UPPER MARLBORO – Having questions answered directly by the chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is a rare opportunity, but nearly a dozen Prince Georgians got that chance Monday night. For its final “Town Hall” meeting of the legislative year, the Prince George’s County Council hosted PGCPS leaders to have a […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Having questions answered directly by the chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is a rare opportunity, but nearly a dozen Prince Georgians got that chance Monday night.
For its final “Town Hall” meeting of the legislative year, the Prince George’s County Council hosted PGCPS leaders to have a conversation about several education and school system-related topics. The two entities met at the County Administration Building with a crowd of citizens invested in county education.
“The lion’s share of our tax dollars support education and we have a stake in the outcome, and the process and updates we review tonight are important because they are informing the council’s budget process that takes place next spring,” said Derrick Davis, chair of the county council.
The Town Hall focused on three major topics: the school system performance audit, the capital improvements plan and the comprehensive maintenance plan, but did venture into other subject matters as both the council and community brought their concerns forward.
Councilman Mel Franklin asked about specialty programs, the options students have as they progress through grade levels, and if there is equity in the programs. Councilwoman Deni Taveras also wanted to know what the county would do about making sure all students, particularly residents with lower income and Latinos, knew about, applied to and enrolled in specialty programs.
“What’s the plan?” Taveras asked. “How are we making sure that everybody can get access to these specialty programs so that we can be able to improve the equity in terms of accessibility?”
Wesley Watts, PGCPS chief operating officer, said the original intent was to start secondary school reform in clusters, ultimately having feeder programs into the high school programs. However, the school system is still in the process of growing those programs.
Kevin Maxwell, the head of the school system, added that PGCPS is in the process of starting up middle school programs that will directly feed to programs in the high schools like International Baccalaureate, art academies and STEM programs.
“We are aware of that and looking at it, but it’s a matter of resource and continuity. And quite frankly, we’re going to have to examine those programs and look at whether or not they are sustainable in the way they are currently rolled out in the district, which started five or six years ago,” Maxwell said.
In regards to equity, Maxwell said that conversation would be better had at a different time, since the team put together for the Town Hall did not include instructional staff and instead was a team focused on capital programs and maintenance. Davis suggested an in-depth conversation could happen in an upcoming committee meeting.
Other topics taken up by the council included several councilmembers asking about plans to address overcrowding, Councilwoman Mary Lehman asking PGCPS to consider rebuilding High Point before a new additional high school in the north, and Councilwoman Andrea Harrison discussing the role of community schools and Glenarden Woods Elementary, as well as the lack of bus drivers and bus lot conditions.
Taveras especially harped on the lack of space in schools in Northern Prince George’s County, saying they are out of room not only in the school housing, but out of space in temporary classrooms. She went as far as to ask about closing more under-enrolled schools to help accelerate the movement toward building five additional schools in the north.
However, Maxwell pointed out that while the Master Plan Support Project suggested closing 29 schools, the suggestion was to do so over the course of 20 years – and conditions could change. PGCPS has also used grants to expand programs and place new programs in the under-enrolled schools.
In addition, the PGCPS leader said the school system is not solely to blame for the slow progress on new schools.
“Our capital request was not funded for this year. We don’t own the only responsibility for this work. I can’t build you a school if we don’t have the money to build you a school. I can’t modernize a school. I can’t put a roof on it. We can’t print money; we don’t have a vault in the basement,” he said. “We need funding from the county government and the state government to do the work that is in the facilities master plan.”
Residents both in the audience and through Twitter also had the opportunity to ask their education-related questions. Parents from numerous schools came out to advocate for expanded or better programs, better facilities and, in one case, and outside restroom for the athletic facilities.
Alexandria Briggs-Blake, a parent of a 17-year-old student, said she came out to remind the school system and the county council that their decisions and indecisions affect students and they should remember that.
“I know you don’t forget about our students. I’m not saying you forget about them, but somehow it gets lost in the messaging. That what we’re doing and what we’re asking for, is for the betterment of our kids and our future and it’s important to keep that at the forefront.”