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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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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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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Prince George’s Delegation Considers Eleven Education Bills

by Lori Morrow

Delegate Angela Angel (D-25) hosted a legislative update at the Prince George’s County Education Association (PGCEA) on February 28 to discuss the eleven education bills pending before the Prince George’s Delegation this session.Over twenty community Image 2-20-16 at 4.28 PMmembers attended to learn more about the legislation and ask questions of the delegate. Slides were presented with a brief synopsis of each of the bills.

Theresa Dudley, President of the PGCEA, spoke briefly to open the forum. Ms. Dudley encouraged everyone to contact state senators in favor of House Bill (HB) 196, which would fully repeal the 2013 changes to the Prince George’s County Board of Education governance structure. She expressed concern that the current structure politicizes the school board and does not provide proper checks and balances.

Throughout the presentation, Delegate Angel emphasized the need for the community to be involved in the legislative process. She said her purpose in hosting the session was to “educate, engage, and empower.” The most powerful statement is when community members show up in Annapolis during the legislative session, but she encouraged everyone to call, email and use social media to reach out to representatives to share their support or opposition.

  • HB 216, Student Hearing and Vision Screenings: Delegate Angel supports this bill that would help identify how many students are not getting the services they need despite screenings. A community member asked why legislation is required to do this, but the delegate explained that the data collected can be used to find out why students aren’t getting the services or figure out ways to fund services for families that cannot afford them.
  • HB 215, Elementary School Limit on Class Size: Delegate Angel stated that this is likely to pass and has already been passed by the Prince George’s House Delegation. She believes that Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) currently has the capacity to meet this requirement. (Local bills that are not passed by PGC Delegation will not go forward in the legislative process.)
  • HB 214, Equity in Education: This bill was created to address an issue of charter schools that require higher cost logo uniforms that are not widely available. Delegate Angel says some schools have already revised their uniform requirements.
  • HB 185, Students With Disability Report: This bill would collect data to find out how many student accessibility needs are actually being met.
  • HB 186/207/196, Related to PGCPS Governance: Delegate Angel explained that these bills overlap and that if multiple bills pass, they would likely be amended or merged. HB 196 would fully repeal 2013 changes to the Board of Education structure. Theresa Dudley and Bob Ross, NAACP, expressed their opposition to HB 186, which addresses only the 2/3 voting requirement to override the CEO’s decision and the selection of the vice chair. To date, the PGC House Delegation has passed only HB186.
  • HB 184, PGCPS Inspector General: Delegate Angel explained that this is separate from the Inspector General bill proposed by the Governor. This IG would report to the PGCPS Board of Education and County Council.  A question was asked relative to the Internal Audit office that already exists, but she explained that Internal Audit does not report beyond the school system.  Per the fiscal note, the IG would have six full-time positions and be funded from the PGCPS budget.
  • HB 241, Telecommunications Transmission Facility on School Grounds: This bill would dictate public notification for companies proposing to install cel towers on a school.

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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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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.

Eubanks Reappointed to Board of Education, Anderson Resigns

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

Prince George’s County Board of Education Chair Segun Eubanks has been appointed to a second four-year term on the board. In a June 8 phone conversation, a staff member in County Executive Rushern Baker’s office confirmed that Baker reappointed Eubanks on June 1 of this year.

Eubanks was first appointed on June 1, 2013, the same day that the controversial House Bill 1107 took effect. The legislation changed the structure of the board, adding four at-large appointed members to the previously all-elected board and giving the superintendent (renamed under the bill as “Chief Executive Officer”) and county executive more control over the school system. Under HB 1107, the county executive also selects the chair of the board of education, who serves a two-year term as chair. Eubanks was selected by Baker to serve as chair of the board in June of 2013.

Beverly Anderson, whose recent resignation from the board has made the news, was also appointed by Baker to a four-year term in June of 2013. Anderson’s appointment was announced on June 17, along with the appointments of Daniel Kaufman and Curtis Valentine. Under the provisions of HB 1107, Valentine was appointed by the county council, and Kaufman was appointed by the county executive. Both were appointed to two-year terms initially, with the stipulation that future appointments to those seats would be four-year terms. Valentine was appointed in June 2015 to a second term, which will last four years. Kaufman’s seat is now held by Mary Roche.

The board of education also has nine elected members, each elected from their own board of education district, and one student member.

On June 13, four days before her term ended, Anderson sent a resignation letter to County Executive Baker, criticizing the school system for its “lack of a coherent educational plant” and calling the board “dysfunctional.” The letter was obtained by NBC 4 through a public information request, and the full text is below. It is not clear whether Baker had planned to appoint Anderson to a second term. Baker is responsible for appointing someone to fill the vacancy left by Anderson.

 

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