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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Parent Asks PGCPS to Engage the Public in Budget Reconciliation Process

On March 1 of this year, the Prince George’s County board of education sent a requested operating budget of $2.05 billion for fiscal year 2018 to County Executive Baker. The county council’s approved budget fell short of this request by about $75 million. Now the school system is in the process of reconciling the budget, i.e. adjusting the requested budget so that it is line with the amount approved by the county council. The board of education will adopt the reconciled budget on June 22.
Here, one parent advocates for an increase in transparency and stakeholder involvement during the budget reconciliation process. Below are her suggestions for the PGCPS administration and board of education. A version of this letter was sent to CEO Kevin Maxwell and to her board of education representative.

by LaShayla Clark

It has been brought to my attention that the proposed budget from earlier this year was not approved and is now being modified. I have a few requests for the CEO and school board to consider in the process.

1. Please invite and include the public in the process. We have thoughts on what is a priority for our children’s academic future in this county. Please take our thoughts into high consideration as you make your decisions.

2. Please make this process more transparent. I looked on the website to try to learn more and I did not find anything regarding the current reconciliation process as far as what is being considered to receive less money. Most of what I have learned has come from other sources. Please provide explanation on the categories that are being considered to receive less funding than previously approved.

3. Please make your decision student centered. As I look at reports, I see a growing trend of higher student-to-teacher ratios and lower SAT scores. Please put more quality teachers in the classroom and in positions that directly affect our students and fewer people in top-level administrative positions. Students are falling through the cracks in these large class sizes. Teachers want and deserve quality benefits and an enriching work environment. Please do not remove or decrease incentives that attract and retain a quality workforce.

Thank you for your consideration.

Update on Administrative Leave Situation in Prince George’s County Schools

An earlier post documented the large number of staff on administrative leave in the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).

by Justine C. 

IMG_6404Since I wrote about this issue on March 1, 2017, there has been increased reporting in the local media on the problem. School board members Edward Burroughs (Distrct 8), David Murray (District 1), Raaheela Ahmed (District 5), and Juwan Blocker (Student Member) have created a petition in April to review and revamp the administrative leave policy. Their stated goals are to host listening sessions and create recommendations for improvements to the current policies and procedures.

In addition, this month, PGCPS’s Office of Monitoring, Accountability and Compliance will be providing any recommendations they have for changes to policies and procedures regarding student safety. (See minutes from March 7 Policy, Legal, and Legislative Committee Meeting.) The office was created on July 1, 2016, to oversee the development and implementation of procedures and protocols related to student safety.

In response to a Public Information Act request, PGCPS reports that as of May 2, 2017, there are 153 teachers — compared with 160 on January 31 — and 248 additional staff on administrative leave for a total of 401 personnel, indicating either a decline in the number of reports or faster investigations.

PGCPS also indicated in their response to my Public Information Act request that they implemented a tracking system in early April that includes the disposition of cases, referring to whether or not a staff person was reprimanded, terminated, or some other course of action was taken. However, they do not track the amount of time a case takes to investigate and how long teachers are out of the classroom on administrative leave.

Response to the Public Information Act request is embedded below.

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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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It Takes a Village

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by Aiyshen Padilla and Llew Brown

Today was a good day. I witnessed an event at Bowie High School that reminded me of all the good that happens when we work together. I was reminded that although we don’t literally live in villages, we still need the support of the village community, especially for our young people.

My village is comprised of both rich and poor. Parents who can afford the best for their children and don’t need help, and parents who desperately need help so their children can grow up healthy with the opportunity to reach their full potential. A community of people who send their kids to private school, and a growing contingent of committed parents who are investing in their local public school. That is where I fall. I believe in public schools and the children who attend them. I am committed to helping change schools for the better.

As parents, we all want the best for our children, but so often we don’t know what is needed or how to get it done. So we came together. It was during a conversation after a Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) meeting this past February when the idea blossomed to create the 9th grade Grade Point Average (GPA) Challenge at Bowie High School. This initiative was a great opportunity to show how we can all come together as a village – parents, administrators, the school board and local businesses.

The Challenge:  The concept was simple: Challenge the 9th graders at Bowie High School to improve their GPA by 10% between the 2nd and 3rd quarters (the third quarter ended March 24, 2017). Make it open to all 9th graders, not just the usual suspects — the high achievers. Invite them to a celebration event at the end of the challenge. Provide certificates of achievement to the students that met the goal and enter them into a raffle for a chance to win gift cards from local establishments. One goal of the program was to inspire other busy parents to get involved in a highly visible way with the school and their student, during future initiatives. Another was to demonstrate a true collaboration across stakeholders in our community.

The Village:  Several parents joined forces to implement the challenge. Collaborating mostly through conference calls and email, extra tutoring was arranged, a menu for the party was developed, and strategies for securing additional support were executed. For example, businesses and a school board representative provided much-needed funds for supplies and food. Additional families donated to the cause. School administrators promoted the GPA challenge by including mention of the challenge during the school’s morning announcements. Administrators also crunched the data and created the space for the celebration to occur.

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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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Updated: ‘Hidden Figures’ Field Trip Is Back On After Parents Write Letter

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The following letter was sent to Dr. Judith White, in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction of Prince George’s County Public Schools, in response to a decision not to approve a field trip to see the film Hidden Figures.

UPDATE: After additional research by the Department of Curriculum and Research, Dr. White has approved this film for PGCPS students in grades 4-12.

Dear Dr. White,

We are parents of fourth graders at Greenbelt Elementary School. We were dismayed to learn that our children’s field trip to see the movie Hidden Figures was canceled because your office has deemed the movie inappropriate for fourth grade students, and we urge you to reconsider.

We are sure you’re aware that the movie features the true story of African-American women who worked on the first moon landing. You may not be aware that the movie has been a very popular choice for teachers in upper elementary grades who want to inform and inspire their students. Schools around the country, including some in St. Louis, MO, Seattle, WA, and Nashville, TN have arranged showings of the movie for their fourth graders. There is a great variety of background information and sample lesson plans available to teachers who wish to make the outing more than just a trip to the movies. The parent-run media information site Common Sense Media, which we have found to be fair and also quite conservative in their age recommendations, suggests the movie is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

The Greenbelt Elementary School field trip was nearly ideal. Students would be able to walk from their school to an historic theater in town, encouraging healthful habits in addition to the inspiring content of the film. Women engineers from NASA were going to be on hand to answer student’s questions after the movie. Parents who object to the film have the option, as they have with every field trip, to refuse to give permission for their child to participate. Given the County’s push for students who are college and career ready, especially in STEM fields, we hope you will reconsider your decision and allow the field trip to go on as planned.

Sincerely,

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