Prince George’s County parents and residents offered numerous suggestions to improve education in the county during a parent engagement meeting Saturday, Feb. 17 at TGI Fridays in Forestville.
Among the suggestions were for county public schools to offer more technology for special-needs students, as well as relaxing restrictions for union members to serve on the school board.
“People are steady throwing rocks [on social media]. Out of all these rocks being thrown, I have yet to see one person say, ‘I have an idea,'” said Delegate Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro. “The reason I brought everyone together is I need your help. It will take a collaborative effort to make things happen.”
The county education system has been under intense scrutiny in recent years as various negative headlines marred its public schools, including a grade-inflation scandal and high absenteeism among the past two senior classes.
The Maryland State Board of Education reviewed the county’s response to the grade-inflation audit last month. The state board meets Feb. 27 in Baltimore and could offer a decision on the county’s next steps.
At the TGI Friday’s, while some drank coffee and munched on fruit, no one spoke of animosity toward school leadership or placed blame for the recent troubles.
Earnest Moore, who chairs the parental advisory committee, stressed trying to find solutions isn’t about money. The school system has proposed a $2.1 billion fiscal 2019 budget to boost academic programs, cultural training and family and community engagement.
“It’s about unity,” he said. “We need to come together.”
Attendees received a choice of seven committees to join based on their expertise and even passion for the topic. The groups are: special education; restorative practices and bullying; charter and public school law; teacher and administrative policy embitterment; public school improvement; minority male community service and mentorship; and English Language Learner.
Robin Williams, a former elementary school teacher and instructional coach in the District, signed up for the teacher committee.
“I hope to get a better understand and what we can all to help student achievement,” said Williams, who now runs a nonprofit organization called Educational Empowerment Solutions.
Each committee will meet separately and provide recommendations on the respective subject matter. Everyone will reconvene in 30 days and establish a timeline and draft reports.
The goal would be to complete a final report and present it to both the school board and county council by June.
The more than two dozen attendees also heard from Delegate Jay Walker (D-District 26) of Fort Washington, who provided an update on several pieces of legislation under review that heavily emphasize education.
The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on 17 bills Thursday, Feb. 15. Five of them dealt with Prince George’s education, including a proposal on whether to change the structure and governance of the school board.
Critics of the board’s current hybrid structure — four appointed and 10 elected — argue it doesn’t hold the board accountable and allows schools system CEO Kevin Maxwell to manage without stronger oversight. The board has a high school student who serves, but is chosen by a regional Student Government Association and doesn’t vote on the budget, school closings and personnel matters.
Other proposed changes include making the panel an all-elected board, allowing members to select the board chair, vice chair and schools CEO, also known as the superintendent, and to shrink the current 14-member board to 10.
According to proposed legislation, the four appointed members — three by the county executive and another by the county council — would be terminated the day after the law goes into effect on June 1.
So far, Walker said the county’s delegation only recommended approval for school board members to choose a chair and vice chair.
“The most important votes to take place in the upcoming election … is school board,” Walker said Saturday at the parent meeting. “Vote wisely.”