Community Grills School Superintendent Finalists

Gale Horton Gay | 3/27/2013, 11:49 a.m.

The three finalists vying for the Prince George's County public schools superintendent job were formally introduced to the county in a day full of meet-and-greets that ended with a grilling by the community.

Eric J. Becoats, superintendent of Durham Public Schools; Harrison A. Peters, chief of Chicago Public Schools, and Alvin L. Crawley, who has been serving as interim superintendent of Prince George's County Public Schools since September 2012 and previously as deputy chief of programming for the District's public schools, spent March 19 meeting with school officials, political and business leaders, clergy, teachers and staff, parents and students. The day started at 7 a.m. for the trio and didn't wrap up until 9 p.m.

At a nearly three-hour community forum held at the Board of Education's office in Upper Marlboro, the candidates addressed a standing-room-only crowd of about 150 people and the school board. The candidates provided opening statements and then fielded questions from the audience in 45-minute sessions.

"This is an opportunity for you to be involved in helping to shape the future of Prince George's public schools and our county," said the forum's facilitator Charlene M. Dukes, president of Prince George's Community College.

Questions from the audience ran the gamut - which included instruction, discipline, budget, special needs services, truancy, bullying and testing. Several people asked the candidates about Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker's interest in having the superintendent report to him.

Becoats, who has a doctorate in education, took the lead. He talked about his "track record of success" and his belief in engaging the community. He cited collaboration, commitment and continuous improvement as the means to being successful.

"I will stop at nothing less than until it is done," said Becoats.

One of the first people to question Becoats asked why he was leaving the Durham school system before his strategic plan was complete. Becoats responded that his One Vision One Durham strategic plan launched in 2011has reached almost 86 percent of its goals.

Melody Spruill, who said she has an 8-year-old son in Prince George's County schools, said county leaders refer negatively to student performance and asked Becoats how he would change that thinking.

He said a change of culture is needed and that it's critical to better publicize the good things going on in the school system.

Crawley, who has a doctorate in education, talked about his coming to the county at a time of uncertainty and upheaval with a bus driver shortage and concerns about teacher recruitment and retention. He added that during his tenure he has visited 55 schools, met with 200 teachers and staff and had conversations with more than 500 students.

Among his goals for the county's school system: re-establishment of full-day pre-kindergarten, examination of options for alternative programs and continuing to hire "highly effective" staff.

"We are a good system, but we can be a better system," said Crawley.

A young woman who said she had been bullied out of Bowie High School and had an uncertified teacher who ignored the bullying asked Crawley how he would keep incompetent teachers out of classrooms.