This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Kenneth Harris II is a candidate from District 7 (see district map here) running in the June 2 primary election. Mr. Harris 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 am a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School! I then went on to receive my Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and finally my Masters degree from Johns Hopkins University. I have been working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center since I was 16 years old, and for the past 12 years I have been assisting in the development, fabrication, budgeting, and launch of 6 missions. My passion outside of the Science field is inspiring the education of students through mentorship. I have had the opportunity to travel locally and internationally to speak with teachers and students about the importance of mentorship and early education. I hope to bring my experience with managing large budgets and passion for education to the Prince Georges County School Board. One of my main goals is to develop a classroom to internship pipeline for our students. As well as implement strong mentorship programs to encourage early exposure to amazing careers. My early exposure to the sciences helped me to establish a phenomenal career and I vividly recall visits from professionals to our schools, helping to motivate me to continue my studies. I want to be on the school board to rebuild the confidence of our residents in sending their children through the Prince Georges County School System.
What do you believe are the most important characteristics of an effective school board?
I think one of the most important characteristics of an effective school board is a shared vision for the County. Too often are representatives on different accords when it comes to plans for our schools and how to resolve situations. As a community we need to come together and create a clear and feasible path forward with achievable milestones to track our progress toward a better educational system.
What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?
A. Develop a classroom to internship pipeline for our students to set them up for long and impact careers in whichever field(s) they come to love.
B. Targeting the need for universal pre-k and advocating concerning the importance of early education
C. Focusing on the retention of our Administrative Staff and Teachers within the county by providing fair salaries and educational/certification assistance where needed.
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 parental engagement level within the county must be improved to assist in our impact on the educational system. Outside of the school system parents/guardians play a huge role in the development of a student. Thus we need their support, encouragement, and accountability to help point all of our students in the correct direction. Parental and Community engagement can be improved using small groups and mentoring programs as a vehicle. Targeting students with overlapping interest and fostering a sense of community to push them all toward success.
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 specialty schools and the expansion of them. I believe they have life long benefits for our students. Expansion of these schools should also be done regionally to alleviate the concern of long travel distances for students.
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 has the unique opportunity to have a student 5 out of 7 days of the week for more than half of their day. This is often the place they go to escape many of these societal problems, however we are in a position to provide assistance. We can work to combat these societal problems and provide counseling resources to our students. By partnering with programs and professionals to deal with these situations on a case by case basis. Thus I feel the school district should not take on this challenge alone, but rather place a structure in place to help with this extremely serious concern.
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?
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in every area of this country. As it applies to the Prince Georges County School System, we as a community must focus on the continued education of our students, while also allowing our staff the materials they need to educate and lead. An educational policy that reflects safety as the priority but still includes the means to provide for our students that depend on the school system for meals/technology/etc. I believe that certain approaches to this pandemic can be applauded, however my hope is to grow from this experience and produce a feasible action plan that can be implemented in the future.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing public education in Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland?
The biggest challenges facing public education are;
1. Teacher Shortages/Retention We must provide a growing environment for our educators. This encourages them to stay in the county and will also attract others to come and teach in the county.
2. Access to pre-k Data shows the students who have access to pre-k have better graduation rates, higher rates of being accepted into 4 year degree programs, and higher lifetime earnings. PGCABS 2020 Candidate Questionnaire
Do you have any additional comments?
Our county has such an amazing potential that can only be achieved through a unified school board. I hope to represent the county and prioritize our students’ education first as we work together toward a brighter future.
Learn more about Kenneth Harris II here: