But What Can I Do? Thoughts After a Contentious School Board Meeting

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The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Robyn Kravitz

What an interesting, frustrating, challenging, yet energetic time to be a Prince George’s County resident!

I’m new-ish to the county. My family moved here two years ago thanks to the Air Force. However, in that time I have seen many hurdles within our school system. The most recent hurdle involves the employment, performance, and resignation of Dr. Maxwell from PGCPS. Here are some basic facts that feel important:

  1. Dr. Maxwell’s contract was renewed for 4 years by County Executive Baker in 2017.
  2. Dr. Maxwell announced that he would transition out of the position. But he was not fired.
  3. Other counties in Maryland have been required to pay large severance packages upon the departure of their CEO or Superintendent on top of massive legal fees.
  4. The Board of Education approved a package that is expected to be accepted by Dr. Maxwell and provide a clear path to Dr. Maxwell’s departure from PGCPS.

Now as parents, where do we go from here? I see two very distinct actions we need to take head on — be an educated voter and volunteer in your local parent-teacher organization.

If you love the decision by the Board of the Education, get out and vote this fall for the candidates that supported this package through the system. If you disagree with the package from the Board of Education, get out and vote this fall for the candidates that offer a view you align with. The way we hold our elected officials accountable for the decisions they make is to show up at the polls in November and vote.

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Memo to Staff: Don’t Send Work-Related Emails on the Weekend

Natalie Barnes is a mathematics middle school teacher in the county. The views expressed are the author’s own.

by Natalie Barnes

On November 2, Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell sent a memo to all staff regarding weekend email communication:

“The nature of our work often requires us to miss opportunities to spend time with loved ones. I would like to announce a change that hopefully encourages you to seek a better work-life balance.

“Effective Friday, November 4, I am strongly discouraging weekend email communication. Please refrain from sending emails after 6:00 pm on Fridays unless it is an emergency situation.

“You may resume sending emails Monday morning. I ask that supervisors maintain current contact information for all staff members in the event of an emergency.

“As always, thank you for all of the work that you do on behalf of our students and schools.”

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Notes from the Oct. 4 Tele-Town Hall Meeting on Student Safety

On Tuesday, October 4, CEO Kevin Maxwell hosted a Telephone Town Hall Meeting on student safety. Parents were invited to ask questions about plans to improve student safety in Prince George’s County Public Schools.

by Laura Rammelsberg

Speakers: Dr. Kevin Maxwell, CEO
Dr. Segun Eubanks, PGCPS Board of Education Chair
Rex Barrett, Director of Security

12,000 callers on the Telephone Town Hall

Dr. Maxwell

PGCPS Facts:
131,000 Students
20,000 Employees
200+ schools
One of the largest school districts in the country

This is Dr. Maxwell’s 4th year as CEO of the district, and there was a lot of work that needed to be done since he became CEO. He wants safe classrooms and high quality education for all children. He was angered by all of these situations and his heart goes out to the children and families that have been mistreated.

Employees are being trained to know what to do, when to do it, and how to report. Some employees didn’t understand their responsibility in regards to reporting.

They are in the process of implementing goals set forth by the Student Safety Task Force.

Dr. Eubanks

Every one of the 131,000 students in the district deserved love, respect, a high quality education, and safety that they are entitled to and the School Board will take the steps to make sure that happens.

The district will move beyond this time stronger, safer more loving than it has ever been. But this will take work.

The School Board knows that they need to regain parents’ trust and they want and will work to gain it back. 

Mr. Barrett

Significant improvements have been made to school district security since Dr. Maxwell became CEO. Cameras at every school.

Security staff are in uniforms, so people know who they are. They train with the police department on active shooter response twice a year, do other training including conflict-resolution training. They do lockdown drills at different times of the day four times a year.

Recent events — social media threats. The police department has a system that intercepts threats to schools. “Say something, see something” campaign. Students and staff report suspicious activity. Many students told school about the current threat. Five arrests so far, and more arrests are coming. Additional police presence has been at all of the schools, so parents and children felt safe.

Questions and Answers 

(answers provided by Dr. Maxwell unless indicated otherwise)

Q: Safety Communication — how is info given re: bomb scare or inappropriate action of staff towards students?

A: Dr. Maxwell agrees communication has not been great or timely. Administration has been reviewing timelines. In re: to bomb scares, they work with law enforcement, but they can’t release some information as investigations are sometimes ongoing.

Q: How is risk assessed at each school — people walking in & out?

A: They are assessing this at the moment.

Q: How are teachers protected against allegations?

A: The PGCPS has a responsibility to make sure children are safe first and foremost. Teachers will be removed if it is deemed that children are unsafe. They are working to make sure assessment and disciplinary action are taken in a timely manner.

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Head Start: Eight Things We’ve Learned from the Latest Documents

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

report from WUSA 9 has uncovered new details about the Head Start situation. The news outlet has gained access to two new documents:

  • an email dated January 19, 2016 from the mother of the three-year-old who was allegedly forced to mop his own urine, addressed to seven PGCPS employees, including CEO Kevin Maxwell, Head Start Supervisor Sandra Kee, and Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Gladys Whitehead
  • an email dated April 7, 2016 from Chief of Staff George Margolies, addressed to Gladys Whitehead, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Shawn Joseph, who was then serving as Deputy Superintendent

Here’s what we learn from the email written by the mother of the alleged victim:

  • CEO Maxwell was informed of the alleged abuse as early as January 19. He received an email that detailed the Head Start teacher’s treatment of the alleged victim and the aftermath.
  • This was not an isolated incident. The mother of the alleged victim writes that she had previously spoken to the Head Start teacher when she learned that the teacher had swatted her son on the bottom. She writes, “After getting on her she swore to never do it again, we were cool so I gave her a chance but she kept crossing the line!”
  • Another child in the same class was also humiliated by the teacher under similar circumstances. According to the mother who wrote the email, another student was also required to mop up her own urine. The teacher “kept calling her a baby” and did not let her eat her breakfast with the other children.
  • After the abuse was reported, the Head Start teacher was not immediately removed from the classroom. As of January 19, according to the mother of the victim, the teacher was “allowed to come right back to work like nothing ever happened.” The mother first reported the incident on December 22, 2015.
  • The mother was told by several PGCPS employees not to “alert the media and seek legal action.”

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