Follow-Up Needed After Last Year’s Changes in PGCPS Recess Policy

playground_6394.v01b.25percentLori Morrow presented this testimony during the public comment portion of the July 12 Prince George’s County Board of Education work meeting.

Good evening Dr. Eubanks, Board Members, Dr. Maxwell, staff and community members,

My name is Lori Morrow.  I have been a PGCPS parent for 10 years and am active with the Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools. I chose to speak about recess tonight because it is a concern I continue to hear from parents, and it is also something principals have the ability to change for the upcoming school year if they wish.

Last summer, PGCPS updated its Health and Wellness Procedure 0116, and one of the changes was a recommendation to provide 30 minutes for elementary recess, with the minimum required time increasing from 15 to 20 minutes. This spring I submitted a Public Information Act request to find out how many schools actually met that 30-minute recommendation. The answer I received, and I quote: “Upon review, there are no records available to show school responses for compliance with the updated AP 0116 for this request.” I take that to mean the administration does not actually know.

Included in my reply was the spreadsheet of recess times by school prior to the update.  It was enlightening to learn that before 2017, approximately HALF of PGCPS elementary schools had 15-minute recess. At the same time, a quarter of schools managed to provide 30 minutes. With studies that show increased recess can improve student focus and academics, why were so many principals content to do the minimum, and are they still just meeting the minimum?

We appreciate that the wellness policy was updated last year, but I would love to see the administration and the Board of Education do more to encourage all principals to provide 30-minute recess. For the parents and community members out there, don’t settle for the minimum. If you believe kids should have 30 minutes for recess, advocate for it at your school. The framework is there and the principal has the authority to make it happen. I also learned there are no MSDE or PGCPS policies prohibiting middle school principals from implementing a break or recess period. I would love to see some of them experiment with schedules that give middle school students a mental break from their hour-long classes.

Ultimately I’m disappointed because this reinforced complaints that even when the policies and procedures are in place, schools may not be following them. For example 0116 also states that “Withholding of recess as a punishment is prohibited,” but many people, including my rising 5th grader, have examples where it is used that way either for individual students or the entire class.

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But What Can I Do? Thoughts After a Contentious School Board Meeting

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The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Robyn Kravitz

What an interesting, frustrating, challenging, yet energetic time to be a Prince George’s County resident!

I’m new-ish to the county. My family moved here two years ago thanks to the Air Force. However, in that time I have seen many hurdles within our school system. The most recent hurdle involves the employment, performance, and resignation of Dr. Maxwell from PGCPS. Here are some basic facts that feel important:

  1. Dr. Maxwell’s contract was renewed for 4 years by County Executive Baker in 2017.
  2. Dr. Maxwell announced that he would transition out of the position. But he was not fired.
  3. Other counties in Maryland have been required to pay large severance packages upon the departure of their CEO or Superintendent on top of massive legal fees.
  4. The Board of Education approved a package that is expected to be accepted by Dr. Maxwell and provide a clear path to Dr. Maxwell’s departure from PGCPS.

Now as parents, where do we go from here? I see two very distinct actions we need to take head on — be an educated voter and volunteer in your local parent-teacher organization.

If you love the decision by the Board of the Education, get out and vote this fall for the candidates that supported this package through the system. If you disagree with the package from the Board of Education, get out and vote this fall for the candidates that offer a view you align with. The way we hold our elected officials accountable for the decisions they make is to show up at the polls in November and vote.

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Board of Education Primary Election Results for Prince George’s County

Residents of Prince George’s County Board of Education Districts 2, 3, 6, and 9 had the opportunity to vote for a school board candidate in the Maryland primary election on Tuesday. The two candidates with the most votes will go on to the general election in November.

Incumbents did very well at the polls: In the three districts where incumbents ran for re-election (Districts 2, 6, and 9), incumbents won the most votes.

Here are the Maryland State Board of Elections unofficial results for the four school board races:

DISTRICT 2:

Rob Anthony, 16.4%

*Lupi Grady, 49.3%

*Joshua M. Thomas, 34.3%

DISTRICT 3:

* Juwan Blocker, 25.7%

*Pamela Boozer-Strother, 47.2%

Irene Holtzman, 12.4%

Catherine Bennett Nwosu, 14.7%

District 6:

*Carolyn Maria Boston, 29.4%

Caleb A. Camara, 4.6%

Pat Fletcher, 14.0%

*Belinda Queen, 24.8%

Ava Richardson, 7.4%

David Shelton, 4.9%

Anthony Triplin, 14.9%

District 9:

Matt Green, 8.1%

Don D. Massey, 8.9%

*Arun Puracken, 28.7%

*Sonya Williams, 54.3%

(*) Candidates will appear on the ballot in the general election.

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Upcoming Election Deadlines

IMG_2622by T. Carter Ross

As you may have noticed, there are a number of contested elections on the ballot in Prince George’s this June. Early voting starts on June 14 and runs through June 21 (10 am to 8 pm each day). A full list of early voting locations can be found here: https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/11692/Early-Voting-Sites-PDF.

The Primary Election is June 26 (7 am to 8 pm). You can check to make sure you are registered and look up your primary day polling location here: https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/VoterSearch

If you are unable to make it to the polls to vote, you can request an absentee ballot online here: https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/965/Absentee-Ballots

Because of Maryland’s closed primary system, if you wish to vote in the Democratic primary, you must be registered as a Democrat The same holds true if you wish to vote in the Republican primary, you must be registered as a Republican. Voters registered with a third-party, as independent, and/or as unaffiliated will be able to vote on school board candidates, but not any other races. If you are not registered as a Democrat and wish to vote, for example, in the County Executive or County Council races, you can change your party affiliation to Democrat by updating your information online: https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/OnlineVoterRegistration. It takes about five minutes and you will need your driver’s license as part of the process.

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With a New County Executive, What Comes Next for PGCPS?

100_3401by T. Carter Ross

Nine Democrats and one Republican are running for Prince George’s County Executive, and no matter who is elected, one of their first tasks will be exercising their responsibility for overseeing the county’s public school system. Regardless of public statements in favor or in opposition to HB 1107, because it and the hybrid school board it authorized remain the rule of the land, the next County Executive will continue to exercise great authority over PGCPS and will have the ability to shape school systems’ leadership through their appointments.

Over the next four years, the County Executive will most likely have the opportunity to name a new CEO for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), appoint three people to the Board of Education, and name the Board of Education’s Chair and Vice Chair. However, the new County Executive cannot simply clear house; there are limits on these appointment powers.

Selecting the next PGCPS CEO

The process for selecting the CEO was set out in HB 1107 and codified as §4–201.1 in the Education Article of the Code of Maryland. This subsection, §4–201.1, applies only to Prince George’s County, but it is based on and largely parallels §4–201 (which governs all other county public school systems in Maryland) and §4–301 (which governs the public school system in Baltimore City).

The County Executive does not have an unrestricted right to name the PGCPS CEO. Under §4–201.1(c)(1), a three-person committee consisting of two residents of Prince George’s County appointed by the governor and chaired by a member of the Maryland State Board of Education appointed by the Maryland State Superintendent of Schools must recommend three candidates for the CEO position. It is from this list of three candidates that the County Executive choses the CEO.

After a CEO is selected, the Chair of the Board of Education is charged with negotiating a contract for the CEO’s term. The selection and contract must then be approved by the Maryland State Superintendent of Schools. If a contract is reached and the appointment approved, the CEO is in place for a four-year term, beginning on July 1.

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Q & A with Lupi Grady, District 2 Board of Education Candidate

2018-03-19 Teacher Union Photo

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Lupi Grady is the incumbent from District 2 (see district map here) running in the June 26 primary election. Ms. Grady 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 seek to run for re-election to the Board of Education because this work matters.  As a parent of two children attending Prince George’s Public Schools, I am invested.  I believe in public education. I came to the United States at the age of 7 years old and did not speak English.  I still remember my teachers.  I am so grateful to them to this day.  My parents worked very hard to provide for my sister and younger brother, so it was difficult for them to have the time and to know how to support us in our academics.  My parents did not know how to navigate the education system or to advocate on our behalf.  We were encouraged to work hard and respect our teachers.  My sister and I had to learn to be very independent and as we set the path, it helped our younger brother succeed.  My personal experiences help me to understand the students that we serve.  I see myself in many of our students, who with the proper supports and guidance can excel in their academics and have a bright future.

The issues in our education system are complex and how the school board goes about doing the work is important.  A Strategic Plan was established for 2016-2020 (adopted March 2015) with five focus areas that include Academic Excellence, High-Performing Workforce, Safe and Supportive Environments, Family and Community Engagement and Organizational Effectiveness.  The Strategic Plan serves as a road map and our budget decisions must align with the aforementioned key priorities.  As we enter our fourth year as a Board of the strategic plan, it is imperative to assess the impact of our investment as it relates to budget decisions.   What is effective? How do we determine progress? What data points are we measuring? Are we measuring the right data points?   How is progress being monitored?  These are discussions that need to be examined to better determine how we move forward.  This year, I participated in an Equity Taskforce that was tasked to define what is equitable for our students.  The task force began its work of examining educational equity gaps and invited a series of presenters that informed the discussion.  The taskforce outlined specific recommendations for policy, establishing a diverse workforce, family & community engagement, quality instructions and budgetary resource allocations that are outlined in the report.  The recommendations will be shared with the entire Board and community in the coming months.

Relevant to moving our school system forward is the work of the Kirwan Commission.  As indicated in their preliminary report and potential recommendation on an increase of funding, there is an opportunity to align our work for optimum student success.

Being on the board for almost four years, it has its challenges and I am consistently learning and growing in my understanding of the issues.  The work is not done in a vacuum and the perspectives are many around a diversity of issues.  The issues brought to my attention have varied from recess, transportation, cell towers, the selection process of Principals, meetings with potential partners that can support our students’ academic success, the overcrowding of schools in the north, homelessness, language barriers; and bullying to mention a few.  As the issues are brought to my attention, I work towards solutions, addressing existing system or lack of systems in partnership with parents, administrators and Board colleagues.  This work cannot be accomplished in silos as an individual Board.  I am committed to this work and we have to be steadfast in our efforts to continue to move our school system forward.

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

Capitol Improvement Program (CIP)

Two of the biggest challenges we have is maintaining our facilities and building new schools to support the growth in enrollment in the county.  The Capital Improvement Program (CIP) is designed to resolve the overcrowding of the schools in the north which is a challenge for students and teachers.  The CIP is also designed to maintain our aging school buildings.  For example, in District 2 the majority of the schools are over capacity.  There is an Elementary school with up to 13 temporary classrooms (temps), a Middle School with 11 temps and a High School with up to 21 temps.  This poses real challenges to not being able to reduce classroom size, expand pre-k, increase of enrollment; and it impacts the day-to-day operations such as the scheduling for lunch periods and overall courses.  Teachers are actively engaging students in every classroom that is available to them.  The up keep of the facilities and the demands are great.  I recently visited a Middle School that has to have the floor gym replaced, that will cost $100,000 and this was not a planned “repair.”  This Board has increased funds to provide some flexibility in the budget when unprecedented repairs need to happen for the betterment of our teachers and students.  I am committed to continuing to advocate for these funds going forward.

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Q & A with Pamela Boozer-Strother, District 3 Board of Education Candidate

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This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Pamela Boozer-Strother is a candidate from District 3 (see district map here) running in the June 26 primary election. Ms. Boozer-Strother 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 District 3 needs a leader with organizational and financial management experience and is someone present in our District every day to advocate for children and families.

I was born in Prince George’s County and returned 13 years ago as a resident of Brentwood. At that time, I immediately became an active resident of community organizations and town committees focused on children, education and economic development.

I am now the parent of a 2nd grader at Mount Rainier Elementary and a dedicated activist who is determined to put children first as the District 3 representative on the PGCPS Board of Education.

I have been a voice of our District 3 community at Board of Education meetings for many years, advocating for equity in class size through a boundary change with Thomas S. Stone Elementary as well as increased investment in new school buildings, our dual-language immersion schools, second language learning options and social services.

I fully support the Board of Education soon-to-be-enacted Community School policy that will bring expanded heathcare and social services to our students and families in partnership with government and nonprofit organizations. This is critical opportunity to move our school system forward and I want to be a leader of this work.

I am a big believer in the power of the arts in education. I have contributed to raising more than $20,000 over the past three years to Mount Rainier and Thomas S. Stone Elementary Schools visiting artists programs. This year, I was awarded the Mighty Joe Impact Award from Joe’s Movement Emporium.

I served as a Board Member and President of the Gateway Community Development Corporation (Gateway CDC), which has driven the arts-centered economic revitalization of the Route 1 corridor. I have experience with building planning, budgeting and construction through my oversight of the Gateway Arts Center.

In my Gateway CDC leadership role, I worked successfully with elected officials at the municipal, county and state level to bring resources to the children of Prince George’s County. This is critical experience for the role as a Member of the PGCPS Board of Education. I am endorsed by Senate and Assembly leadership of the Maryland legislative districts that overlap with Board of Education District 3, including Senators Rosapepe (District 21) and Pinsky (District 22), and Delegates Jimmy Tarlau and Diana Fennell (District 47).

Having earned my MBA at American University while serving as the executive director of national association, I have strong fiscal management skills.

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