Embattled Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell announced Tuesday that he plans to step down at the end of the school year.
Maxwell, who became the leader of the Maryland’s second-largest school system in August 2013, said in a statement he will work with the school board to ensure a smooth transition for the 2018-19 school year.
“I have decided to focus on my transition from Prince George’s County Public Schools,” he said. “The numerous distractions that have occurred over the course of this school year are unlike anything I’ve experienced in four decades of working in public education. Without question, they have taken a toll on students, families and staff. If is clear that whoever becomes the next county executive plans to make a leadership change.”
Thanks to legislation presented by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and approved by state lawmakers that went into effect in 2013, the county executive can appoint the schools CEO, four school board members and the board’s chair and vice chair.
State legislation presented in Annapolis to slightly restructure the school board failed to pass last month.
Maxwell’s decision, first reported by WRC-TV (Channel 4), comes in the wake several controversies that have plagued the schools system over the past two years, including:
• February 2016: police charged a former elementary employee with producing child pornography;
• August 2016: the school board voted to relinquish control of the Head Start program after a federal agency found allegations of child abuse and stripped the system of more than $6 million in funding;
• November: the state Department of Education released an audit that discovered staff changed grades for some high school seniors who didn’t have proper documentation to graduate or were simply ineligible; and
• March and April: three school board members ask County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to investigate alleged unauthorized pay raises by Maxwell to central office staff.
One of the school board members, Edward Burroughs III, said the focus will now be to attract a new CEO, also known as a superintendent, that will move the system beyond future scandals.
Burroughs, who along with colleagues Raaheela Ahmed and David Murray, sent Baker letters to request he examine why Maxwell allegedly authorized salary increases for employees between 9 percent to 14 percent.
Although state law allows Maxwell to hire and set salaries, those three board members say the salaries were designated for employees outside his office.
“Today is an important day,” Burroughs said Tuesday. “It is long overdue.”
Ahmed texted a statement to The Washington Informer while out of town Tuesday.
“Prince George’s County students and families deserve ethical leadership,” she said. “I hope that Dr. Maxwell’s successor will be the type of honest, engaging and authentic leader our system deserves.”
Baker, a staunch supporter of Maxwell and the work instituted in the school system, issued a statement Tuesday.
“I want to thank Dr. Maxwell, a native Prince Georgian, for his service here as a teacher, administrator and CEO,” Baker said. “Under his leadership, we have expanded all day pre-kindergarten, provided more language arts and other specialty programs, steadily increased enrollment and won national acclaim for our programs and students.
“This announcement allows the focus to return to our students and their families as they celebrate graduation and decide where to go to college or start a career,” he said. “It also means that we will have a smooth and orderly transition.”
Maxwell, the first superintendent reappointed in Prince George’s in almost 25 years, still has three more years remaining on a four-year contract.
During his tenure, the schools system saw a marked increase in test scores and opened two international high schools and the region’s only designated arts integration office.
Other achievements under Maxwell’s watch include:
• increased enrollment since 2012 from 125,000 students to more than 132,000 currently;
• the opening of new schools such as Fairmount Heights High School; and
• the establishment of the Junior Achievement Finance Park in Landover.
Because of the scandals, however, Maxwell received heavy criticism from those outside and inside the county such as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, at least three candidates for Prince George’s County executive and former NAACP President Ben Jealous.
“Kevin Maxwell’s departure is long overdue and should’ve happened sooner, if only Rushern Baker had the courage to fire him,” Jealous, who is running against Baker in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, said in a statement. “Maxwell’s departure does not resolve legitimate questions about Baker’s lack of leadership in responding to scandals that have eroded trust in the county’s school system.”
The county’s teachers’ union also expressed disappointment and frustration among teachers and other staff and lack of accountability with the school board’s hybrid structure.
“As educators, we hope this means we are moving in a different direction, but the issues in the Prince George’s County School system go well beyond Dr. Maxwell,” Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the county’s Educators Association, said in a statement. “There are deep structural problems and an unacceptable lack of accountability that must be addressed. We still need a fully elected school board. We still need adequate funding for our schools. When it comes to selecting new leadership at PGCPS in the days ahead, teachers, parents and students deserve a seat at the table.”