Moving the Needle: Six Low-Cost Suggestions for Improving Our Schools

Tommi Makila, a PGCPS parent and community activist, offers his suggestions for improving the school system. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

This spring we heard that our County Executive, PGCPS CEO, and Board of Education members all wanted to “move the needle” when it comes to our schools and their performance. The prescription offered to achieve this boost was clear: more money and new programs.IMG_6404

I beg to differ with this view. Funding increases alone will not make PGCPS great. In fact, if we don’t change the way we run the school system, no amount of new funding will make a meaningful difference. I believe we could make significant strides just by focusing on what we already do, but doing it better, with minimal additional expenditures.

Of course, it is easy to say that we should run the system better. If we want real improvements, we must be specific in our suggestions. I want to open the conversation by sharing a few no-cost and low-cost ideas to improve our schools:

  • Back-to-school event at every school before school starts: This is all about preparedness from day one and catching parents and students when they are most excited about the upcoming school year. Most PGCPS schools have their only back-to-school event several weeks into the school year. The system-wide Back-to-School Fair at the Show Place Arena may be nice, but it attracts only a fraction of our student and parent population. What we need is an event before the school starts at every single school, as school-specific information is what parents and students want and need the most. Thanks to parent advocacy, for the last few years my son’s school has organized its own Back-to-School Fair right before school starts. According to the principal, it is the school’s best attended event.
  • Timely electronic communications: All schools should have good, up-to-date websites and they should utilize other forms of electronic communications. For example, I have heard from numerous parents that their schools collect email addresses from parents, but never use them. All teachers should have websites or use other electronic communication methods. Improvements in these areas will help both students and parents. How can you expect true parental engagement if parents don’t know what is happening at the school?
    This is an area where my son’s school, Accokeek Academy, has made great strides. When my son started at the school, its website was completely static and had badly outdated information. Now the site is informative and updated nearly daily during the school year, and important notices go out through email, text alerts, and social media. Any principal wanting to learn how to do electronic communications should talk to the crew at Accokeek Academy.

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2014 Maryland State Audit Calls for Better Use of Transportation Funds

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

A Financial Management Practices Audit Report dated February 2014 identified 23 areas of needed improvement in the internal controls and cost-effective processes and policies of Prince George’s County Public Schools. The audit was performed by the Office of Legislative Services of the Maryland General Assembly, with field work being conducted in 2011 and 2012.

Highlighted in the report were recommendations for improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of bus transportation services. From page one of the report:

We found that PGCPS did not use its automated bus routing software to ensure the efficient use of its fleet of 1,146 buses. Furthermore, since the data contained in the routing system appeared to be unreliable and other manual processes were not effective, PGCPS was unable to assess bus utilization.

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Buses Running Up to 40 Minutes Late at Prince George’s County Middle School

A middle school teacher reports that at her school a significant number of school buses have been arriving late for the afternoon pick-up.

busesSince my planning period (preparation period with no students in the classroom) happens to be the last class of the day, I am automatically assigned to afternoon bus duty. For most of the school  year, there were usually only one or two late buses at my school on any given day. On days with bad weather, perhaps that number would jump to four or five buses.

However, in the past few weeks, these numbers have drastically changed. Of the seventeen buses that service my middle school, only four to eight are on time any given day. Some buses consistently arrive at 4:30 pm, a full 40 minutes after school has ended. In fact, one bus’s new schedule is it to arrive at 4:05 pm (already fifteen minutes after school has ended), run its route, and then come back at around 4:30 pm to run another route.

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