This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Raaheela Ahmed is a candidate from District 5 (see district map here) running in the November 3 general election. Ms. Ahmed 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 running for the Board of Education because I avidly want to create a better educational foundation for the youth of Prince George’s County. As a lifelong Prince Georgian, District 5 resident, millennial, and K-12 product of PGCPS, I am highly committed to the success of our community, and feel that I have the necessary skills to propel us forward:
- I have a passion for education and learning. I am currently working for a nonprofit that focuses on institutionalizing civic engagement with college students.
- I am a meticulous worker, and am steadfast in bringing issues to light, even if it is unpopular.
- I work hard to listen to my community, and do what is in the best interest of our kids.
- I am unbought by other politicians. My campaigns have all been strong grassroots efforts; I have never received nor depended on political establishment support for electoral success.
- I have degrees in Finance & Economics: an asset when it comes to analyzing and amending our $2+ billion budget.
What do you believe are the most important characteristics of an effective school board?
An effective school board is one where its members land on common ground: the success of children & young people. It is one where vision and mission supersede politics. It is one whose leadership is dynamic and infectious, even precedent setting.
Essentially, an effective Board of Education goes beyond the job description. The job of a school board is to oversee the system’s superintendent, pass policies and affirm a budget for the school district, but individual members assuming the roles of advocates and activists is what sets the board as a leadership body.
To me, that means board members that:
- Come prepared to board meetings with questions that hold our system accountable
- Respond empathetically to community needs and requests
- Stay present in the community at different events and activities
- Spread information and sharing knowledge in a transparent way
- Offer opportunities for people to access power, and engage in the civic process
What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?
- Servant Leadership – As a board member, my vision is to be a transparent, accountable, engaged and communicative public servant for our kids and our community. My goal is to leave a legacy of leadership that encourages this kind of culture for years to come.
- Bridging Achievement Gaps – I have always been, and will continue to be, attuned to the needs of our students at the margins. Over the tenure of my service, I’ve led and supported efforts to uplift students through ensuring culturally responsive textbooks, moving towards community schools, enacting restorative practices, requiring financial literacy as a graduation requirement, and introducing resolutions supporting the rights of our Muslim and immigrant families, as well as transgender individuals.
- Passing Community-Based Policies – I am a policy wonk at heart. As current Chair of the Policy & Governance Committee, I have led the board’s efforts to have an equity and community-focused lens in policymaking. Starting next year, there will be a thorough, cyclical review of our manual, cleaning up decades-old policies that no longer serve the needs of Prince George’s County students or families. I am proud and excited to lead this work, if re-elected.
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, parent and community engagement is not where it could or should be in PGCPS. Over the past 3 years, I have done my due diligence in ensuring parent voices are heard, and that parents are as involved as they can be in District 5 schools:
- I have encouraged parents to start parent-teacher-student organizations at schools. This year, two schools in my district have revived their bodies (Patuxent ES and Northview ES).
- I actively communicate opportunities for funding, scholarships, etc. to the parent-teacher-student organizations in my district, and take special note to maintain relationships with parent leaders in my district’s schools.
- Every year, I hold a District 5 Parent Leader Convening , an event that brings together the PTA/PTO leaders and other parent advocates from District 5 to engage in conversation about best practices for parent-teacher-student organizations, and to collectively brainstorm ways to address the wider challenges faced by parents in the system.
With another 4 years on the board, I hope to increase engagement of parents and community members by:
- Leading efforts to reform the protocols that place stringent limits on volunteering in schools
- Pursuing more partnerships that allow for community organizations and local governments to mentor and advise our PGCPS students
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?
Conceptually, I do not support the idea of specialty schools. I am a believer of program and people integration at neighborhood schools, where such opportunities should be available and accessible to all students.
However, I have supported expanding certain existing programs to allow for the completion of a course of study for students. Why? Because transitioning students out of programs before they are due would cause more disruption to a student’s learning and state of mind than otherwise, and education is about setting students up for success, not failure. This is a big reason why I supported expanding the PGCPS language immersion programs from 4th to 5th grade – so that students could complete their course of elementary school study with their cohort of peers.
All in all, in making any decision as a school board member, there are several factors to consider. In electing a representative, the most important thing to consider is whether you trust that person to weigh them all, and make the right one. We cannot change the systems we inherit, but we can work to make them fair and equitable.
What responsibilities, if any, should school districts assume for dealing with such societal problems as poverty, hunger, emotional illness or drug abuse?
School districts have a huge responsibility in setting students up on a course for success, and sometimes that means addressing social ills and issues that they did not create. The community schools model is one that allows for a holistic approach to education, and one that recognizes that our children are an embodiment of all their experiences and circumstances. It is an initiative that I support and value in our district.
Beyond that, partnerships and family engagement are very important to ensure that our education system acts as a village in supporting the growth and development of students. On a board and administrative leadership level, as public servants, I believe it is our responsibility to address the needs and issues of the community. Making impact and shaping generations is why people get into education work, and that cannot happen working in a silo from society.
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 will have long-standing effects for years to come, beyond the grief that comes with losing hundreds of members of our community. In terms of education, there will be learning loss caused by decreased instruction time and the digital divide, as well as further economic and financial insecurity.
The most valuable thing that re-opening schools after COVID-19 provides is the opportunity for a collective culture reset: an opportunity for all our schools and people to focus on what is most important: getting our students back on track and set up for success. My hope is for a culture where we all are just a little more kind to one another, and work as a village to get our students where they need to be.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing public education in Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland?
We face many educational challenges as a county and a state, but the one that has me particularly concerned is the probable budget downfall due to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and its effect on statewide Blueprint for Maryland’s Future funds and local county funds. For the past few years, our community has fought hard for equitable education funds, and this past legislative session in Annapolis, we won. I was a part of supporting those efforts by:
- voting in support of the resolution for March for Our Schools
- voting for the calendar change to ensure a half-day on March for Our Schools day in Annapolis
- introducing and successfully passing the legislative platform of the Board, which supports fully funding public education
- attending, and encouraging others to attend, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future community meeting at the Bowie Center for Performing Arts
Unfortunately, we are again in a place of flux with solidifying our education funding structure on the state level, and the millions we stood to gain may not be what we actually receive.
Learn more about Raaheela Ahmed here: