Middle School Talented and Gifted Programs Need Improvement

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The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Khadija Bowen

My daughter wakes up at 6:30 every morning. She gets herself ready for school but she does not have to do much, because she has to wear a uniform — plain khaki pants and plain green polo shirt. She cannot make her hair fancy because the school dress code says headbands and other accessories that make her an individual are strictly prohibited. Before she runs out of the house, she grabs her mesh backpack and goes to her bus stop at 7:45. This school only allows clear or mesh backpacks for the children’s own protection. On her hour-and-a-half long bus ride, she must wear ear phones and play music to drown out the chaos and drama around her.

She hopes there will not be a fight, but she cannot tell because of all the noise and horseplay that is happening around her. She gets to school and keeps her head down because that was the advice she was given from older friends that also attended this school. “Keep your head down, try to ignore the drama and stay close to a few good friends,” they told her. Even though there are cameras everywhere, watching their every movement, somehow violence is still prevalent and random locker searches are still necessary. So she continues to follow the instructions and walk to her class hoping there will not be any drama today, but she has lost confidence that this advice will prove useful.

She used to be confident that her inside knowledge was key to navigating the hallways and common areas at this school, but that was prior to her good friend being trampled during an altercation that she was not a part of. Her friend was sent home from school and needed medical attention due to the incident. The young girl returned to school the next day with a boot on her foot. My daughter and her friends followed the instructions but my daughter’s friend still got hurt. Now my daughter wonders, “Will I be next?”

Today, she gets to her classes unscathed, but she is only partially stimulated because either she has a substitute or her teachers are so burnt out that they have lost the enthusiasm to develop stimulating lesson plans. She has had a substitute in English for most of the year, so she knows there won’t be much to do in that class, but she focuses on the instruction as much as she can and completes whatever she is tasked to do. In the past, math has been so unengaging that she and her friends paint their nails or just have side conversations to get through that class period. Finally, the day is nearly complete. After the last bell rings, she finds her iPod again, puts in her earphones, and prepares herself for the hour-and-a-half ride home.

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Every Comment From the Jan 24 Budget Hearing

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The Prince George’s County Board of Education held its first public hearing on the fiscal year 2018 operating budget on January 24, at Charles Herbert Flowers High School. A Board of Education budget work session immediately preceded the hearing.

Fifteen members of the public spoke at the hearing. Their comments are recapped below:

  1. At 1:45:23 in the video, special educator: Increase the amount of funding for special education beyond what is proposed in the budget. “Special educators are leaving the county and field of special education in droves.” Special educators spend twelve to fourteen hours a week on legally required compliance paperwork. “Time spent on compliance paperwork is time spent out of the classroom and away from servicing our students.
  2.  At 1:48:02, special educator, paraprofessional in autism program: Adequately budget for our special education and autism programs. Our special education programs are not adequately staffed to safely manage the students. Special educators are close to burnout. “How many times must I document that a student ran away or tried to throw himself down the stairs before an additional staff person is approved? Also, when a specialist comes to observe our students to assess staffing or proper placement, why not have him or her actually do the job for an entire day instead of making an assessment based on a 15 or 20 minute slice of time?”
  3. At 1:50:57, special educator: It has become increasingly hard to do the job without adequate staffing. Describes a “day in the life of a special education teacher,” including assessing newly referred students to special education, writing IEPs, preparing paperwork for meetings, collecting data, collaborating with teachers, completing follow-up paperwork for IEP meetings, writing progress reports, providing assessment accommodations for students, as well as general school duties such as lunch duty. It is often necessary to spend several hours over the weekend working on
  4. At 1:53:42, special educator: “Special educators often fulfill two distinct jobs: We’re case managers, and we’re specialized instructors. However, we only have 45 minutes of planning time to fulfill these dual roles. . . .The overwhelming amount of time required to complete paperwork diminishes the amount of time that we have to provide supports in the classroom, with less specialized instruction for students with disabilities. . . I’m here today because so many of my colleagues leave the field of special education each year, due to the overwhelming pressure of compliance, as paperwork often becomes a priority over teaching.” Increased special education funding is needed for additional special educators, instructional specialists, and IEP clerks.
  5. At 1:56:43, parent of 9th grader at Bowie High School who has recently transitioned from private school: “As my daughter complained about sweltering classrooms at the start of the school year and frigid classrooms last month, I have to ask, is academic excellence really a priority? As my daughter has had a substitute teacher for science the entire semester and about three weeks for math, I must ask, how can we expect her to excel on the standardized tests . . . ?” Pay attention to a hierarchy of needs. There are tough choices to be made. Should such items as culture training for teachers (at around $610,000) and additional world languages funding ($1.2 million) compete for basic needs such as heating and cooling, or instruction in math and English?
  6. At 1:59:45, parent of a 5th grade Heather Hills Elementary student: There is confusion surrounding next year’s placement of some rising middle school Talented and Gifted (TAG) students from Heather Hills Elementary. Students who had anticipated attending the TAG center at Kenmoor Middle School next year received a letter stating that they must enroll in the TAG program at Benjamin Tasker Middle School instead. However, there has been no other mention of a TAG center at Benjamin Tasker Middle School. After numerous phone calls, parents were able to learn nothing about a potential TAG center at Tasker. The request is that students should be permitted to remain at Kenmoor until the TAG center at Tasker is fully operational.
  7. At 2:02:24, community member and parent of PGCPS alumni: Was hired in 2011 as a senior purchasing specialist, and subsequently discovered and reported waste, fraud, and abuse in the school system. The Strategic Plan implemented in 2016 and scheduled to go through 2018 does not actually address the goals of academic excellence, high-performing workforce, safe and supportive environments , family and community engagement, and organizational effectiveness. “How is it that we have a plan that went from 2016 to 2018, and you have not shown us any data or statistics that support what you’re doing?”
  8. At 2:05:25, community member and “watchdog advocate”: The budget document contains several discrepancies, and it is difficult, in some cases, to track where the money is going. For example, 17 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions are listed at a cost of $2.8 million to develop the Strategic Plan and obtaining grants in support of the plan.
  9. At 2:08:13, student at Whitehall Elementary School: School lacks adequate heating. “It is hard being so cold in my classroom. Sometimes when I write, I shiver . . . It can be hard to take tests too, because all I can think about is how cold I am.”
  10. At 2:09: 14, PTA president at Whitehall Elementary School: There are currently 833 open work orders related to heat for the 208 schools in the county. Whitehall’s heat is not working properly, even after months of requests for repairs. Classroom temperatures have been documented to be as low as 49 degrees, and kids are wearing coats and long johns in the classroom. Whitehall Elementary is overenrolled, with 576 students at a school that has a capacity for 420 students. “Please consider allowing room in your budget to repair so many of our buildings that our failing your scholars. You cannot continue to have high expectations academically while requiring such low maintenance standards of yourselves.” 

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Charter Schools vs. Traditional Public Schools: One Parent’s Experience

Prince George’s County has several publicly funded charter schools. Though charter schools administer the same statewide tests and are accountable to the Board of Education for student achievement, the curricula, instructional programs, and policies may be different than in traditional public schools. Each charter school has its own Board of Directors. Policies, procedures, philosophies, and approaches to education vary from school to school.

Here, one parent relates her experiences with a charter school and a traditional public school in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS). 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 Khadija B.

IMG_6342Picture this: My husband and I wake up at 5 am to get our kids ready for their first day of school. One child attends a charter school more than 25 minutes away from home (in good traffic), and transportation is not provided. Our other child attends school a little closer, but she is in the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program. She is attending her dedicated TAG center, and transportation is provided.

I put my third grader on the private bus — that I pay out-of-pocket for — and I follow the bus to his school. Last year, he was left at this school by a different private bus company, so I hope that this will minimize the chances of a repeat of last year.

I follow the bus all the way to the charter school, only to get to the door and have the teacher say, “Students only, no parents allowed.”
“What?! I just drove twenty-five minutes, fought through traffic, took time off from work, just so that I could see and meet my child’s teacher and find out where his class will be, and you are telling me I can’t even come in the building?”

The teacher replies unapologetically, “Aww, so sorry, but you have to leave now. You can meet the teacher at Back to School Night in two weeks.”

I don’t even know how the classes are arranged. Will he be changing classes this year? Is there a PE uniform? And what about the fact that I was able to walk my son to class last year, on his first day? All of these concerns are running through my head.

Fortunately, I am not the only parent with this concern. Unfortunately, some parents are more outspoken than I am. I hear cursing. Some parents refuse to go.

I really do not want to leave without meeting his teacher and making sure she knows he wears glasses and needs to be in the front of the class, but I do not want to make a scene and embarrass him. After all, he has to see these teachers every day, not I. I decide to leave the school, but I can’t help but ask, “Excuse me, where was the email notification?” What I want to say is, “Where is your empathy for all of these parents who care and want to show their support and cheer their children on to class for their first day of school?”

Silence is what I receive, and also a shrug of the shoulder.

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PGCPS Elementary Foreign Language Offerings

by Katherine McElhenny

IMG_7154Have you ever wondered about the foreign language offerings at your local elementary school? Or how your school compares to others in the district?

No? Neither had I until recently.

Our family was out at a restaurant when we ran into a friend whose daughter had attended nursery school with my daughter. Immediately, the two kindergartners began comparing their schools. Our friend was proud of her brand new uniforms and Chinese classes. My daughter boasted of her Russian classes.

The parents were taken aback.

Chinese? Russian? Who knew? What was offered elsewhere? My curiosity was piqued.

A compilation of the district’s foreign language offerings was nowhere to be found on the PGCPS website.  Instead, the chart below was cobbled together from emails and calls to the World Language Office along with teachers and staff at individual schools.

Is your elementary school one of over one hundred that is not listed?  According to PGCPS, those students do not receive any foreign language instruction.

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