Q & A with Sonya Williams, District 9 Board of Education Candidate

Sonya Williams (1)This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Sonya Williams is the incumbent from District 9 (see district map here) running in the general election. Ms. Williams 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?

BACKGROUND: Born in DC, raised in Prince George’s County since the age of 5, and educated through Prince George’s County Public Schools, I graduated from Crossland High School at the age of 16. I began my college career at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore studying Engineering. I received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering specializing in Project Management from the University of Maryland College Park. I also have a Masters Degree in International Organizational Leadership from Georgetown University.

As a Civil Engineer, I’ve worked on many projects throughout the county, state and nation. Most notable projects include working as an intern on the construction of the WSSC Headquarters building in Laurel, I was a part of the project management team on the construction of the first expansion of Pier C at BWI Airport, the construction of the International Terminal at BWI Airport, the development of Tanger Outlets and the Clipper Way road construction.

Through my career, I have managed organizations, teams and offices that have built structures, procured services and developed infrastructure. I have work with people of many and varied education levels, backgrounds, cultures and experiences. As a member of the board, it is important to have different perspectives, because as a leader of an organization as large as PGCPS with the diversity in students being serviced, parents, partners, employees and stakeholders, the ability to provide perspective and context.

FUTURE PLANS FORWARD: Since I became a board member, my primary focus has been infrastructure and structural change. The infrastructure of PGCPS is varied and fluctuates, from the types and age of our buildings, to the procedures use to perform the work. Our infrastructure and structures in place that impacts the operation and outcomes show the scars of too many stops and starts as leadership has changed through out the years. My goal is to focus on stabilizing the foundations in our systems so that real decisions can be made with clear information and integrity. What that means is that how information is shared is standardized, what type of information is shared is standardized, the frequency in which the information is shared is standardized, and how we report on the work (data and outcomes) is standardize. Once the standards are clear and concise, we can begin to show and move towards the goal of success.

My accomplishments thus far in this direction since I became a board member has been spearheading changes to how and when the Board budget priorities are incorporated in the budget development process, changes to staff reports to the board, changes to agenda item details, attachments and other information to make us more effective decision makers and inquire with more pinpoint detail. I plan to continue that process to make structural changes so that the work of the Board is more informed, efficient and effective.

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Q & A with Arun Puracken, District 9 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. Arun Puracken is a candidate from District 9 (see district map here) running in the general election. Mr. Puracken 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 am a 7th/8th Grade Social Studies Teacher at Accokeek Academy. I graduated from Largo High School and UMBC. After college, I taught in Baltimore City for a year with Americorps, and then came back home to teach in Prince George’s County. Teaching has been my entire professional career.

I currently serve as the Social Studies Department Chair as well as the Advisor for the Student Government Association/ Debate Team, Teacher Representative for the PTSA, and Teacher’s Union representative at his school.

I am focused on more accessible and strengthened speciality academic/vocational programs, equitable technology access, raising educator compensation, creating community schools, fully staffing schools, prioritizing facility maintenance/renovation, and ensuring appropriate boundaries to reduce classroom size.

I want to be on the Board of Education because not one elected member of the Board has taught in a public school in this county. That is a very valuable perspective that is missing. Secondly, my experiences at Accokeek Academy has shown me the great inequity in the system. I teach in a $30 million building with a Chromebook for every child in my classroom. So many families, students, and my colleagues at other schools do not have the same access to this quality of educational experience. My goal with this campaign is to bring this equity and ethics back to PGCPS.

What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?

  • Strengthening and making more accessible high quality speciality academic/vocational programs
  • Raising educator compensation
  • Fully staffing/repairing schools

What qualities do you believe are most important in a Chief Executive Officer?

First, I believe that a Chief Executive Officer should be referred to as a Superintendent or another school-centered term/methodology instead of CEO, which to me, instills a singular business mindset. It is important that we do not turn schools completely into a business model as it can place economic incentives as leverage for decision making starting from the top tier leadership.

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Q & A with Carolyn Boston, District 6 Board of Education Candidate

IMG_1989This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Carolyn Boston is the incumbent from District 6 (see district map here) running in the general election. Ms. Boston 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 am running for a third term on the Board of Education because I believe we are moving in the right direction to be a model for the world on how to educate a diverse student body such as Prince George’s County. My experience as a council member in my community has equipped me with the knowledge and experience of dealing with budgets and how to run a town. My 10+ years of development and training through PTA on the local and state level, has provided me with years of advocacy and leadership skills. My years as a Parent Liaison for Prince George’s County School System prepared me to assist parents and the community on how to navigate our system. The professional training and workforce development I received has been a big asset with the work I do on this board. Also, my years of employment with one of the largest labor unions in the world has equipped me with a deep understanding of negotiations and collective bargaining process.

What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?

My top three priorities while serving on the school board if re-elected are found below:

  1. Bring awareness and increase enrollment in our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that are available to our students that can equipped them with certifications and/or skills that they can use right after high school.
  2. Continue my support of community engagement by providing community workshops and encourage key partnerships that can provide resources to our students and families. Continue my work with the College and Career Readiness Summit, where I coordinate with our school system to bring colleges, universities, careers, and local agencies together to provide valuable resources to our students and families to assist with making next level education or career decisions.
  3. Engage our system to have our businesses who receive contracts from our system, to provide apprenticeship opportunities for our students. This will equip our students with hands-on experiences that would make them more marketable right out of high school.

What qualities do you believe are most important in a Chief Executive Officer?

A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the leader that provides the strategic direction for teaching and learning, fiscal accountability, and overall system accountability. The CEO must be transparent and must be a transformative leader for Prince George’s County Public Schools. A CEO must always maintain an open line of communication and listen to the needs of staff, parents, and students. A CEO must also have the qualifications to lead a large and complex system such as Prince George’s County Schools. An ideal CEO can lead with logic, intellect, and with their heart. Our students are our most precious gift and it is important that the CEO work with the School Board to deliver a high-quality system for families and students.

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Q & A with Belinda Queen, District 6 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. Belinda Queen is a candidate from District 6 (see district map here) running in the general election. Ms. Queen 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. Queen’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?

I am running for Board of Education because my heart and passion is for the growth and progress of our children. As for my background Growing up, I was an active member of the 4-H Club. I have internalized the essence of 4H: Hands, Head, Heart and Health. Hand for greater service, head for clearer thinking, heart for greater loyalty and health for better living. The 4H Motto is to “Make the Best Better” when I became of age, as a result of my 4H experience, I became a leader.

For over 35 years I have worked fulfill the 4H Motto. I would like the opportunity to apply that same concept within Prince George’s County Board of Education and for the Prince George’s County Schools.

I am a Proud PGCPS Graduate, mother of 12 Central High School graduates, 3 of my own, 5 of my stepchildren and 4 of my Foster/guardianship children. I currently have 2 still attending. I have eleven grandchildren in the school system as well. There can be no question that I have an invested interest in the successfulness of our school system.

I am ready to do all I can to see that, as a whole, We Win! I have volunteered in various PTA, PTSA and PTO positions along with being a past officer of the PGC Council of PTA’s. I’m still an active member of, at least, four schools. I have served and worked in the schools from North, South to Central from Wheatly ES, Thomas Claggett ES, Springhill Lake ES, Crossland. Walker Mill MS, Central HS and more.

I have worked as a substitute teacher, office worker or where I was needed for over two years and even served as Principal for a Day to get hands-on experience at the school.

As a believer of not just talking about it, but being about it I have gained a great deal of hands-on experience serving and giving back in the school system and to school-aged children (regardless if they were mine or not).

I have received many awards for my service as a parent and grandparent.  I am a strong community activist and involved in the Community as Chair of the District 3 Police Coffee Circle, VP of the Coalition of Central Civic Association, 37 years as an 4-H Leader and served as Wilburn VP for over 15 years in my Local Community.

In all this volunteer service, along with raising my family I have a real breadth of profound knowledge of the school system and will be able to draw from that experience and deliver as a school board member representing district 6.

Over the last 5 years I have learned so much in raising someone else’s children (diagnosed with several mental illnesses). For example, ADHD, Bi-Polar, Mood Disorder and Anger Management.

I have worked closely with the school, teachers and outside agencies to get them the education and help they deserve. My goal is for them to become productive citizens. All these experiences have prepared me to seek for this position.

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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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Q & A with Irene Holtzman, District 3 Board of Education Candidate

IreneHolzman2018-73-minThis is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Irene Holtzman is a candidate from District 3 (see district map here) running in the June 26 primary election. Ms. Holtzman answered questions generated by members of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

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 was born in raised in Maryland, and have lived in Prince George’s County for over two decades. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, I’ve been working in public education for nearly twenty years – as a teacher, an administrator and an educational advocate. Prince George’s County schools are full of potential but the dynamics of power and politics are interfering with our ability to see that potential realized.

I am running for Board of Education because students, teachers, and parents deserve a board member who puts children at the center of their decision making.

What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?

  • Making Prince George’s County a world-class place to teach While there are a number of factors that contribute to student success, not one is more powerful than an excellent educator. How can we make Prince George’s County THE destination for amazing teachers in our region? We must make sure that compensation for teachers is competitive, that they have the resources they need in the classroom, and that their voice is heard, considered, and acted upon in their schools.
  • Centering community voices in decision making Our school system’s direction must be informed by those closest to it – our students, parents, and teachers. The lines of communication must be open and accessible to all. Instituting better structures and processes to ensure that these voices are elevated will lead to a school system that is better equipped to ensure students are successful.
  • Transparency and accountability Data regarding schools, school performance, finance, and anything else under the Board’s authority should be readily available in a format that is understandable by the general public. Only then will the community be able to independently assess the impact of their tax dollars on our County’s youth and hold the Board and leadership accountable.

What qualities do you believe are most important in a Chief Executive Officer?

The CEO must have a bold vision for the future of our County’s schools and a strategy for achieving that vision. This vision must be informed by the on-the-ground experiences of our students, parents, teachers, and administrators and the CEO must commit to transparent decision-making and data-informed course correction when necessary. The CEO must also have the practical skills of managing people, finances, and other resources to achieve the goals set out in the strategic plan. Most importantly, the CEO must have the ability to work across difference, balancing politics, pragmatics, and possibility across a wide range of stakeholders for the good of our students.

If you had the opportunity to chair one of the existing Board of Education committees, which would you choose and why?

If given the opportunity to chair one of the existing Board of Education committees, I would choose the Academic Achievement Committee. One, as a former teacher and administrator, it is the one where I have the most expertise. More importantly, academic achievement is the ultimate goal of our schools and the place where the board has an incredible responsibility to ensure that its policies are supporting schools in ensuring amazing outcomes for all students.

What are your impressions of the current level of parent engagement in our schools, and what ideas do you have for improving/encouraging parent and community engagement? 

While there are many schools that enjoy high levels of parental engagement, we need to be mindful that our goal is for all parents to be engaged, not only in their child’s school, but in the vision setting and policy making for the County as a whole. Some ways to maximize that engagement include providing schools additional resources to engage their parents, holding board meetings at rotating locations throughout the County to facilitate parental participation, holding parent and community town hall meetings to allow an open forum for idea generation and exchange, and proactively surveying the community about what engagement opportunities are most meaningful and accessible to them.

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