This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Dr. Bryan Swann is a candidate from District 4 (see district map here) running in the June 2 primary election. Mr. Swann 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?
Product of & Parent of PGCPS
I was born and raised in Cheverly, Landover Hills and Glenn Dale, MD. I spent all of my childhood and the majority of my adulthood in District 4. I graduated salutatorian from Largo High School, Charles Carroll Middle School, and Bladensburg Elem, where my mother was a 5th/6th grade teacher for over 20 years and a principal/vice principal at various PGCPS elementary schools for 15 years. Being one of three sons of a phenomenal elementary teacher, we saw how education was used for greatness, passion, and service. Like many other students, school was our second home. We loved school! We saw how it literally transformed lives and families. I thank our mother every day for instilling in us a passion for education and service. This passion is the reason that I want to continue to serve our schools as the District 4 Board of Education Member and raise my two sons (Bryan-10 and Bryce-6) in PGCPS. We need the right servant leader on the board. I know I am that leader. I humbly ask and thank you for your vote!
Education & Experience
Immediately after graduating high school, I joined the US Marine Corps while enrolling at University of Maryland. I have always wanted to serve our community and country. After finishing a tour in Iraq and becoming a combat veteran, I earned a Bachelor’s in Business Management and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland at College Park and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University.
You can see my complete resume: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bryanswann/. But in summary, I worked in the White House during the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Defense, the private sector, and currently a Deputy Director of Financial Management at the U.S. Department of the Treasury headquarters. I manage and oversee billions of dollars through a variety of financial processes including budget forecasting, budget execution & reconciliation, and procurement to ensure accountability for successful results. My background in finance management uniquely qualifies me to oversee our multi-billion educational budget to ensure we achieve excellence for all.
Recently, I was selected from a pool of highly qualified candidates by County Executive Alsobrooks to finish the last year of the previous District 4 Board of Education seat and was unanimously approved by the Prince George’s County Council (click here for more information). I have already attended dozens of schools (during the school day), PTA and civic organization meetings and hosted several virtual educational meetings to support our community during this current time (see my FB page for more information and recordings).
What do you believe are the most important characteristics of an effective school board?
For a school board to be effective, they must:
- Be engaged with students, teachers, principals, schools, and the community. Taking the time to visit schools during the school day, PTAs, and civic organization meetings is critical. You can not lead if you are not present.
- Be an advocate and champion of transparency. Making sure decisions are made on sound data, financial prudence, and open to all.
- And most of all, holding the school administration accountable for results.
What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?
My first priority is accountable & effective funding execution which I have already started. I have several other priorities that are critical to the success of our school system:
- Smaller Class Sizes,
- Better Teacher Pay
- Improve Bus System
- Welcoming Schools
- Pre K3/4 for All
- Increase mental health support
But without meaningful changes in how we executed resources these priorities will not become results. The most important role of the Board of Education is the budget oversight and holding the administration accountable to executing the priorities. To do this, we need servant leaders on the board with the experience of managing $2 billion+ budgets, managing complex negotiations, evaluating risk, and a track record of getting results. It is this reason I am uniquely qualified to make our school system a top ranked system in the state!
2 & 3 – We need smaller class sizes and better teacher pay & benefits. Again, financial management will be essential to this. With our rapidly growing population, this is no small task. We need to create a world class environment for our students to learn and to attract/retain the best teachers.
To see my complete list of priorities, go to www.swannforpgcps.com
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?
Parent engagement is low in District 4. There are some packets of excellence but we have to do a better job. I believe attitude reflects leadership. If leadership is truly focused on parent engagement, it will improve. And just having a PTO/PTSA organization and no one shows is not enough. We need to provide our PTOs with the resources to provide services to our parents. I am excited that we are continuing to grow our community school program in many schools. We need to connect with our parents and meet them where they are. We need to have community events in our communities to build the relationship and culture we want. Simply having a meeting once a month is not enough. Board Members should be leading this effort. This is why engagement is one of my key values. I am in the schools and community bringing folks together, getting feedback, providing important information, and resolving issues.
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 the expansion as we certainly have an access issue across the system! We need to give every student the opportunity to pursue their interest and be competitive in this global economy. But at the same time, we need to find the right balance through parent engagement, teacher feedback, and other administration considerations. For example, currently there is a significant challenge with the busing system. One of my priorities is to resolve this, which is very much on the way. We will see significant changes to improving busing and safety when schools reopen after COVID.
What responsibilities, if any, should school districts assume for dealing with such societal problems as poverty, hunger, emotional illness or drug abuse?
All of these are not only societal problems but these are also school system issues. Any issue that touches our community, our schools, our teachers, and our students is an issue for the school system. We have to be partners with our communities and local, state, and federal officials in the fight against poverty, hunger, emotional illness, drug abuse, pandemics and several other problems. Our Community Schools Program is doing just that. We are investing more funds to expand community schools which provide wrap around services to our communities. These services are tailored to the specific community it serves and includes things like food, health information & services, workforce development for parents, before and after care to support working parents, and much more. The important thing is to be accountable. Board Members and the PGCPS Administration need to ensure these programs are working. And if you are not engaged, how can you do that? This is another reason why I make it a point to be very visible in our community and schools. We must be engaged to ensure results, impact, and service!
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?
- We must invest in becoming a one-to-one school system to ensure every student has a device to use. This is critical going forward!
- We must invest in bringing wi-fi to our families in need bridging the digital divide.
- Small Class Sizes are obviously critical as we will need to maintain social distancing. We need significant capital infrastructure investment with appropriate financial oversight.
- Increase Mental Support in our schools. We are all going through a very stressful time. We will need to work together to support our students, families, teachers, and schools through this.
- Invest in online learning capabilities for all classes. We need the ability to quickly move to 100% online or to some combination of online/in-person to be prepared for whatever comes next.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing public education in Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland?
The biggest challenge facing public education is funding from two points of view. First, we are not equitably funded considering the growth of population and outdated methodologies used by the State. Secondly, we must do a better job executing the funds we do have. We leave tens of millions of dollars on the table that go unused each year when we could be investing into our teachers, students, and schools. If we don’t fix this problem, we will not achieve any goal and certainly not excellence for all.
Learn more about Bryann Swann here: