Moving Forward with Covid-19: What’s Next for Maryland Schools?

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by Lori Morrow

Lori Morrow is a board member of the Prince George’s Advocates for Better Schools and was appointed as the Parent Member of the Maryland State Board of Education in March 2020. The opinions expressed here are her own.

Two months ago, I was sworn in as a member of the Maryland State Board of Education under the most unusual circumstances: 6 feet apart from the county clerk, barely inside the front doors, with no family or friends as witnesses. In February, I expected much of my 3.5-year term to focus on the Kirwan Commission recommendations. Instead the Blueprint bill was recently vetoed by Governor Larry Hogan and the upcoming years will most likely be focused on Covid-19, school closures, the trauma in our communities, and how we move forward.

Distance learning has been a monumental feat across the state.  I commend the teachers, school staff, parents, and students who shifted rapidly in mid-March to make this happen, while also jumping into action to address issues of food insecurity, child care, and massive unemployment. Our public schools do so much more than teach curriculum, and this crisis has highlighted the important role they serve.

There are only a few weeks left of the 2019-20 school year, and the biggest question is, “What comes next?” There is no single answer, as each of the 24 school districts develops a plan for their county. However, I am fairly confident in saying that school will not look “normal” when it starts back up in the fall. We are facing a school year where parents and volunteers may not be able to host events or assist inside the buildings in the way we have before. While public health will dictate many circumstances, we must take the time to look at how we can be involved. This is a time to remember advocacy is a core mission of National PTA and many PTOs. We must work together with school leaders to ensure all of Maryland’s children get the education they deserve.

What can parents and community members do?

  1. Read the Maryland Recovery Plan for Education. These are the overarching options and guidelines that local districts are considering. Comments can be emailed to educationplan.msde@maryland.gov. The document is still in draft form and will continue to evolve with stakeholder input.
  1. Avoid rumors. The Maryland Recovery Plan does not outline specific dates or timelines. Check the Maryland rumors page or be sure to share information directly from school district or state websites.
  1. Start planning locally. It is okay to grieve for the events and activities we missed out on this school year, and those we may have to skip next year too. In-person meetings, back-to-school nights, and family events may not be possible. This is a time to get creative to find things we CAN do, and don’t forget to involve students in the brainstorming and planning too!
  1. Participate in feedback opportunities at all levels: school, district and state. Take advantage of any survey opportunities; share ideas with school and PTA leaders; and send constructive comments to district and state leaders. Solutions usually go farther than complaints.
  1. Stay active in PTA/PTO for next school year and continue to advocate as situations evolve. We may not have the same events or fundraisers, but parent voice will be even more important when we can’t meet in person.

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Q & A with Bryan Swann, District 4 Board of Education Candidate

20180401_104158 (1)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).

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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.

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Q & A with Mohammed Ali, District 4 Board of Education Candidate

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Dr. Mohammed Ali is a candidate from District 4 (see district map here) running in the June 2 primary election. Dr. Ali 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 a B.S./M.S. in Computer Science, and Doctorate in Education from Morgan State University. My goal is to ensure that our youth can compete in the 21st I believe we can do that by providing them with the resources they need the teachers that are compassionate and qualified in the field of education.

I have spent my entire career focused on issues of educational equity. I am a qualified candidate because I value education and have lived in this district for over twenty years. I am a professor of mathematics and information technology at Prince George’s Community College and served in various committee positions at the college. I am a former elementary and secondary Teacher and served as School Education Board at Prince George’s Muslim Association in Lanham, Maryland. Additionally, I have served as a community chair in Maryland and authored of children’s books.

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

    1. Effectively school board should have a strong education background in the field of education.
    2. Having very good exposure in all levels of Educational decisions.
    3. Has the ability to integrate the communities, parents, educational administrators.
    4. Management of budget in the area of education.
    5. Strong leadership and guidance for parents, teachers and the community.

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Q & A with Alethia J. Simmons, District 4 Board of Education Candidate

alethiaj (1)This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Dr. Alethia J. Simmons is a candidate from District 4 (see district map here) running in the June 2 primary election. Dr. 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?

I want to be a voice that articulates the​ Heart​ of students, teachers, staff and parents. My education and professional background of 40+ years as a public school student, educator, administrator, nonprofit organization founder/CEO, community leader, author, tv host, ordained minister, mother of a District 4 High School graduate and presently a grandmother of a PGCPS middle school student, I know firsthand the cry from those who are often overlooked in our busy quest to provide academic excellence. Hence, I am humbled by these experiences and look forward to the opportunity to dedicate myself to connecting the pieces that will strengthen Prince George’s County Public Schools.

  • DC Teachers College, Washington, DC, BS degree, Elementary Education
  • Trinity College, Washington, DC, MS degree, Guidance and Counseling
  • Maple Spring Seminary, Capitol Hgts, MD, MS degree, Biblical Studies
  • Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, DMin degree, Theology
  • Classroom Teacher, DC Public Schools
  • Educational Counselor and Program Coordinator, EOC, Washington, DC
  • Teacher, Counselor, Principal, Training Development Specialist, Special Assistant, Administrator of Higher Education and Educational Services, DC Dept of Corrections
  • Substitute Teacher, PGCPS
  • CEO, 7 Keys to a Mother’s Heart Ministry, Wash, DC and MD, non profit organization
  • Associate Minister, TNMBC, Washington, DC

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

  • An effective school board establishes a clear vision, mission, defined goals, core values and a strategic organization plan for moving forward,
  • Operates as a team that is goal oriented, committed, flexible, dependable, helpful, supportive, willing to generate ideas/solutions, trustworthy and respectful of one another,
  • Develops program objectives and educational policies that will facilitate continuous. student achievement and classroom instructional excellence.
  • Maintains open channels of communication that engages relationships with staff, parents, students and community partners.

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Q & A with Raaheela Ahmed, District 5 Board of Education Candidate

Lamp Left Media-92 (2)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:

  1. Come prepared to board meetings with questions that hold our system accountable
  2. Respond empathetically to community needs and requests
  3. Stay present in the community at different events and activities
  4. Spread information and sharing knowledge in a transparent way
  5. Offer opportunities for people to access power, and engage in the civic process

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Q & A with Gary Lee Falls, District 8 Board of Education Candidate

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Gary Lee Falls is a candidate from District 8 (see district map here) running in the November 3 general election. Mr. Falls 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?

EAT a government paid “free full course breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Then get to classes and learn “Greek, Latin, Differential Equations, Calculus , Quantum Mechanics and Dark Matter .”

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

Ensure that the schools “Billions of Dollars Budget is spent toward accomplishing the Goal mention in question 1.”

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

Student Meals, Student  Proficiency in Greek, Latin, Differential Equations, Calculus, Quantum Mechanics and Dark Matter, after 14 years of learning !

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?

Encourage Parents to steer their children  toward mastering the mention curriculum !

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?

Each school should have Teachers that are Proficient in Greek, Latin, Differential Equations, Calculus, Quantum Mechanics, and Dark Matter!

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