Ten Things PGCPS Can Do to Rebuild Community Confidence

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by Lori Morrow

This past weekend I read the graduation rate audit report from Alvarez & Marsal. Unfortunately I was not surprised by the findings. Over the past 9+ years, I’ve noticed a disconnect between Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) leadership/central offices and the way individual schools operate on a daily basis.

I suspect that any PGCPS parent could provide anecdotes about inconsistent policy and procedure compliance at the school level — from issues like withholding elementary school recess as punishment and discrepancies in meeting volunteer/visitor requirements, to inconsistencies in grading procedures or the abuse incidents in recent years. While the report did not find system-wide fraud, I believe we need a system-wide solution to balancing effective policies and procedures without drowning staff in processes and paperwork.

Earlier this week I wrote a list of things that I believe parents/guardians should do. Parents own a piece of the issues identified in the audit if they aren’t paying attention to grades and attendance, if they ask to have their child promoted when they shouldn’t be, or if they are focused just on the diploma instead of the education. Sadly what I often hear from parents and teachers is that it doesn’t matter what we do because we are powerless to change PGCPS. I spend too much time attending PGCPS events and meetings to accept that there is nothing we can do.

Here are my suggestions for ways PGCPS can partner with parents and staff to help rebuild trust and confidence in our school system:

  1. Host forums like last year’s “Community Summit on Safety & Accountability” to involve the community in identifying problems and searching for solutions.
  2. Involve PTA/PTO leaders in reviewing climate survey results at the school level so that they can assist in resolving ongoing concerns.
  3. Add an item to parent and teacher climate surveys that asks about staff adherence to policies and procedures.
  4. Implement new Administrative Procedures in the spring or beginning of the summer (instead of right before school starts) so that principals and central offices are thoroughly prepared to communicate them to parents and teachers by Back-to-School Night.
  5. Create an interactive video/training module on the Students Rights & Responsibilities Handbook for parents and students that can be posted online and shared at Back-to-School Nights or PTA meetings.
  6. Reach out to the Board of Education Parent and Community Advisory Council to provide feedback on policy and procedure changes.
  7. Host forums with PTA/PTO leaders at least twice during the school year to identify system-wide issues.
  8. Clarify the role of instructional directors as it relates to policy and administrative procedure compliance, and share that information with the community.
  9. Educate the community on the formal process for teachers, students, and parents/guardians who wish to report instances of non-compliance, and ensure that they will not face retaliation.
  10. Above all else, please put aside the politics and make our children’s EDUCATION the priority.

Ten Things Parents Can Do in Response to the PGCPS Graduation Rate Audit

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by Lori Morrow

Here are ten things parents and guardians can do in response to the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) graduation rate audit:

  1. Read the Executive Summary of the report if you haven’t already, regardless of what grade your child is in.
  2. Read the sections of the Students Rights and Responsibilities Handbook that relate to attendance and graduation requirements (and the rest of it too if you can find the time).
  3. Make sure you are meeting your parent responsibilities by getting your child to school every day.
  4. Set high expectations for your children and provide them the support they need to meet them.
  5. Check grades and attendance regularly in the Schoolmax Family Portal and contact teachers if you see any errors/discrepancies.
  6. Attend parent teacher conferences to understand how your child is doing in school.
  7. Ask teachers and guidance counselors about graduation requirements that you don’t understand.
  8. Keep your own file (hardcopy or digital) of documentation for credit make-up work and Service Learning Hours.
  9. If you find that procedures are not being followed, bring that to the attention of someone at a higher level (whether that is the principal, the Instructional Director, the Ombudsman, the CEO or the Board of Education).
  10. If you see a better way to do things, bring that to the attention of someone as well. We can ALL find solutions.

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More Than a Statistic: Observations from a PGCPS Employee on Administrative Leave

IMG_6404The author is an employee of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) who wishes to remain anonymous. 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.

Over recent months, media attention has focused on what employees of Prince George’s County have known for a long time: the problem of having too many school staff on administrative leave. According to the Washington Post, as of June 6, there were 142 teachers and 91 other employees off the job.

I am part of that statistic.

I will share part of my story. Of course, there are very strict limits to what I can share. However, with the massive number of employees who have gone through what I am experiencing, it is important for policy makers and the public to know the issue from the perspective of someone in my position.

First, some perspective on the known statistics:

There were 848 PGCPS employees placed on administrative leave this year. That means 4.24%, or about one out of every twenty-four PGCPS employees were paid for days, weeks, or even months to not be at work serving the children of Prince George’s County. To put this in perspective, if students were absent at that rate, many of our schools would not meet their own student attendance targets.

There were some cases where the wrongdoing was real. Of the 615 cases that have been resolved, 196 resulted in a reprimand, suspension, retirement, resignation, or termination. Another 170 or so resulted in a letter of professional counsel. In all, violations of PGCPS policy were found in about 60% of the cases, but only about 10% of the cases rose to the level of requiring the employee leave the school system permanently. 

From my perspective, based on past results and not on the merits of my case, I have a 10% chance of needing to search for a new job. I have about a 50% chance of having done something wrong while still keeping my job, but was it really worth having me out of the classroom to determine this? I have about a 40% chance of being completely cleared, in which case my time removed from the classroom has been completely worthless to me and detrimental to the education of the students I serve.

The logic of having the staff member removed from the schools during the investigation is that the employee may interfere with the investigation. This makes sense when an investigation is done in an expeditious manner. The interruption will only last for a few days, and if there is no fault found or only enough fault to warrant a reprimand or letter of counsel, the employee can return to duty in a timely manner.

However, when there is a known backlog of cases and it is widely understood by all parties that the process can take weeks or months, this brings into question whether the use of administrative leave has been misapplied. Certainly, it was necessary in at least 10% of the cases. But what about the other 90%? Was it truly helpful to have the employee off the job for that length of time? What could have been done differently so instruction or other important services were not interrupted or diminished?

Good teachers know that if you are going to crack down on a problem behavior, you have to plan for a timely and efficient enforcement of your class rules. Otherwise, you are not going to be respected by the students, especially those who are trying to do their best and feel like they have all been collectively thrown into a toxic pool of suspicion because of the bad behavior of a few. Why, then, did PGCPS not use that same logic and realize that if they were going to have more reporting of suspected misconduct, they needed to be prepared to handle the increased caseload?

Again, I can’t give details about the nature of my case, but the nature of how the process has been handled is very instructive. When I was put on administrative leave, I was given a vague verbal explanation of the allegations. To this date, I have nothing in writing stating the nature of the allegations. I was told not to have any contact with colleagues, students, or parents and to remain off PGCPS property until advised otherwise.

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One Parent’s Budget Priorities: Happy Teachers and Engaged Students

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A poster that the author created for Teacher Appreciation Week.

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Lori Morrow

I originally planned to speak during the public comment portion of the Prince George’s County board of education meeting on June 22. However, I was informed on June 20 that the BOE had reached its limit* of 15 speakers.

The text below is from an email I sent to the CEO and board of education members, with the subject line “PGCPS Budget Priorities: Happy Teachers and Engaged Students”:

I’ve been encouraging people to send inputs in advance of the Thursday meeting, so here is my short list…

Things I want:

1. Whatever the teachers want, including the freedom and resources to be innovative and keep students engaged with hands-on activities

2. Resources to meet the needs of students at all levels of the academic spectrum, including math & literacy support and TAG training for teachers

3. Language exposure at neighborhood elementary schools through programs like ICAL [International Culture and Language, used at Talented and Gifted centers] or sharing language teachers like we do for art and music

4. Maintenance funding to ensure safe, functional buildings for our students and staff

5. Focused interventions and support for students impacted by lack of core teachers due to administrative leave issues this year (Get creative…use executives & central office staff as tutors once a week if necessary. Perhaps more interaction with schools and students will help remind everyone that students should ALWAYS be our central focus.)

Things I do not consider priorities:

1. Things that do not touch classrooms or students

2. Programs that only benefit a few students through the lottery and increase transportation needs/cost

3. Test fees for all students (I believe students should need to demonstrate financial need and/or a minimum grade in their courses to justify reimbursement).

4. The start of new programs before we have met basic needs at neighborhood schools.

I support PGCPS teachers’ priorities because happier teachers will be more effective. Our teachers should have the freedom to teach in creative and innovative ways without being mired in paperwork and restrictions. They should also have the resources to make learning fun and engaging for our children. Additionally, our county’s students should have opportunities for language exposure and gifted programs in every neighborhood. They should not have to literally “win a lottery” to access programs that challenge them academically.

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College Park Academy: A Look at the Data

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

A lively discussion at the April 25 Board of Education meeting focused on College Park Academy, a public charter middle and high school in Prince George’s County that benefits from a partnership with the University of Maryland. The argument centered around a proposal that the school reserve 35% of its seats for students living in a “catchment area,” a geographic area that includes neighborhoods close to the university. (Watch video of the entire discussion here.)

College Park Academy was praised for its comparative success on standardized tests — and rightly so. “As many of you already know, we have scored exceptionally high on state assessments,” said Executive Director Bernadette Ortiz-Brewster, “consistently for four years with our blended learning model.” Interim Principal Steve Baker gave details on the school’s impressive standardized test performance (watch the video here).

But no discussion of the school’s success is complete without comparing the population served by College Park Academy with that of the school district at large. In short, the public schools in Prince George’s County tend to serve a higher percentage of kids who have risk factors that may increase the probability of academic underperformance.

The table below shows the percentages of students at College Park Academy needing various special services, as reported by the Maryland Report Card, compared with the percentages of all PGCPS middle school1 students needing special services.

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Data from the 2016 Maryland Report Card. “* *” indicates no students or fewer than 10 students in category, or “* *” indicates the percentage for the category is either ≤5 or ≥95 and the corresponding counts have been suppressed.

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Making Advocacy More Effective

Printby Lori Morrow

After much feedback from constituents — including the Parent and Community Advisory Council — the Prince George’s County Board of Education’s Policy, Legal and Legislative Committee voted not to revise the Board Policy 8345 – Public Comment at this time. Board members acknowledged that the changes were being perceived as limiting public comment, and that this was not their intention. Instead, there is an understanding that many people speak at Board of Education meetings because they are not feeling heard elsewhere. That is something that the system needs to address.


I’ve been a PGCPS parent for nine years, including three years as a PTA/PTSO President, two years on a PTA/PTSO Executive Board, and this past year as a member of the Parent & Community Advisory Council.  I have found myself in front of the Board of Education more times than I can count, and I want to offer some suggestions for parents who are looking to be heard:

  1. Work with your school’s parent organization. Ask to add the issue of concern as a meeting agenda item, so that you canget input from other families. Members of your Parent Teacher Association/Organization (PTA/PTO) Board may have heard from other parents dealing with the same situation or may know if school staff is already working on a resolution.
  2. For PTA/PTO leaders, network with other parent organizations in your area. Find out if they have dealt with similar issues and how they have been able to resolve them.  PGCABS is a great resource to find out what is going on at other schools as well!
  3. Refer to the Ombudsman’s “Guide to Addressing Questions and Concerns”. Finding the right office may help solve your issue sooner.
  4. If you have thoughts on a Board of Education meeting agenda item, consider submitting your testimony to your Board of Education Member a day or two in advance of any vote. This allows the members time to review the information and follow-up with any questions for you or other PGCPS offices.
  5. Take advantage of opportunities to speak with members of the administration or Board of Education at community forums, Family Institute events, and public hearings.
  6. If you plan to speak at a Board of Education meeting as a group, coordinate your message and identify your strongest speakers. Bring other community members to support you in the audience, but often your points can be made with 2-4 speakers.
  7. Suggest a solution or a desired outcome whenever possible. You may have insight or a fresh perspective that members of the administration or Board of Education may not have considered.
  8. When you do speak during the public comment portion of a board meeting, be concise and direct. Respect the time limits and Board of Education guidelines to keep the process running smoothly. Showing that we understand and respect the process will help keep it available as an avenue for engaging school leadership.

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What I Learned About Lead in the Water in Prince George’s County Schools

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The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the positions of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.
Update: See PGCPS’s response to this post here.

by Theodora Scarato

After the story of the Flint Michigan water crisis unfolded in the media last year, I read a news story reporting that lead had been found in the water at Ardmore Elementary School and that water fountains and sinks had been turned off. I became curious. Was the drinking water in our county schools safe?

So in January of 2016 I decided to write to PGCPS CEO Dr. Maxwell and began a long inquiry asking what tests had been done in Prince George’s County Schools to measure for lead. Here is what I learned:

The school system performed water tests from 2009 to 2012 and found that at least 88 schools exceeded EPA allowable lead levels. (Read the list of “Prince George’s County Public Schools Fixtures that are Valved Off” which was sent to me from PGCPS). The majority of  schools with lead contamination are elementary schools.

As of December 2016, the school system had not done anything to remediate this other than simply to turn off faucets in the majority of these schools.

At first, PGCPS told me that they were fixing the lead problem. I was sent a document titled “PGCPS Lead in Water Program” that explained a four-phase plan to fix the lead problem. This document said that a Request for Proposals (RFP) had been submitted “to remediate the remaining classroom water fountains and sinks throughout the system.” This was “Phase Four” of the plan.

You can imagine my surprise to learn that in fact the information PGCPS had sent me was not accurate. When I asked PGCPS to share the details of the “Phase Four” plan, they responded on October 7, 2016 with an email saying that they had made a mistake.

According to this October email, the “RFP issued in 2012 was published but not awarded to an acceptable vendor. Staff prepared to re-issue the RFP again in 2014, but the funding had to be re-allocated for remediation efforts at Ardmore Elementary School and other priority projects in the Building Services Department.”  

If I correctly understand the information I have been given, little has been done to remediate elevated levels of lead found in testing done over the last decade. Despite remediation work at Ardmore Elementary — which did result in reducing but not eliminating lead levels — the water fountains are off. To my knowledge, nothing has been done in other schools other than simply turning off faucets and drinking fountains.

After a year-long email exchange with PGCPS, I recieved water tests reports for the years 2009 through 2016. I repeatedly wrote to PGCPS asking about how they were fixing the problem and ensuring safe drinking water for all students. I have since received a letter providing each school’s name and listing each fountain and faucet which was turned off. Read it here.

According to this December 2016 letter from PGCPS, parents were not notified about elevated levels of lead during any of the years from 2004 to 2016 by the Environmental Office, and it was unknown whether notification was received from the Communications Office. Only at Ardmore, where parents advocated for safe water, was any remediation done, as far as I am aware.

Despite this, the Lead in Water Document sent to me by PGCPS in September states that, “Prince George’s County Public Schools continues to aggressively address lead in drinking water. PGCPS is confident that all schools have water sources that are free of lead.” I do not believe such statements to be accurate.

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