This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Alexis Branch is a candidate from District 7 (see district map here) running in the June 2 primary election. Ms. 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?
First and foremost, I am a woman of God. I am also a 2019 graduate from Bennett College, the first HBCU for women. While there I served as the Student Government Association President, NAACP Vice President, Fresh-woman Class President, and a member of The Board of Trustees where I was an instrumental part of the #StandWithBennett campaign. During this campaign, I assisted my institution in raising 8.5 million dollars in 50 days when we were at the risk of losing our accreditation due to a lack of finances. I also have worked for various non-profits around the world in places like Israel and China where I advocated for clean energy and against discrimination in grade school textbooks. I am a former Kindergarten teacher in the county, and I am currently employed for the federal government at the Department of Transportation. I am a product of the Prince Georges County Public School System, graduating from Gwynn Park High School in 2015.
I would like to be on the Board of Education because I am a true advocate for the people I represent and in this case, it would be the children, teacher, and staff of Prince Georges County. I truly care about their well-being and concerned about the life-long foundation we are in installing in them. I am the only candidate that has been a teacher in the county and has experience in the classroom serving as a kindergarten teacher and a before and aftercare teacher since high school. I believe that it is hard to advocate for change if you have not experienced it yourself and had those heart to heart moments with the children in this County. I am a true believer that a lot of what these will retain will not be the curriculum being taught in our classrooms, it will be the life lessons that they learn along the way that will truly impact, and shape their lives.
I want to change the way the world sees Prince George’s County. By providing more opportunities for our children like study abroad programs, free scholarship grants, and mentorship. I want the citizens of our community to be proud to say their child goes to a Prince Georges County Public School. I also do not agree with the Lottery program, I think every child in our County should have the same opportunity at a successful future. That is taken away with the lottery program. I am an advocate for bilingual education in every elementary school classroom. I also would like to advocate for the reopening of Skyland Elementary, a school created for students with disabilities. Also, I would like to see an increase in funding per pupil. Especially when it comes to resources in the classroom such as textbooks, and information technology. In conclusion, I believe the only way we will be able to see the change in our school system that our community needs and our future relies on. Would be to have more community involvement. I plan to work with my fellow board members if elected to fix this gap between our school system and our community to help mold and shape the young minds of our kids.
What do you believe are the most important characteristics of an effective school board?
To me characteristics of an effective school board would be; Radical Transparency, Diversity, Inclusiveness, Accountability, Morals, Excellent Listening Skills, Never Settling, Not being a puppet to the politics, and Effectively working as a team, Work Ethic, and Self-Awareness.
What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?
- Helping our students understand their worth
- Equal education specifically language immersion
- More equity in our classrooms
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 gap between our school system, students, and parents is enormous. I believe that it is one of the major reasons we are having the behavioral problems we are facing in our schools.
To fix this, I would like to see more mentorship programs involving our parents, more transparent conversations hosted by the school with the students and parents, more effective counseling services, hosting a series of Kids Town Halls, and organizing by the Board to get the community involved in advocating for equity rights in our community.
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 do agree with the expansion of specialty programs. I would like to see all elementary school students in a bilingual learning environment. I believe that every child in our County should have an equal opportunity for a successful future. The trajectory of the kids who are exposed to bilingual education is remarkably different from those who have not. We are paying enough in taxpayer dollars for all of our children to have an equal shot at a successful future.
What responsibilities, if any, should school districts assume for dealing with such societal problems as poverty, hunger, emotional illness, or drug abuse?
I think that our schools should educate our children on real-life things like poverty in their backyard. Help them appreciate what they have and respect others with less. I believe that we should demand more real community service not just turning in coats for hours but delivering the coats, serving meals, and encouraging them to get more involved. We only have one shelter in the County for homeless families and if your son is 15 years old, he is not allowed to come in the shelter with you. Our kids should know this. It does not matter how old someone is you can learn from them. All it takes is someone to influence them for them to be an influence on the world. They have the keys to the change that this County needs.
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?
I would like to see the school system focus on the mental health of our children to come back. After dealing with something so traumatic at a young age, we must focus on the state of their minds before we try to educate their minds. I would also like to see more teachers. Therefore, more hiring incentives, including a monetary raise for our current teachers. Now that we must practice social distancing, we need to have fewer students in the classroom to make this possible and keep our children safe. I would like to see more hiring of teachers so that we can reduce classroom sizes tremendously, and keep our children safe. I also would like to equip our students with IPads because it is eco-friendly, and we should not have waited until it was a pandemic to ensure our students had what they needed at home to be successful students. It should not have taken a pandemic for us to make sure our students have the IT equipment to be successful.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing public education in Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland?
Economic Injustice, Bullying, Lack of Freedom of Expression or Creativity, and Equality.
Learn more about Alexis Branch here:
- Website: alexisnicolebranch.org
- Social Media Handles:
- Twitter: @alexisnbranch
- Facebook: Alexis Branch
- Instagram: @alexisnbranch