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 general election. Ms. Boozer-Strother answered questions generated by members of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools. An earlier version of the candidate’s responses to our questions was posted in May. The following are Ms. Boozer-Strother’s updated responses.

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?

Thank you to District 3 voters for placing me first in the Primary! The Board needs more parents that currently have children in our schools and our message clearly resonated at the doors and at the voting booth. PGCPS parents and teachers have been the core volunteers of my campaign and I am grateful for their support.

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 3rd 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 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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Q & A with Lupi Grady, District 2 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. Lupi Grady is the incumbent from District 2 (see district map here) running in the general election. Ms. Grady answered questions generated by members of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools. An earlier version of this post was published in May.

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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Notes from the October 9 Budget and Operations Committee Meeting

by Lori Morrow

The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Board of Education Budget and Operations Committee met for a regular meeting on Tuesday, October 9. BOE Members present were K. Alexander Wallace (Committee Chair), Carolyn Boston, and Sonya Willams. Members Curtis Valentine (Committee Vice Chair) and Raaheela Ahmed were on conference call. The PGCPS Chief Financial Officer Mike Herbstman and Internal Audit Director Michelle Winston were also in attendance.

1.  The first agenda item was a review of the Committee Charter. Last spring, the PGCPS Board of Education unanimously passed Board of Education policy 8100 which did a full reorganization of the standing and ad hoc committees. The reorganization nearly doubled the scope for the Budget and Operations Committee, formerly known as the Finance, Audit and Budget Committee.

The larger scope for the Budget and Operations Committee includes business management services; human resources & talent development; information technology; pupil accounting, school boundaries & capital improvement (CIP); and supporting services. Last year mostly focused on Operational and Capital Improvement Budgets and Internal Audit.

2. The second meeting agenda item was the annual work plan for the Budget and Operations Committee: https://youtu.be/H_khPdyQaLA?t=498

The document outlines meeting dates and proposed topics for the committee this school year. There was a systematic request to meet twice per month from November to February as those are peak months in covering the Operational Budget. In the committee discussion, BOE members amended the work plan to add the topics of CIP, Public-Private Partnerships (P3), 21st Century Schools State Commission, and Procurement.

The Budget and Operations Committee will also be responsible for selecting locations for the January/February Budget work sessions and public hearings.

3.  Internal Audit Director Michelle Winston presented the annual Internal Audit report: https://youtu.be/H_khPdyQaLA?t=1333

The report included a summary of FY2018 Internal Audit operations and the plan for the FY2019. Ms. Winston presented data on the 97 total financial, operational, and fraud audits; 309 hotline report submissions; and 61 property inventory assessments completed in FY2018. An estimated total losses of $16M were averted through audit activities.  Actual losses identified in the audits were $1.8M, with $1.1M of that in property assets. Property items continue to be researched on an ongoing basis.

Internal Audit is responsible for school activity fund audits, hotline & special investigations, and property inventories. Special requests for 2018 included the Human Resources salary increases and Bus Lot Transportation payroll operations.

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Recap of Last Tuesday’s District 7 Education Roundtable

by Robyn Kravitz

On September 18, Board Member K. Alexander Wallace hosted an inaugural Education Roundtable discussion for stakeholders from District 7. Attendants included parents from Wise High School, Imagine Morningside, Benjamin D. Foulois CPAA, Overlook Spanish Immersion, Bradberry Heights, and Arrowhead, along with District 7 residents, educators, and administrators.

Mr. Wallace shared that his job as a board of education member has three pillars — policy, budget, and community engagement. He hopes that this roundtable will be an ongoing tradition for District 7 residents that will help him with all three pillars. To drive the point home, Mr. Wallace has scheduled the next roundtable meeting for November 27, 6:30pm at Drew Freeman Middle School. After some quick introductions, the meeting was a true roundtable experience. Folks shared concerns and brainstormed potential solutions. Most points related to two different topics: communications and investment in PGCPS.

Many folks raised concerns about communications and consistency.  Different schools –and even teachers within a given school — use various tools to communicate with families. The idea that came out of the meeting was that a policy could be created requiring principals to release information to parents that clearly laying out the ways in which the school will communicate with families. There wasn’t a strong preference for one communication tool, just a strong desire for a consistent tool choice (i.e., ClassDojo, SchoolMax, Gov Delivery, text message, etc.). This idea resonated strongly with the room. It felt like a compromise that would give a principal the freedom to decide with method works best for their school but also provide transparency and a clear directive, so families know exactly where to look for communications.

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Notes from the August 23 Board of Education Meeting

by Lori Morrow

The Board of Education Meeting began at approximately 7:30 PM on Thursday, August 23 at the Sasscer Building in Upper Marlboro.

Report of the Chair:

  • BOE Member Mary Kingston Roche has resigned from the Board of Education
  • PGCPS is hosting the Back-to-School Block Party at the Bowie Baysox Stadium on August 25th
  • For Public Comment, members of the public should register 4 days prior to the meeting.

Report of the CEO:

Discussed 5 focus areas, updated policies, and the Back-to-School portion of the webpage to get everyone ready for the first day.

Public Comment:

https://youtu.be/lkl1Z-417J8?t=1218

–Michele Clark, Teacher Retention and Turnover

–Susanne Johnson, Resources for Immersion Schools

–Theresa Mitchell Dudley, PGCEA, Teacher Retention

–Linda Tucker, Fingerprinting Requirements for Athletics Volunteers

Discussion Item:

Dr. Goldson introduction of the Discussion Item, First Day of School Planning & Preparations: https://youtu.be/lkl1Z-417J8?t=2156

–All 17 cases of employees involved in the Internal Audit compensation findings have been returned to previous pay levels and steps are being taken to review future pay increases related to change in responsibilities.

–Dr. Goldson also discussed the restructuring of the Area Office Structure for better leveling and monitoring.  In addition, positions formerly working in the Ombudsman office will be placed in Area Offices as “Area Office Resolution Specialists” to allow more timely resolution of parent concerns.

Associate Superintendent Dr. David Curry: Principal Support & Training this summer: https://youtu.be/lkl1Z-417J8?t=2445

–Principal meeting was held on Aug 8 to present updates for Administrative Procedures related to Attendance (5113) and Grading & Reporting (5121), grade change authorization and grad standards module.  Additional principal meeting was held on Aug 21 to answer questions and concerns about policies. There was also a meeting specifically for Elementary/K-8 Principals to review Health & Wellness 0116 and recess procedures. Principals were directed to include the information in handbooks and review the information with staff.

Chief Accountability Officer, Dr. Douglas Strader: https://youtu.be/lkl1Z-417J8?t=2589

–Discussed the plans to report key performance indicators quarterly to stakeholders.

Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Kara Libby: https://youtu.be/lkl1Z-417J8?t=2650

–Discussed updates about curriculum documents and resources that will be available to teachers. Materials have been disseminated so that teachers will be able to begin instruction on day one.

Chief Information Offier, Mr. Youssef Antar: https://youtu.be/lkl1Z-417J8?t=2736

–Discussed $3M technology upgrades; increase of the one-to-one intitiative (up to 18 schools); and automated graduation standards/grade change modules.

Chief of Human Resources, Mr. Howard Burnett: https://youtu.be/lkl1Z-417J8?t=2862

–Teachers: Hired 976 teachers this summer and have 55 vacancies. We have a pool of 3000 substitute teachers. Substitutes who will be filling vacant positions have been able to attend training/planning days with teachers so that they will be able to teach on the first day.

–Bus drivers: 69 vacancies with over 1000 bus drivers. Substitute drivers and doubled routes will be used to cover the vacancies. 36 drivers are currently in training with another 15 who have been recently hired.

–Nurses: Hired 19 nurses since July 1 but still have 32 vacancies.  Will use contract nurses from 8 agencies to fill vacancies and schools all have emergency care plans in place.

–Administrative Leave: Human Resources and Labor Relations looked at cases of individuals who are currently on leave.  Staff with minor infractions who were found not to pose threat to staff, students or the organization will be able to remain in the work location. Individuals with cases pending with Child Protective Services are not able to remain in their work locations.

Interim CEO Dr. Monica Goldson:

–Capital Improvement: https://youtu.be/lkl1Z-417J8?t=3200 Discussed projects at Tulip Grove ES (Renovation completed), Francis T. Evans ES (Pod conversion, 1 out of 3 completed. Expect completion at end of November), and Hollywood ES (Pod conversion with delays).

–District Heights ES Update: https://youtu.be/lkl1Z-417J8?t=3328 Mold reappeared in the elementary school this summer. Dr. Goldson requested external evaluation and ultimately made the decision that students will be bussed to Forestville HS for this school year so that systemic repairs can be made. $2.5M was already in the FY2019 budget to replace the air conditioning system.

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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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