OXON HILL — Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Interim CEO Monica Goldson held the first of three listening sessions to hear the concerns of parents at Oxon Hill High School on Wednesday, Oct. 17.
The event, in collaboration with the Prince George’s County NAACP, drew about 50 parents, students and concerned community members gathered in the auditorium of the school. During the listening session, 11 people voiced their questions and comments to Goldson, PGCPS Partnerships and Development Officer Barbara Holt Streeter and NAACP President Robert Ross.
Comments from those in attendance included concerns about teacher pay, overcrowding of classrooms, lack of transparency within the school system, transportation issues and the improvement of school buildings. Many of them expressed that they had sent their children or grandchildren to private school, or were considering sending them to private school, due to the issues within PGCPS.
A couple of people brought up concerns about the water issues at the nearby John Hanson Montessori School and Valley View Elementary School and the need for a new elementary school in the Oxon Hill area.
“In southern Prince George’s County, as always, I felt like we are always underrepresented here,” said Kamala Long. “It’s very disheartening to know that these schools look the exact same as when I went to school there.”
People called for improvement of necessities such as school libraries and the implementation of a media specialist in all schools as well as the lack of an auditorium or performance space at Benjamin D. Foulois Creative and Performing Arts Academy. Concerns such as these fell back on the expressed need for more funding in the school system to make these improvements.
Further, the parents asked for transparency in the school system and consistency, such as the mixed messages over how to submit questions for this listening session. People questioned why it is so difficult to get in touch with the PGCPS central office and how the lack of communication has led to late bus issues, specifically at Apple Grove Elementary School.
“We need consistent messages, and it needs to come from one voice, whoever that voice is going to be,” said Oxon Hill High School PTA President Tanya Sweat. “We need transparency. We are tired of getting our information from Fox 5 about our school system. We need to hear it from our school leaders first.”
Lukisha Gibbs said that her experience with PGCPS has been disappointing and that there is something broken within the school system that needs to be fixed.
“I believe in the power of education and making change,” she said. “I have my kids here and I’m at a turning point, trying to make a decision of whether or not we’re going to remain or not. I’m one of those people who are kind of watching. I think the experience is consistent amongst many, many parents. It starts at the front door; it starts at the front office. That’s where it really starts. If we can get that right, whether it’s the door of the school or the door of the central office, I think that’s a start.”
Sweat said she and her husband have lived in Prince George’s county for seven years and in the DMV for 20. They debated whether to send their kids to public or private school. As they are both products of the public school system, they decided to give it a chance but the results have been disappointing for them as well.
“When I started looking at the report card for PGCPS and I realized we’re at the bottom of the barrel for the state, it’s like ‘wait a minute, what’s going on?’” she said. “I hear our leadership saying our county has the highest performing minority population in the state and when we do well the state does well but my heartburn with that is you’re telling me that my brown and black children cannot perform at the level of Charles County or St. Mary’s County or Montgomery County, and I find that unacceptable.”
Ross mentioned how when he came in as president, the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP was in disarray. With consistency and hard work, the organization was able to pick itself up off the ground, and he has confidence that PGCPS will do the same.
“I hope they can build trust in the school system and allow the school system and the community to come together to work on the issues together,” he said.
Goldson emphasized at the beginning of the session her goal since taking office was to address five areas of focus: staff compensation, ensuring safety, academic excellence, effective organization and community engagement which is where the listening sessions come into play.
“What I can say to you is, we didn’t get here overnight,” she said in her closing remarks. “And it’s going to take more than overnight for us to get to where we’re going but what I reassure you is that I am committed to making sure that we have changes so that you can be proud of PGCPS.”
As for whether Goldson’s appointment is a step in the right direction for PGCPS, there were mixed feelings among the parents in attendance.
“I think having this listening event is great to voice any concerns,” said Loretta Wilson. “I like the response, her team already connected with a lot of people that had questions. I can’t stress enough that sense of urgency. There is something that’s broken in the PG County school system, and Dr. Goldson is ready to tackle that.”
Despite her issues with PGCPS, Sweat agreed that the school system may be headed in the right direction under Goldson’s leadership and hopes that she steers clear of the politics that have long been involved. Meanwhile, Gibbs is still carefully unsure of whether this new leadership is what the community needs.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I think time will tell but I definitely am willing to support her vision.”
Two more listening sessions are scheduled so far. The next one was on Oct. 22 at Bowie Center for the Performing Arts and the final session will be Oct. 30 at Charles H. Flowers High School from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.