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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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 June 26 primary election. Ms. Grady 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 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 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 June 26 primary election. Ms. Boozer-Strother 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 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 2nd 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 soon-to-be-enacted 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 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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Q & A with Catherine Bennett Nwosu, District 3 Board of Education Candidate

Catherine Bennett Nwosu

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Catherine Bennett Nwosu is a candidate from District 3 (see district map here) running in the June 26 primary election. Ms. Nwosu 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?

My journey began as a K-12 student within the PGCPS system. I am a proud graduate of High Point HS and a first generation college graduate. During high school, I was inspired by my teachers to pursue education and graduated with my degree in English as a Second Language. I currently serve as Director of Extended Learning at a charter school network in Washington, DC, where I am responsible for afterschool programming across three elementary campuses. My daily responsibilities include staffing, compliance, budget, human resources, and curriculum.
I love the work I do currently, but I have continually seen the academic divide that exists in schools across our region. I’m tired of complaining about the challenges seen in my community and want to step up and work to bridge this divide in Prince George’s County. I know there is promise and potential here.

I am running for the Board of Education in Prince George’s County because of my concerns that we are not meeting the needs of ALL of our students in this district. Reforming our local schools is an urgent concern for me, especially since I myself am a mom with children in the school system. I want to push our thinking about the academic future of my children and children throughout our neighborhood because they deserve the absolute best everyday, and they are not receiving that now. But we can change that.

As a parent, I see how quickly our children grow both at home and in educational settings. We don’t have time to point fingers or make excuses. I’m ready to work collaboratively with parents, teachers, leaders, community members, students and board members to envision what we want to see in our schools, then work to make that a reality.

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

The three major areas that I’d like to focus on as a board member are academic equality, collaboration, and capital improvement. Far too many schools in District 3 are overcrowded and academically underperforming, and it must be fixed.

We have recently been approved for a new elementary and middle school to be built in our area. Leveraging Public and Private Partnerships (P3) will go a long way to ensure that our schools are built efficiently, with quality, and within budget. However, it is not enough to focus solely on new school buildings that have been approved. The CIP budget must also be simultaneously used to make needed repairs to our existing schools. It’s not enough to create new seats – we have to improve the quality of the ones we have too.

We also know that there has been a lot of new home construction in our area recently without any planning for creating additional seats for the children living there. I will work collaboratively with the county council to ensure systems across our government that speak to one another and get proactive about school capacity needs.

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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 June 26 primary election. Ms. Williams 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?

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 June 26 primary election. Mr. Puracken 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 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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