Middle School Talented and Gifted Programs Need Improvement

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

by Khadija Bowen

My daughter wakes up at 6:30 every morning. She gets herself ready for school but she does not have to do much, because she has to wear a uniform — plain khaki pants and plain green polo shirt. She cannot make her hair fancy because the school dress code says headbands and other accessories that make her an individual are strictly prohibited. Before she runs out of the house, she grabs her mesh backpack and goes to her bus stop at 7:45. This school only allows clear or mesh backpacks for the children’s own protection. On her hour-and-a-half long bus ride, she must wear ear phones and play music to drown out the chaos and drama around her.

She hopes there will not be a fight, but she cannot tell because of all the noise and horseplay that is happening around her. She gets to school and keeps her head down because that was the advice she was given from older friends that also attended this school. “Keep your head down, try to ignore the drama and stay close to a few good friends,” they told her. Even though there are cameras everywhere, watching their every movement, somehow violence is still prevalent and random locker searches are still necessary. So she continues to follow the instructions and walk to her class hoping there will not be any drama today, but she has lost confidence that this advice will prove useful.

She used to be confident that her inside knowledge was key to navigating the hallways and common areas at this school, but that was prior to her good friend being trampled during an altercation that she was not a part of. Her friend was sent home from school and needed medical attention due to the incident. The young girl returned to school the next day with a boot on her foot. My daughter and her friends followed the instructions but my daughter’s friend still got hurt. Now my daughter wonders, “Will I be next?”

Today, she gets to her classes unscathed, but she is only partially stimulated because either she has a substitute or her teachers are so burnt out that they have lost the enthusiasm to develop stimulating lesson plans. She has had a substitute in English for most of the year, so she knows there won’t be much to do in that class, but she focuses on the instruction as much as she can and completes whatever she is tasked to do. In the past, math has been so unengaging that she and her friends paint their nails or just have side conversations to get through that class period. Finally, the day is nearly complete. After the last bell rings, she finds her iPod again, puts in her earphones, and prepares herself for the hour-and-a-half ride home.

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How a Handful of Parents Transformed Two Staff Lounges

by Robyn Kravitz

Our children spend almost as many waking hours at school as they do at home. And our teachers spend even more time at school than our students! So when a few parents learned about the drab teachers’ lounge at the Benajamin D. Foulois Creative and Performing Arts Academy, we knew we had to do something. We wanted the staff at the school to know that we loved them for loving our kids. We wanted the staff to know that those moments they spend making sure our kids eat their lunch, catch their bus, have their homework in their backpacks, and know they have a safe place are VERY noticed.

Walking into the teachers’ lounge wasn’t nearly as shocking as walking into the lounge for the food service workers. Both rooms were dirty, dark, and unloved. Something had to be done. So over the course of about two months, the four of us worked with our principal to develop a plan: We would paint, clean, decorate and give some life to both spaces. Our plan included using the school’s colors, blue and yellow, to give the space some spirit. We wanted to give the space a touch of practicality too, by doubling the amount of refrigerator space and providing more places for lunches to be cooked.

30582185_10101323766239168_7296234309162209730_nAfter we developed our plan, we scoured CraigsList, FreeCycle, Facebook Market Place, thrift shops, and worked with the management at our local Home Depot to stay within a very small budget — and a lot of heart — to fill the lounges with a new work station, new table, new decor, a new microwave and refrigerator.

30572264_10101323766403838_33446095655920337_nOver the week of PGCPS’s spring break, we went to work. We spent the first day cleaning. Everything from the chairs to the floors to the butcher paper, everything got a solid scrubbing. We spent days two and three painting the walls and cabinets, painting a chalk board sign for motivational quotes, and putting up vinyl decals to match our theme. The fourth day consisted of putting it all back together. Our Falcon blue and yellow teachers’ lounge now has a fun and spunky feeling with a quote that reads “Be the teacher who eats the last cupcake in the teachers’ lounge because we need teachers who are FEARLESS!” And the food service workers now have a room that makes it feel like spring has sprung!

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Legislative Update: School Calendars

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by Lori Morrow  

Update as of March 30: The Prince George’s County Board of Education voted unanimously last night to restore spring break. Schools will open on April 9. See the PGCPS press release here.

Clearly Mother Nature has her own agenda this year, and it did not include allowing spring to start on time. The late season snow, coupled with the recent “wind day,” are wreaking havoc with spring break plans for families and staff. Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has announced that it will use both April inclement weather days that were programmed when the 2017-18 school calendar was created, as well as an additional day on April 4 (see PGCPS’s March 22 announcement here). The two days in June and one make-up day in February have already been used.

This year’s school calendar is the first since Governor Hogan’s executive order that mandated all public schools start after Labor Day and end by June 15th. The compacted schedule has created challenges for PGCPS administration and other districts around the state trying to balance instructional days with professional development, state-mandated holidays, and possible inclement weather. While Maryland law does have a process for waivers, the State Board of Education has not approved any waivers to the 180-day requirement yet this year.

Unfortunately we cannot control the weather, but there are two bills before the Maryland General Assembly that may allow for greater flexibility in future school calendars by modifying the June end date:

SB 729/HB 553 would authorize a county board of education to extend the length of the school year for up to 5 days without approval from the State Board of Education. The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate and is scheduled for a hearing in the House of Delegates at 1 PM on Thursday, March 29.

HB 679 would require public schools to complete the school year on or before the third Friday in June.  This would help account for the variability in the length of the school year because Labor Day is not a fixed date.  This bill passed the House with a 125-12 vote but has not been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate.

How can you help? Contact your State Delegates and Senators and ask that they support SB 729/HB 553. Phone numbers and email addresses are available online.  You can also submit testimony by writing or in person for the March 29th hearing.

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Del. Barnes Forms Parent Involvement and Education Advisory Committee

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by Lori Morrow

Over forty Prince George’s County parents, staff, community advocates and elected officials gathered at the TGI Friday’s in Forestville, Maryland on Saturday, February 17 to find out more about Delegate Dr. Darryl Barnes’s Parent Involvement and Education Advisory Committee.

Led by Chair Earnest Moore and Vice Chair Tramaine Crawford, the advisory committee was established to “tackle lingering issues in the Prince George’s County Education System.”

Delegate Barnes emphasized that the focus of the committee is not to “throw stones,” but rather to develop ideas and solutions that can help move our system forward. Collaboration was a recurring theme throughout the meeting. Individuals were charged to bring together our diverse knowledge and resources, as well as learn from those who have come before us. Ultimately, the goal is for the committee to present findings and recommendations to decision-makers including the County Council, Board of Education, and General Assembly as appropriate.

Those present for the planning breakfast were invited to volunteer for at least one of the seven subcommittees that most fit their expertise or passion. Mr. Crawford introduced the seven topics: Special Education; Restorative Practices and Bullying; Charter and Public School Law; Teacher and Administrator Policy/ Betterment; Public School Improvement; Minority Male Involvement/Mentorship; and English Language Learners. Subcommittees will meet via teleconference or in person, with initial tasks to choose and chair and develop work plans and timelines. The full advisory committee will meet again in approximately 30 days to share updates with the Chairs and Delegate Barnes.

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Three Upcoming Opportunities to Advocate for School Funding

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by Llew Brown

In our personal life, we have lots of wants, but limited resources require us to make tough choices. In the end, the way we spend our time and money reveals our priorities.  If you want to shape the school system’s priorities for next year and beyond, follow these three tips and let your voice be heard:

#1: Testify at a School Board Hearing

The last of three Budget Public Hearings to be held by the school board this year is on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 7:00 PM at Oxon Hill High School. If you register in advance to speak, you have three minutes to voice your concerns directly to the school board and CEO Kevin Maxwell. Find the proposed budget and timeline here:

http://www.pgcps.org/budget/index.aspx?id=200115

#2: Speak at one of County Executive Baker’s Budget Listening Sessions

The next opportunity is  February 8, 2017, at Prince George’s Community College. To view dates for additional sessions, and to register to speak for three minutes, go here:

https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/2404/Budget-Listening-Sessions?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

The County Council is hosting a Budget Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, February 20th

https://pgccouncil.us/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=423

#3: Contact your State Legislator 

Several Maryland legislators are proposing changes intended to channel more casino revenues towards  public schools.  Here’s one article discussing the issue:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-mcintosh-amendment-20171222-story.html

Learn what legislative district you belong to here, then follow the link below to contact your legislator and share your opinion on this issue.

http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/07leg/html/gacopg.html

Don’t delay: the budget bill for the current legislative session is due to be decided by April, 2018.

Prince George’s Schools Leaders Must Be Accountable to Voters, Not Politicians

Image 2-20-16 at 4.28 PMThe following is written testimony presented to the Prince George’s County Delegation of the Maryland General ASsembly. Lori Morrow is a current member of the PGCPS Board of Education Parent and Community Advisory Council mentioned on Page 17 of the House Bill 1107 (HB 1107) Final Report. All opinions expressed in this testimony are the author’s own.

by Lori Morrow

I submit this testimony in support of bill PG 509-18, to restore the Board of Education’s authority to select its own chair and vice chair and appoint the CEO. In addition, I support the repeal of HB1107 and the return to an elected school board in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) via bill PG 511-18.

I have reviewed the House Bill 1107 Final Report, and do not discount the many programs and initiatives that have been implemented in PGCPS these past few years. Unfortunately the positives have been significantly overshadowed by the challenges: the loss of the Head Start grant; the Judge Sylvania Woods incident; the subsequent administrative leave debacle; and the graduation rate audits. The report does not provide adequate support to show that the current governance structure has had a positive impact on PGCPS. Instead I have heard the exact opposite from many parents and community members. There is an overwhelming sense that the system is failing in terms of transparency and accountability because PGCPS leadership is responsible to county politicians instead of residents.

Regardless of original intention, the current structure and concentration of power in the office of the county executive serves as a political distraction that prevents our system from moving forward. Board members who were appointed or elected with the support of the county executive are viewed as beholden to the county government and not fully trusted. Board members elected without the support of the county executive are labeled as rebels or dissidents, and marginalized in the operations of the school board. In either case, the power of the individual county residents has been diluted.

The June 2017 resignation letter submitted by Dr. Beverly Anderson, an appointed member of the Board of Education, reflected many of my own observations: “We have a dysfunctional board possibly because too many of the members are compromised or have conflicts of interest; an angry student body because we have not figured out how to incorporate some of their good ideas into our practices; unhappy parents because we do not solve in an efficient manner classroom or administrative problems impacting their children; and an apathetic teaching force. This scenario must change!”

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Notes on the December 19 Special Board of Education Meeting

by Nichelle Mandjilla 

Nichelle Mandjilla is a member of the Dora Kennedy French Immersion School Legislative Committee

To view the agenda for this meeting, go here.

1. Public Session

Attendees:                                                                                                                                             

Segun C. Eubanks, Ed.D, Board Chair/Appointed Member
Edward Burroughs III, District 8 Member
David Murray, District 1 Member
Lupi Quinteros-Grady, District 2 Member
Mary Kingston Roche, Appointed Member
K. Alexander Wallace, District 7 Member
Sonya Williams, District 9 Member
Dinora A. Hernandez, District 3 Member
Amanya Paige, Student Member
Chief Executive Officer Kevin M. Maxwell, Ph.D.

*Board Members Carolyn M. Boston, Vice Chair/District 6 Member, Curtis Valentine, M.P.P., Appointed Member, and  Donna Wiseman, Ph.D., Appointed Member arrived at a later time after meeting had been called to order.

*Board member Raaheela Ahmed, District 5 Member was away on business travel.

*Board member Patricia Eubanks, District 4 Member was “under the weather” and would not be in attendance at meeting.

  • Adoption of the Agenda: December 19, 2017 Board Meeting at 2:25 in the video.

Board Member Burroughs interjects with concern regarding the cancellation of executive session. Board Member Burroughs put forth a motion to add executive session at the conclusion of meeting to discuss legal and personnel matters. Board Member Burroughs brought it to the board’s attention that he received documentation on the subject of the graduation rate audit. According to this documentation, it appears that top level administration were aware of students graduating who did not meet basic graduation requirements a year prior to the independent audit. Appears no action was taken at that time to address these findings. Mr. Burroughs is aware his concerns cannot be fully expressed during public session, as it involves personnel. Board Chair Eubanks solicited any further discussion; there was none. Eubanks then proceeded to request a roll call of vote:

  • 8 Ayes – Burroughs, Hernandez, Murray, Paige, Wallace, Williams, Wiseman, Eubanks
  • 2 Nays – Quinteros-Grady & Roche

Executive session scheduled to convene following public session.

After this vote, motion carried unanimously to adopt amended agenda.

2. Public Comment on Agenda & Non-Agenda Items

2.01 Public Comment on Agenda & Non-Agenda Items

15 registered public comment speakers.

  • 4 speakers registered for item 3.01.
  • 4 speakers registered for item 4.01.
  • 7 speakers registered for non-agenda items.

Registered speakers for item 3.01 PGCPS Response to MSDE Graduation Rate Audit Report

http://marylandpublicschools.org/stateboard/Documents/PGCPSGraduationRateReview10312017.pdf

  • Prince George’s County Resident & Parent at 8:20.

Systematic grade change epidemic has become a culture in the county. Frustrated with corruption surrounding county, and including PGCPS administration. Standing in representation of parents, community leaders and groups of Prince George’s county in calling for the resignation of PGCPS CEO, Deputy Superintendent, area Instructional Directors, and County Executive. Requesting transition to a PGCPS Board of Education elected by Prince George’s County Residents. Spoke of PGCPS administration’s involvement in grade change scandal due to prior knowledge of unauthorized grade changing or failure to bring attention to matter prior to audit. Spoke of no improvement of PGCPS since the arrival of current CEO, Dr. Maxwell. Spoke of unfavorable reputation of Deputy Superintendent, appointed by Dr. Maxwell.

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