Monica Goldson has experienced the first day of school in Prince George’s County for nearly 30 years as a teacher, math instructional specialist, principal and deputy superintendent.
She will now experience her first day as permanent CEO of Maryland’s second-largest school system on Tuesday.
Before Goldson smiles, hugs and shake hands with some of the 134,000 students, she chatted with some parents and their children at the ninth annual Back-2-School block party Aug. 17 at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex fieldhouse in Landover. Thousands poured into the fieldhouse where students received colorful backpacks filled with pencils, pens, paper and other materials.
Goldson, a former cheerleading coach at Suitland High School, even showcased some athletic moves with a hula hoop.
“Dr. Goldson has brought a new energy to our school system,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said at the block party. “The parents have confidence in her. I’ve been able to talk to our staff inside the system who also have a lot of confidence in her. She’s a really excellent leader and I’m looking forward to a great year.”
The school system seeks a smooth beginning to the 2019-20 school year and to overcome possible challenges such as the need to hire about 150 bus drivers. The county hosted a bus job fair Aug. 21 and provided paid training for attendees to receive a commercial license. Drivers can also receive a wage of nearly $20 an hour and benefits.
To ensure school safety, Goldson said all schools are equipped with a buzzer system and a camera to see parents and other visitors. Starting this school year, all high school teachers will be able to lock classroom doors from the inside in case of emergencies, or worse, an active shooter. It will be phased in the middle schools next year and then elementary schools two years from now.
“In a school system that’s as large as we are … there’s no way that every day will be perfect,” Goldson said Aug. 21 at her office in Upper Marlboro. “So, there’s always areas of improvement.”
Goldson talked about a myriad of topics such as the continued push for school construction dollars from the state, public education and parental advice. Here are a few of Goldson’s thoughts in her own words:
An $8B backlog
We have a large infrastructure and one that’s aging that has a backlog of $8 billion. There’s never a time when I’m not talking about improving our facilities for our students. We’re grateful because of the traditional route that we’ve taken through the Interagency [Commission on] School Construction (IAC). We’ll be able to begin the process of renovations [this school year] at William Wort Middle School, new Glenridge Area Middle School and the renovation of Cherokee Lane Elementary School. What we know is that it has taken us a very long to get to that point. Literally, we are on year five starting the process from the time we presented it to [the] board of education. Our proposal takes it to the [IAC]. Going through the approval process. We are now here. We realized we’ve got to find another process that moves a little faster than that. That is when the public-private partnership initiative comes in. The best way for me to describe it is that we have trains leaving from two different stations with the ultimate goal of building world-class facilities for our students. We are grateful that at the end of the last legislative session [in Annapolis], we were able to get the public-private partnership legislation passed. But there was never financial connection, or money to that. Now we have to go back [next year] and pled our case we still need those funds.
Public vs. Private
What’s interesting about it is when parents talk about putting their child in a private school, I know they haven’t done a whole lot of research. Typically, they go by class size. They really haven’t dug deep what our private schools offer versus what our public schools offer. What I know is that in our private schools, they are not required to hire certified teachers. What I know is that in our private schools, they don’t offer as many academic options as we do. We have over 1,000 students (this school year) who participate in dual enrollment in our day program and go to the community college and all they have to pay is the registration fee. Those aren’t the students who are in our specialty programs where they’re earning their high school diploma and their associate’s degree at the same time. I don’t know of a private school in the state of Maryland that offers an opportunity for a student to get their diploma in the day and their graduation in the morning and their associate’s degree that same day in the evening. What it tells me is that our parents sometimes go to what’s shiny, but don’t necessarily pay attention to all that we have to offer. There are so many opportunities. [Prince George’s school district] paid for every junior to take the SAT last school year during the school day. I would encourage every person who is considering private school to do their research. I have kids who I believe are extremely successful. All of that comes from true well-rounded upbringing and support of their parents through the public school process. There is no parent who is not going to want the best for their child and who is going to make that kind of investment. You are already making an investment through you tax-paying money. Why [pay] double?
Our kids have a phone because their parents purchased it. I remind them the child didn’t have the phone by themselves. It’s all of our due diligence. As a parent, both of my children have a cellphone. I get it. I want easy access to them, but I also have their passwords and have the ability to monitor their phone at any time and any given day. It is my responsibility to shut it down when they are abusing their rights. I need our parents to still be cognizance of their role of monitoring their child. All of our parents want what’s right with their children, but we find that parents begin to take their hands off as students get older. You’ll see a large amount of parent engagement at the elementary level. It begins to decrease at the middle and it gets even less at the high school level. Our parents need to be engaged with our kids from elementary all the way to high school. As a parent of a senior [at Oxon Hill High School], I encourage parents [to] still monitor their child, but do it in a way they are still fostering an opportunity for independence. I walk into the parent-teacher conference as a parent. I’m sitting at a student desk. I come into it knowing my child is not perfect. I already know that. He is a teenager. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great teenager. I check SchoolMax every week. I know there are some assignments that are late. I know when he has not turned in something. That falls squarely on him and I. That teacher spends a lot of time with my child and they see a different side of him. I know that and come in with the mindset: What can my child do better? That’s really what it is about.