Q & A with K. Alexander Wallace, District 7 Board of Education Candidate

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This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2020 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. K. Alexander Wallace is a candidate from District 7 (see district map here) running in the June 2 primary election. Mr. Wallace 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?

Prior to my appointment in 2015 and election in 2016 to serve on the Board of Education, I spent nearly a decade advocating for the issues facing students and the youth of Maryland through my work serving on the Maryland Youth Advisory Council, the Maryland Higher Education Commission, and the University System of Maryland. For four years prior to my serve on the Board of Education, I also served in the Office of (late) State Senator Ulysses Currie (District 250 as his Legislative and Constituent Aide. It was through this position where I had, both, the pleasure and responsibility of briefing the senator on key educational issues facing the county and state, as well as advocate for students, families, and communities for educational equity, funding, and constituent services.

My academic background is rooted in Urban Public Policy and Administration with a study focus in Education, Housing, and Economic Policies. Through my academic career at Towson University (Undergraduate) and the University of Baltimore (Masters), I have been able to hone my intellectual understanding of educational policies and how they should be implemented.

Combining my experiences in advocacy, governmental affairs, and educational policy field of academic study, I have been able to be a meaningful voice to many of the impactful changes for our school system – from helping to develop our county’s Community Schools initiative and authoring the new Educational Equity policy to representing our county of the Board of Directors for the Maryland Association for Boards of Education and the Washington Areas Boards of Education, what I want to continue to bring to the Board of Education is a pillar of consistency in proper governing, an unapologetic nature towards educational equity, and a broad understanding of educational policy and law.

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Make Sure You Are Counted: Census 2020

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by T. Carter Ross

Despite the massive disruption we are all living with due to the current novel coronavirus pandemic, one American ritual is still happening — the decennial census. Making sure you and everyone in your household are counted is both a civic responsibility and critical to future funding for everything from public schools to public health to roads and bridges. Prince George’s County estimates that every person not counted means $1,825 less in federal funding per person per year. Not being counted costs our communities, including PGCPS, literally millions of dollars.

In addition, census count are used to determine the number of Congressional representatives for each state. The requirement for an “actual Enumeration” of everyone living in the United States is laid out in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The way the census is conducted and the level of detail included has varied over the years, but the count has been made every 10 years since 1790.

The 2020 Census is the first census to take a digital-first count. People are encouraged to fill out the questionnaire online at www.my2020census.gov. You may have received a letter with a census ID number, which helps with tracking responses, but you can use the site even if you do not have that number. If you prefer, you can also call the toll-free number 844-330-2020 to complete the census via telephone. In April, households that have not responded electronically will receive a paper questionnaire in the mail, and at some point in the summer they may receive an in-person visit from a census taker.

The questionnaire asks for basic information about who is living at an address on April 1, 2020, including name, gender, age, marital status, race and ethnicity, how people are related, and so forth. It does not ask about citizenship. (Some households are asked to fill out the American Community Survey, which is more detailed and asks more questions, including one about citizenship. Like the census, the ACS is used in distributing federal funding, as well as to assist state and local governments in long-term planning.)

There are scammers who will use the census to try and trick people into handing over personal information. The census never asks for banking or credit card information, your social security number, money or donations, or anything about political parties.

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Prince George’s County Parent Appointed to State Board of Education

86426424_190174975421114_5863933452117606400_nCongratulations to PGCPS Parent and PGCABS Committee Member Lori Morrow on her selection as the parent member for the Maryland State Board of Education! Lori’s name was included in the list of  “Green Bag” appointments submitted to the State Senate by Governor Hogan on Friday, February 14th for Senate confirmation.

Last year, the Maryland General Assembly passed SB529/HB0087, State Board of Education — Membership — Teacher and Parent Members. This legislation added two members to the Maryland State Board of Education, a teacher member and a parent member. The teacher member, Rachel McCusker of Carroll County, was elected in November 2019 through a process outlined by the Maryland State Educators Association. As the parent member, Lori was chosen by the Governor from a list of three names the Maryland Parent Teacher Association submitted in December 2019. 

Both the parent and teacher members will serve abbreviated terms for their first term. The parent Member will serve until June 2023 and the teacher member will serve until June 2022. Subsequent appointments for the positions will be 4-year terms, as is standard for the regular Board of Education Members appointed by the Governor.

As the parent of two children in Prince George’s County public schools, Lori has served in many volunteer roles including PTA President at Tulip Grove Elementary School and PTSO President at Benjamin Tasker Middle School. She has also served on the PGCPS Board of Education’s Parent and Community Advisory Council. Lori is a frequent contributor to our PGCABS blog (www.pgcabs.org) and one of the managers of our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pgcabschools). You can also follow her on Twitter (@geauxdores). 

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Changes Coming in PGCPS Transportation System

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by Lori Morrow

How many PGCPS buses did you see during your morning commute today? According to Prince George’s County Public Schools administration, there are over 1,000 PGCPS drivers handling 5,000 bus routes to transport upwards of 85,000 students to and from school every day. This makes PGCPS the tenth largest school transportation system in the country.

Unfortunately  a large system combined with a nationwide shortage of qualified drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) has led to headaches for students, parents, PGCPS staff, and elected officials across Prince George’s County. It is a frequent topic for social media posts, emails, and Board of Education testimony. On February 6th, a parent testified about buses being so crowded that students resort to sitting in the aisle. Despite years of monthly hiring fairs, the shortage persists. Student enrollment has rebounded over the past decade and continues to grow. Four thousand new students enrolled in PGCPS since the September 30, 2019 report by Pupil Accounting. The growth in specialty program offerings also means more students are being transported beyond their neighborhood school.

On February 5th, the PGCPS Administration presented a briefing on Transportation to the Education and Workforce Development Committee of the Prince George’s County Council. Chief Operating Officer Barry Stanton, Associate Superintendent for Support Services Mark Fossett, and Director of Transportation Rudy Saunders provided the committee with an update on the current status of the PGCPS Transportation system, including current challenges and how the school system is working to overcome them.

Persistent vacancies and absences in PGCPS Transportation create a unique challenge. When a teacher is absent, there is a pool of substitutes or other school staff that can fill in. When someone on the executive team is absent, the work may wait for a day or two. Students who need to get to school, however, cannot be set aside. PGCPS does not have a pool of substitute bus drivers. Lot foremen with CDLs can fill in but that leaves offices unattended. Other bus drivers pick up the extra routes, but they do not have the ability to be in multiple places at the same time. As a result, students are late and missing out on instruction every day.

In tackling this ongoing issue, PGCPS Chief Executive Officer Dr. Monica Goldson established a Transportation Task Force this past fall. Composed of staff and parents, the Task Force has met three times so far and is set to finish their work in March of 2020. They expect to provide Dr. Goldson with preliminary proposals by the end of February.

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Get Informed About This Year’s Operating Budget: Q & A Meeting on Jan. 22

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Budget season for Prince George’s County Public Schools is in full swing. The CEO’s proposed operating budget for Fiscal Year 2021 is now available on the PGCPS website. If you don’t have time to read the whole budget, consider reading the introduction, which includes specific changes in expenditures compared with last year’s budget (p. 15-17), as well as information on capital improvement projects (p. 19-23).  A less-detailed  Budget in Brief document is also available.

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools (PGCABS) is hosting, in collaboration with PGCPS staff, a question and answer session about the proposed operating budget on Wednesday, January 22, 6:00-7:30 pm at Ernest Everett Just Middle School. This will be an excellent opportunity for interested residents to pose questions to the PGCPS budget office staff about the proposed operating budget in order to be more prepared for advocacy at the Board of Education Public Hearings.  Questions may also be submitted in advance to PGCABS at https://tinyurl.com/2021budgetquestions to allow the staff time to prepare specific answers and tailor their presentation to community concerns.

 

The Board of Education has scheduled three public hearings around the county to solicit community input regarding the CEO’s proposed budget. These hearings will be held on January 21 at Northwestern HS, January 28 at Charles H Flowers HS, and February 4 at Crossland HS, all at 7 pm. In addition, February 11 is on the Board calendar as a possible make-up date, should any event be canceled by inclement weather.

To sign up to speak at the hearings, call the BOE office at 301-952-6115, or sign up online. Generally, each speaker is allowed three minutes for public comment, although the Board may reduce the amount of time allowed if there is a large number of speakers registered. Individuals are also encouraged to bring a hard copy of their remarks to submit for the record.

Facebook event page for this year’s Budget Q & A: https://www.facebook.com/events/847007482416112/

Notes from last year’s (FY 2020) Budget Q&A: https://pgcabs.org/2019/01/23/notes-from-pgcps-budget-qa-session/

School Budget Questions Answered from 2019: https://pgcabs.org/2018/03/10/prince-georges-schools-budget-questions-answered-for-fy-2019/

Prince George’s County Education Community Roundtable Meets Monthly

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Prince George’s County Education Community Roundtable is a group of residents, teachers, and community leaders created to form an alliance to support education in our county. The group meets monthly to discuss issues surrounding education in our community. Together, we can find solutions and get results on how to address these issues.

Education Roundtable Profile:

The Education Roundtable uses evidence-based research to address education issues within the community and implements those tools to develop solutions.

Goals:

• Meet Monthly to address issues and work together to create solutions.
• Give every member a voice to share ideas and together work to help solve issues.

Monthly meetings are usually held on the last Wednesday of the month. However, December’s meeting will be held on December 18, due to the holiday.

Join the Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/pgeducationroundtable/

Send us an email: Chair Anthony Tilghman anthonytilghman@gmail.com

Maryland Report Cards: What Should a Parent Know?

by Lori Morrow

On December 3rd, the Maryland State Department of Education released the 2019 Maryland Report Card ratings for all of the public schools in the state.  The Maryland Report Card is the accountability system that aligns with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

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Here are a few highlights and links to help you understand the ratings and use this information to improve your school:

  1. 2019 is the second year that the Maryland Report Card ratings have been published, however there are additional items added this year, including performance on science tests; school improvement since 2018; and the school survey by students and educators. https://reportcard.msde.maryland.gov/HelpGuides/ReportCard_New_2019_v4a.pdf
  1. Maryland Report Card scores are available for each school at https://reportcard.msde.maryland.gov. In addition, there is an overall Report Card for each county although there is no star rating assigned at the county level.
  1. Each school receives a percent of the total points earned; a percentile ranking compared to other schools; and an overall star rating based on the point percentage. The Report Card breaks down the score by individual lines so that stakeholders can see how various factors impacted the overall score. The MSDE Guide to Understanding Your 2019 Maryland School Report Card goes into greater detail on how to interpret scores at each school level: https://reportcard.msde.maryland.gov/HelpGuides/MSDE_ReportCard_UserGuide_2019_v5.pdf
  1. The Maryland School Survey is worth 15 points of the 35-point School Quality and Student Success indicator. It is administered to all students in grades 5-11 and all educators. https://reportcard.msde.maryland.gov/HelpGuides/ReportCard_School_Survey_2019_v4.pdf
  1. Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) scores are incorporated into the Report Card in the Academic Achievement and Academic Progress components. Spring 2019 was the last year that Maryland administered the PARCC test for Math and English Language Arts (ELA), and the state is currently in the process of developing new tests that will take less time than the previous PARCC tests. View the October 2019 MCAP Update here: http://www.marylandpublicschools.org/stateboard/Documents/10222019/TabF-MdComprehensiveAssessmentProgram.pdf
  1. Want to hear more directly from MSDE? The slides and video of the presentation at the State Board of Education are available online. This portion of the meeting starts around the 42-minute mark. http://www.marylandpublicschools.org/stateboard/Pages/meeting-agendas/2019/2019-12-03.aspx

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Board of Education Meeting Highlights from Nov. 7

by Khadija Bowen

Chair Dr. Thornton showed video from robot visit to Flowers High school. The event was organized by an alum of the school who now works for the robotics company that created the technology. The robot, very lifelike, was a hit with the students. The purpose of the event was to promote digital literacy and careers in STEM.

Upcoming Hearings/Meetings:

  • Nov. 11 Policy and Governance
  • Nov. 12 Public Boundary Hearing
  • Nov. 14 Academic Achievement Committee
  • Nov. 21 Financial Affairs meeting

All  meetings/ hearings are open to the public and anyone can sign up to speak by phone or by email.

Dr. Goldson report and highlights:

The last of her community listening sessions wrapped up. School bus transportation challenges remain at the top of the list of issues. A task force will be formed to analyze arrival times, hubs, routes and departure times. Task force will consist of parents, school board members, PGCPS staff, and union reps. An interim report is due to the CEO in January and will address break fix resolutions that can be implemented immediately.

Note: Bus driver job fairs are held every other week.

Listening session for employees wrapped up. Key takeaways were compensation, support staff, professional development, and compensation for substitute teachers.

Dr. Goldson thanked the board for passing the public-private partnership to build 18 schools in 7 years. With the private funding obtained, schools will be built in record time. Normal time to build one school is 7 years.

Administration is still pushing to promote and implement the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission as well as the building fund. The two are not separate and will both be implemented.

Deadline for specialty school lottery is Nov. 15. IB and Performing arts lottery has been extended to Dec 1. Charter school lottery open and will close January 31st.

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What I Wish I Had Known About IEPs

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by Katie Moran

I wish I knew then what I know now.  My daughter’s superpower is dyslexia, or a specific learning disability in reading.  We’ve been working so hard to bring awareness this month in honor of #DyslexiaAwarenessMonth! She also has a diagnosis of dysgraphia, ADHD, and executive functioning disorder. 

I’m writing this for those parents at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the fight. If you’ve never been a parent in this fight, know that it’s intimidating and heartbreaking.  We need support and empathy. And I’m writing this to thank all the teachers that try to speak up but don’t have the resources to help in all the ways they want to; I know you are doing the best you can.  I’m writing this for the special education aides who listen and remind our kids that even though they are different, they are just as good as every other neurotypical kid.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful for a successful and productive Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting:  

  • Prepare: Request all test scores prior to the meeting.  This includes any standardized tests such as Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), Measures of Academic Progress for Reading (MAP-R), or Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA).  It could also be helpful to loop in the testing coordinator at your school when doing this. I find myself being caught off guard when this information is presented in the meeting (whether it be a shockingly low or high score) when school staff has had time to prepare. It’s also good to have all your child’s grades printed from the Schoolmax Family Portal the day you request the IEP meeting. I like to print them the week before the IEP meeting. That will allow you to identify inconsistencies if grades were input right before an IEP meeting, although you hope that would never be the case.  Ask who will be in attendance at the meeting. I always find this to be very important in my mental preparation. 
  • Listen:  This was a hard one for me to learn.  We all feel so passionate about our children and usually by the time we’ve requested our IEP/504 meeting, our kid has already been struggling in school for some time.  As parents, we have our own preconceived notions about our children, sometimes contrary to the information being presented in the meeting. However, it’s really important to take notes, fully listen, and ask follow up questions during the teacher’s presentation.  Working as a team is in the best interest of your child. You each have a unique perspective that together, has a lot to offer.
  • Evidence:  Keep your child’s school papers, and not just the bad ones.  I used to go to IEP meetings and it felt like teachers brought all of my child’s very best work and I brought all of my child’s worst work.  We were both proving a point. I have learned to bring work that I’m proud of and I bring a few pieces that highlight what I’d like to discuss about the IEP.
  • When you get overwhelmed: Ask for a minute.  It is okay to step out of that meeting and take a breath. Go outside. Call a friend and ask for advice if something doesn’t sound right.  Google it. Know your rights. It is okay to reschedule meeting if you have lost control. It is okay to cry.
  • Never sign your 504 or IEP at the meeting.  Take it with you and read it over, read it over many times.  Make sure you put everything in writing. What I mean when I say that is to send an email summary of the meeting within 24 hours of when the meeting took place.  If it’s not documented in that time frame in writing (and email counts), it never happened. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend hiring an advocate if you can afford it. The conversation is so much different when you have an advocate present. I understand that is a luxury not everyone can afford so here are some additional websites that can help you know your rights as you prepare for your meetings. An alternative is to bring a friend who can take detailed notes during the meeting.  Get a binder and track everything!  

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Five Board of Ed Seats on the 2020 Ballot: Will You Run?

2020-Elections

by T. Carter Ross

PGCABS does not endorse candidates but aims to provide information to the Prince George’s County community about those who are running and the candidacy process. We will publish candidate profiles and Q&As in early spring. Although the April Democratic and Republican primaries are closed primaries, registered independent voters can vote on Board of Education races.

While the Democratic contest for the 2020 presidential may be the biggest political contest of the moment, decisions about down-ticket races here in Prince George’s County are being made over the coming weeks. Five of the nine elected seats on the Board of Education — Districts 1, 4, 5, 7, and 8 — are on the ballot in the April primary election with the top-two vote-getters in each race advancing to the November general election.

The seats are currently held by David Murray (District 1), Raaheela Ahmed (District 5), K. Alexander Wallace (District 7), and Edward Burroughs III (District 8). The District 4 seat is currently vacant, pending an appointment by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. Any or all of the sitting board members may decide to seek re-election; however, anyone who files as a candidate may also run. The main requirement for a Board of Education seat is that the candidate must live in the district they are seeking to represent.

Board of Education races are non-partisan; however, to appear on the April 28, 2020, primary ballots, candidates must file in person with the Prince George’s County Board of Elections a certificate of candidacy before 9 p.m. on January 24, 2020.

As part of the filing process, candidates must fill out several forms outlining who they are, where they live, and the race they are entering. There is also a filing fee of $25. Candidates must also file a financial disclosure as part of the state of Maryland’s ethics rules. Additional forms and affidavits may be required, depending upon circumstances. The State Board of Elections candidacy information page outlines the full requirements and includes links to the required forms. (While the Board of Education races are non-partisan, the information under Democrat and/or Republican is the process used.)

Finally, candidates must also establish a Candidate Campaign Committee, which can be done electronically via the Maryland Campaign Reporting Information (MCRIS) website. As part of this a dedicated campaign bank account must be established. Before any money is spent or raised for a campaign, this committee must be organized and approved by the State Board of Elections. The MCRIS system is used throughout the election cycle to report contributions and expenditures as part of required filings. The public can use the same system to view current and past campaign finance reports, as well as information about any actions taken by the state regarding problems with campaign finance reporting.

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