Q & A with Shayla Adams-Stafford, District 4 Board of Education Candidate

DSC_5110 (1)This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Shayla Adams-Stafford is a candidate from District 4 (see district map here) running in the June 2 primary election. Ms. Adams-Stafford 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 have spent my entire career focused on education and issues of educational equity. I began teaching over 10  years ago in North Carolina using project-based learning.  While there I obtained my National Board Teaching Certification. I then moved to Maryland where I worked in DCPS and became an award-winning educator and instructional coach speaking at the White House on behalf of teachers using project based learning in urban settings. I now travel nationally and internationally training teachers and school leaders on equitable, culturally relevant practices. I also operate a non profit, RemixEducation which has supported over 200 students across several states with mentorship and access to technology. In this role I have managed large teams and a budget of large grants.  I presently manage a software and consulting company where we work at the state level providing services to teachers and leaders.  I am encouraged by the immense resources and opportunities we have here in our County. With access to the nation’s capital and growing technology sector I think we are perfectly positioned to be the best district in Maryland.  However, I am realizing there is much work to be done to truly make this district equitable for all students. As I talk to parents in my community, many are frustrated with the disrepair of our schools, lack of support for Special Needs students and years of corruption and mismanagement. I am running because I believe that with my perspective as a national leader in education, I can leverage my networks and experience to bring innovative and proven solutions to our issues.

What do you believe are the most important characteristics of an effective school board?

I think an effective school board will work together collaboratively and seek to engage all stakeholders in decision making processes. They would also hold the Superintendent accountable and strive to improve conditions for teaching and learning for all students.

What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?

My top three priorities while serving on the board would be reducing class sizes through the construction of new schools and renovation of older existing schools. I would also focus on recruiting and retaining the best and brightest teachers to work in our school system. We are facing a teacher shortage and we will ultimately need more teachers in order to meet the logistical challenges presented by reopening to COVID 19.  Lastly, I would prioritize ending the school to prison pipeline by supporting the training and expansion of restorative practices, and alternative disciplinary measures.

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?

To begin we need to prioritize every school in our county having a PTSA. Many schools do not have one and it is difficult for parents and guardians to get updated information from the school. Additionally, we need to support local PTSA’s in making meetings more accessible for parents. This may include grants for providing childcare and food at meetings. More importantly, I think we need to work to support schools in executing home visits. Home visits can help create trust between schools and families and set forth collective hopes for students academically. This is proven in neighboring districts to increase parental involvement. I would leverage my connection with the Flamboyan Foundation to support this work. Here are a few of my parent engagement ideas which are based on models I have witnessed throughout the country:

  • Home Visit/ Project-Based Learning / Expeditionary Learning/ Place Based Learning/Montessori Programs/ Parent Academies/,Delayed start for regular professional development
  • Full commitment to restorative practices within schools and Positive Behavioral Intervention Systems ( i.e. yoga vs detention, incentives for positive behavior and community building)

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 think that our innovative programming should be expanded and not clustered at a few schools. This would provide greater access for all students. Access to speciality programs that provide enrichment  is undoubtedly a factor in closing the racial achievement gap. Students of color consistently have less “Cognitively Sticky” experiences that challenge their critical thinking as they are more likely to receive below grade level work. See TNTP Study regarding tis here:   (https://tntp.org/publications/view/student-experiences/the-opportunity-myth)

What responsibilities, if any, should school districts assume for dealing with such societal problems as poverty, hunger, emotional illness, or drug abuse?

I fully support the Community Schools model in which schools become the hub of important resources for families. This would include providing full wrap around services – i.e. health information, housing, workforce development, open after hours.  I would explore partnerships with local area food banks and organizations like Martha’s Table to provide food distribution points at various school sites.

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 think that the COVID crisis is going to force our school district to place public health at the forefront of all major policy decisions. I believe that the push for smaller class sizes now MUST be realized as students must remain six feet apart. This may mean staggered schooling in which older children return, or students attend schools on specific days. If we are returning to a hybrid model of both online and in-person classes, this also may mean that we use alternative methods of spreading core academic content for students without broadband internet or computing devices. For example, some counties are considering using public access television to teach lessons. I think we will also need to invest heavily in resources for trauma informed teacher practices as many students and staff will return battling grief from the loss of loved ones.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing public education in Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland?

One of the biggest challenges we face is the amount of un-certified teachers within the county. The school district should invest, train and support our conditional teachers.  In return for helping our conditional teachers via tuition assistance, PRAXIS training, and professional development our conditional teachers should be required to stay with our school district for a number of years. Tuition assistance is vital for conditional teachers because they are our lowest paid teachers.  I believe our top priority should be the recruitment and retention of the best teachers. This includes providing opportunities for teacher leadership, collaborative planning and raises in teacher pay. The Board of Education needs to provide supports for teachers that are not certified to achieve their certification.  The school system should also prioritize renovations in schools that have unsafe conditions for our students and educators; for example mold, lack of soap, water etc.  Our state is now facing the challenge of implementing the Kirwan Commission which was recently vetoed.

Learn more about Shayla Adams-Stafford here:

 

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