teacher learns about their students as individuals, as well as cultural and community influences they can become more empathetic, patient and intentional in planning lessons that will influence their learning process. Therefore, teachers must continue to focus on cultivating talent, building strong relationships, exposing students to outside activities in an effort to increase cultural and academic competence. Also, there is a method utilized through the community school strategy where the school becomes the central point with extending learning and quality education opportunities. The schools partner with nonprofit organizations to develop a strong connection between social service agencies to provide needed resources that benefit all students, families and community.
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?
Schools should begin to prepare a comprehensive plan to be executed should another pandemic, contagious disease outbreaks, national emergency, etc. occur that could endanger the lives, health or safety of the school community. Also, policies should be written and implemented to address guidelines for reopening schools.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing public education in Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland?
- Funding – budget cuts, smaller classroom size, staff shortage, fewer resources, new construction, school renovations, overcrowding, teacher salaries
- The family structure, divorce on the rise, single parents, violence, inadequate parenting skills, etc.
- Technology – on line tools, computers, internet access, training for staff
- Student attitudes and behaviors towards teachers, staff and peers, discipline issues, bullying
Learn more about Dr. Alethia J. Simmons here:
- Social Media Handles:
- Facebook: dralethia simmons