Democratic Central Committee Decides Not to Endorse BOE Candidates

By Tommi Makila

At a rather contentious and chaotic meeting on September 20, 2016, the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee voted against making endorsements in the general election races for the Board of Education (BOE).

At the previous Central Committee meeting—held on July 19, 2016—the school board endorsements had been on the agenda. The Committee had voted on the Democratic “sample ballot” as a whole, including candidates for congressional and BOE races as well as ballot questions. At the July meeting, sixteen Central Committee members voted for the sample ballot and eleven voted against it. Apparently Central Committee members had left the July meeting thinking that the sample ballot, including the BOE endorsements, had been approved. However, someone realized only after the meeting that the sample ballot approval required a two-thirds majority. Thus, it was determined that the vote on the sample ballot had failed.

At the September 20 meeting of the Central Committee, a motion was made to reconsider the July 19 vote on the sample ballot. The motion to reconsider failed. After this, two new motions related to sample ballots were made, but the Committee Chair ruled the motions out of order.

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Notes on the Sept. 8th Board of Education Meeting, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

by Laura Rammelsberg

To view the agenda for the September 8th Board of Education meeting in BoardDocs, go here. Video of the entire meeting is below.

See notes on the first portion of the meeting here.

AGENDA ITEMS, at 1:22:01.

4.1 Head Start Update / 11.2 Head Start Policy Council Minutes and Follow UP

CEO: On August 29, Head Start opened up for 2017 school year. Very few problems. Members of executive team visited every Head Start classroom in district and will continue to do so. In the summer, all Head Start staff received training on suspected child abuse and neglect and additional training for positive behavior techniques, which is requirement for Head Start. Trainings will continue throughout the year. Issues are being sent to Deputy Superintendents. Conducted several unannounced observations and will continue them throughout the school year. Discussions are underway with Administration for Children and Families, PGCPS administration, four school board members and members of the County Council. Special Section on PGCPS website with updates. Their priority is that Head Start children remain in school with no disruptions.

Questions, beginning at 1:24:34.

Mr. Blocker: What are next steps for Head Start Program? Clarity into the investigation. Internal investigation? How are you will inform the public? He is disappointed how the situation is being handled by administration.

CEO Response: We have been doing fact-finding and investigation, identified people who were a part of the original concerns. Also doing additional trainings and continuing conversation. There is an internal investigation. They will continue to update as additional information becomes available to them. Pieces of personnel investigations that can be public and others not. Taking action, but there are things that they cannot legally discuss in public about individual employees. There can be appeals to BOE (and some already have been appealed). “So I’m glad that you’re disappointed, Mr. Blocker, but you should wait until you have all the facts to be disappointed.”

Mr. Burroughs, at 1:28:50: What is being done to keep our students are safe? Original report from Federal Government mentioned there are cases that weren’t reported so what about the non-Head Start classes? Telling parents that policies have changed is not sufficient. Initial notice was sent to Administration in February. What actions were taken then? What corrective measures taken then?

CEO Response: We have been very clear publicly that we went through the entire process of retraining the staff over the past couple of months. Also, the Student Safety Task Force results are known, Board acted and changed policy. They have been evaluating the training since.

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Notes on the Sept. 8th Board of Education Meeting, Part 1

These notes cover the first hour and twenty minutes of the September 8th Prince George’s County Board of Education meeting, including the public comment portion of the meeting. Notes on the remainder of the meeting are here.

by Laura Rammelsberg

To view the agenda for the Board of Education meeting in BoardDocs, go here. Video of the entire meeting is below.

REPORT OF THE CHAIR, at 17:01 in the video

Attendance Awareness Month is September. Showing up is half the battle.

Buck Lodge Middle School Science Teacher Lazaro was selected for President Obama’s Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She is among 212 educators from across the nation to win this award. She received a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation and a letter from President Obama.

Statement about Head Start Program, at 18:38: Board wants the Head Start students to continue to receive a high quality education and services this year and beyond. They recognize a close review and examination of what led to the situation must take place. Disciplinary actions were announced last week. This is a first step to keep students safe. They must provide full transparency into this situation. They must examine policies, procedures and actions, but also take stock at the underlying culture in the system and how it must be transformed. Dr. Maxwell and Administration have been asked to provide a full review and public written debriefing. He’s inviting the Federal Government’s Administration for Children and Families to address the Board of Education at an upcoming public meeting. Their external investigation shined light on an area in which we must clearly improve. The Board and Public should hear how they arrived at their conclusions and what solutions they offer.

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Notes on the August 25th Board of Education Meeting

by Laura Rammelsberg

To view the agenda for the August 25th Board Meeting in BoardDocs, go here.

 

At 3:33 in the video. Student Board Member Juwan Blocker called for a Motion (Emergency Item) to discuss Head Start; Jacobs seconded the motion to discuss Head Start. Chairman Eubanks said it should be an Agenda Item so that the CEO and Board have time to prepare. Request was denied.

MOTION: At 9:15. Board Member Burroughs requested a Federal & State External Investigation into Head Start Case. Motion required 2/3 majority vote.
Yes – Anderson, Blocker, Burroughs, Epps, Jacobs
No –Boston ?, Eubanks, Hernandez, Quinteros-Grady, Valentine, Chairman Eubanks
Abstain – Roche, Wallace, Williams
Motion failed.

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Party Politics, Exhibit A: Sample Ballots

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

2016 sample ballot mailer2

Last week, I eagerly listened to a segment on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU radio show that addressed our politicized school board elections. David Cahn, Co-Chair of Citizens for an Elected Board, and Cheryl Landis, District 5 Board of Education Candidate and Chair of the Democratic Central Committee for Prince George’s County were guests on the show.

At one point, Mr. Nnamdi seemed to understate—or even misstate—the concern that so many of us have about partisan meddling in our school board elections. Speaking to Cheryl Landis, Mr. Nnamdi said, “Mr. Cahn and presumably others are concerned that you make it clear in some of your campaigning that you are a Democrat.”

If Mr. Nnamdi thinks that simply stating one’s party affiliation sums up the problem with partisan campaigns for school board, he is sadly missing the point.

Among the campaign literature for April’s primary election was a mailer sent to District 5 residents touting County Executive Baker’s endorsed candidates. Note the “sample ballot” on page 2 (pictured above), with the banner at the top reading, “2016 Democratic Primary Sample Ballot, Take this with you when you vote.” Names of the preferred candidates are highlighted; names of the other candidates are printed so lightly that only those with sharp eyesight can read them.

When a school board candidate is presented on a sample ballot as the preferred choice (or, in this case, the only choice) of party leaders, it is nearly impossible for any other candidate to prevail. This is the kind of partisan meddling that has led many county residents to conclude that party leaders are stacking the board with hand-selected members, members who owe them their loyalty.

 

Should the Democratic Central Committee Endorse School Board Candidates?

Tommi Makila wrote the following letter urging the Democratic Central Committee not to endorse specific Board of Education candidates in the upcoming elections.

July 17, 2016

TO: Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee

RE: Board of Education election endorsements

Dear Central Committee Members:

I am a Democratic community activist who is closely involved in the Prince George’s County Public Schools. I have served on the PTSA board of my child’s school for five years. I have also served for two years as the legislative chair of the Prince George’s County PTA Council, and during that time I have also served on the Maryland PTA legislative committee. I am a member of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools and a founding member of the Alliance for Nonpartisan School Board Elections. I am writing this letter, however, as a concerned parent and individual community activist.

I am writing to you to urge that the Democratic Central Committee not make any endorsements in the November 2016 Prince George’s County Board of Education elections. As the Central Committee makes its decision about potential endorsements in BOE races, I would like you to keep the following issues in mind:

1. By Maryland law, school board elections are to be nonpartisan. I have a hard time coming up with anything else that could be as much against the spirit of this law than the central committee of one of the major parties making endorsements in these races.

2. In a down ballot race such as a BOE election, a Democratic Central Committee endorsement and its accompanying significant financial benefit in the form of the Democratic sample ballot is nearly certain to be decisive. In a down ballot race, it is virtually impossible for any opponent to garner enough financial resources to match the Democratic Party resources. I want us voters to decide the race based on the ideas the candidates present to us. I don’t want the Central Committee with its significant financial resources to make the decision for us voters.

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Prince George’s Schools Advocate on Kojo Nnamdi Show

Tommi Makila coordinates the Alliance for Nonpartisan School Board Elections. He is the parent of a student in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system.

by Tommi Makila

A long-time school advocate, David Cahn, will be a guest on WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show on Wednesday, July 13 at noon. You can listen to the show on WAMU’s frequency of 88.5 MHz, or online. The show is typically divided into two half-hour segments; at this time it is unknown which segment David will be on.

The show’s website assigns this title to the segment: “Is Partisan Politics Poisoning Prince George’s School Board?” David Cahn will address the school board restructuring that happened under House Bill 1107. He is a long-time proponent of a fully elected school board, serving as co-chair of the advocacy group Citizens for an Elected Board. (You can connect with the group through its Facebook page.)

David was invited to be on the Kojo Nnamdi Show after the Washington Post published an opinion piece regarding school board elections that he and I co-authored.

HB 1107 has been getting a lot of attention in the school advocate circles as of late, so please consider calling in to the show to discuss the issue. WAMU’s call-in number is 1-800-433-8850.

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The Grading Policy Changes: One Parent’s View

Chelai Johnson is a Prince George’s County parent. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Chelai Johnson

100_3384 (1)I applaud Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) for being proactive and convening a project team to assess current grading procedures and policies. A lot of thought and research was put forth by the team. However, there are two recommendations that concern me.

Recommendation #4: Teachers must give grades of no less than 50% on all assignments for good faith effort.

To get credit for putting forth effort is a good thought when kids have struggled. But, as a parent, I would like to think that my children put forth effort in all work, as that’s the expectation my husband and I set in our home. On the other hand, as a parent, I will never know my children’s true level of mastering a subject area if I don’t have access to their true grade. How can they put forth more effort if we don’t know the true effort that was made in the first place?

This leads me to Recommendation #1: Teachers will assign a quarter grade of no less than 50% for quarters one, two and three.

If a student’s grades are not reflective of 50%, why act as if they earned higher averages? Student grades should reflect what they earn. The key word is earned. If I were to decide to obtain a tutor to assist my children or tap into other avenues of assistance, it’s difficult to mark progression with a minimum of 50% implemented. Moving from a 20% to 50% shows a level of early mastery. But the way PGCPS presents the grade, you won’t see progression at the lower levels of mastery, from quarter to quarter. Even though 20% is low, 20 to 50 is a large jump that should not be discounted.

Although there are two recommendations that I oppose, there are two that I support strongly:

Recommendation #7: Students shall have one additional opportunity to improve their score on a qualifying assessment/project which demonstrates knowledge of course content, skills and standards.

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Parents, Board Address Transportation Issues

by Genevieve Demos Kelley
IMG_6355The Prince George’s County Board of Education held its last meeting of the school year on June 14th and adopted—in a 9 to 4 vote—a $1.93 billion Annual Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2017. Dissenting votes were cast by Edward Burroughs III, Beverly Anderson, Verjeana Jacobs, and Zabrina Epps.

The budget was significantly smaller than the $2 billion that the Board had requested from the County Executive in February. Dozens of cuts were made during the budget reconciliation process, including the $1.27 million proposal to hire 25 additional bus drivers for the 2016-2017 school year.

While the issue of bus transportation was by no means the only topic of the evening, it got plenty of attention from parents, students, Board members, and PGCPS employees. Here are some highlights of the transportation-related comments made during the meeting.

During the Public Comment portion:

A parent at 49:34 in the video of the meeting:

I was disappointed to see that the additional 25 bus drivers were cut in the reconciliation budget. The ongoing shortage of bus drivers has led to doubled-up routes, significant delays, and even the inability to answer the transportation hotline in the morning, because staff are needed to drive . . . Without the additional drivers, I sincerely hope that the transportation department is spending the summer looking for a more efficient way to get students where they need to be, because what we have now is not working well. Students cannot learn if they cannot get to school.

A Northwestern High student representing the Hyattsville Teen Advisory Committee at 1:11:17 (this is a must-watch testimony):

We did some research to find out what was causing the problem of late school buses, and we found two causes: poor pay and poor working conditions [boisterous applause from audience].  .  . [Bus drivers] are often disrespected by students on the bus, and students say that they don’t even know their bus drivers’ names. We recommend that all schools include bus drivers in their orientation at the beginning of the year, and the principal introduce the bus drivers to students and review the rules and consequences for riding the bus [more applause from audience]. We recommend that the school board pass a bus driver appreciation day for the district to honor and recognize the work of bus drivers who support our students and their schools.

Jossalyn Ford, chief steward for the Transportation Chapter of Local 2250 bus driver at 1:17:26:

We work very hard every day to transport the children who attend Prince George’s County Public Schools to and from safely. As we approach the end of the year, we are short of help. As you have very well know that we are doubling, tripling runs. We are tired. We’re doing our very best to transport these kids every single day. But as we do so, we have bus attendants also working with us who have been waiting two or more years to become permanent, to have benefits. HR keeps saying, ‘We don’t have the positions.’ They don’t have the money to hire these people.  .  . And we, as a local, can’t defend a sub-employee .  .  . But I’m telling you right now, we cannot go into next year doing what we’re doing this year.  .  . We have meetings on a month-to-month basis, where we come together and try to address all these issues, and nothing is being done.

A parent at 1:25:16:

I’m mom of a third grader at Tulip Grove Elementary, and for the past several weeks, we’ve been experiencing inconsistent and unreliable bus pickups in the morning. In particular, because of the doubling up on the routes and the tripling up on the routes, you know, sometimes it will be fifteen to thirty minutes before the children are picked up to go to school. We’ve had occasions when the bus just hasn’t appeared .  .  . [W]e could use some communication in some way shape or form, some kind of system in place that could notify parents of an issue, if a bus is going to be late, if a bus is not going to arrive. I’m thinking something similar to bus ETA, like what WMATA uses, something like that. Where we can have warning of notice of a late arrival time . . .If we know, as parent, what’s happening, what to expect, we can make other plans to get our children to school and to get ourselves to work on time. . . I would really urge you to reconsider the staffing levels for bus drivers, because we need to get these kids to school, rather than leave them standing out on the corner for 30 minutes in the morning.

During the Budget Consent Agenda Discussion:

Board member Verjeana Jacobs’s comments at 1:35:03 regarding the value of hiring additional bus drivers vs. adding Lacrosse as a varsity sport:

It’s really disheartening that our employees, bus drivers included, have gone years without adequate funding in the budget, and every year we expect them to just accept that we don’t have money, and it’s just not acceptable .  .  .  A lot of people in my district [District 5], let’s just be clear, love lacrosse. And I do too. But not at the expense of bus drivers who have to get our kids safe here every day, and not at the expense of class size, math specialists, and reading specialists.

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Charter Schools, Specialty Programs, and the Issue of Equitable Access

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The lively discussion about equitable access to College Park Academy that took place during last month’s Board of Education meeting (beginning at 1:51:27 in the video) is must-watch TV—and not just for the moment when Board Chair Segun Eubanks told Edward Burroughs to “shut up and let the parliamentarian answer the question (at 1:54:50).”

Board Member Edward Burroughs (District 8) proposed amending the resolution granting a one-year extension to College Park Academy, a public charter school for students in grades six through nine which offers blended learning in partnership with the University of Maryland. Referring to the University of Maryland’s request that some slots be allotted to the children of University employees and to residents of College Park, Burroughs emphasized that all students, including “our most disadvantaged students,” should have access to the charter school, “not the select few, not those that come from the elite class in the county or in College Park.”

Burroughs’s amendment—which was adopted after a vote by the Board—adds the clause, “whereas the Board of Education wants to ensure equity and access for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status or zip code,” to the language of the resolution.

Contributing to the conversation surrounding equitable access, Board Member Jeana Jacobs (District 5) raised the question of whether children with special needs were being well-served at the school: “You do a review of our special needs population that’s there. There is some suggestion that they’re encouraged to home school or go to their neighborhood school.” (For Jacobs’s remarks, go to 2:06:20 in the video.)

What do the numbers say? Are “our most disadvantaged students” well-represented at College Park Academy? Data from the 2015 Maryland Report Card suggest that College Park Academy serves disproportionately few students needing special services, particularly when compared with the six closest neighboring middle schools (see map of area school locations here).

The table below shows the percentages of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Meals (FARMs), who have limited English proficiency (LEP), and who receive special education services, respectively, at the seven schools listed.

SmallChartv2

Percentages of students qualifying for Free and Reduced Meals, with Limited English Proficiency, receiving special education. An asterisk (*)  is used to indicate fewer than ten students in a category1. Source: 2015 Maryland Report Card, “Students Receiving Special Services”

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