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UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education, met for their first public meeting of the year to hear from the community, address EXCEL Academy’s request for their charter renewal and discuss what to do about overcrowding in schools, particularly in High Point High School, on Jan. 24.
The Board of Education (BOE) came into the meeting with a new slate of members from a new chair and vice chair, to four new sitting board members. Beginning as usual with the report of the chair and the report of the CEO, the atmosphere at the meeting was diligent and focused as the members dove right into their agenda for the night.
Among concerns brought up to the board by the public was requests for building improvements to various schools. Kelly Burgess, a teacher at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School, asked for the BOE to consider improvements to the 50-year-old building that include removing water stains and mold, fixing the heating and cooling facilities and repainting.
“I think our students deserve better,” Burgess said. “They deserve to walk into a school where all the water fountains work in the system and where the air conditioning works in the summer months and the heat works in the winter.”
Michele Clarke, Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA) member and teacher at Kenmoor Early Childhood Center had similar grievances about her school. She said they were supposed to have an overhaul of their facilities some time ago, but it was never completed resulting in issues with plumbing among other things. Additionally, she said they lack many resources required for educating students from pre-k to age four.
School psychologists from the PGCPS Office of Psychological Services attended the meeting to inform the BOE about the dire need for school psychologists throughout the school system.
According to Alyssa Kaufman, a school psychologist at Benjamin Foulois, Gwynn Park Middle School and Fairmont Heights High School, the Prince George’s County average of school psychologist-per-students is 1,451 students per psychologist, over half the recommended 500-700 student-per-psychologist leaving PGCPS students with “inadequate and inequitable access to psychological services.”
“In light of this data, we are asking the board to consider adding 25 positions for the 2020 school year,” Kaufman said. “Significant increases in staffing psychological services will better support our children’s social, emotional and behavioral needs and ultimately their academic success.”
Following the public comments, the BOE discussed the renewal of the EXCEL Academy Public Charter School. The school opened in 2006 and currently serves 414 students in grades K-8. This would be the school’s third renewal since it began.
However, before the BOE could take a vote on the renewal request, several members had a lot of questions for the EXCEL Academy representatives who were in the audience.
As part of their renewal request, the charter school had asked to extend their zip code preferences to encompass more students, however, since the school is located in a generally low-income area, this would increase the number of free and reduced meals (FARMS) students. Over half of the students at the school are already in the FARMS program.
Board Member Curtis Valentine wanted to know the justification for increasing the number of FARMS students. He and Student Board Member Amanya Paige wanted to know what resources would be allocated to those students as they typically perform lower than non-FARMS students. Raheela Ahmed (District 5) was also concerned that the school had not had a performance review in several years.
“I’d just like to add in 2005 when we were in the process of researching and writing the application for the proposed EXCEL Academy Charter School, we started with a leads assessment. Our target area has always been the inside the beltway schools,” said EXCEL Academy Founder Denise Johnson. “We also followed that up with a series of community meetings, and we were able to determine that there was clearly a need for increased options within the public school system.”
The BOE passed the renewal of EXCEL Academy’s charter and the next discussion addressed the overcrowding of schools in the northern half of the county, particularly in High Point High School which has been awaiting reconstruction for years and will continue to see more overcrowding in the coming years if the problem is not solved.
In an effort to expedite the expansion of High Point, David Murray (District 1) requested that the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) team complete a feasibility study for the school by June 1 so that the changes that needed to be made could get started as soon as possible.
However, it is not that simple as it was explained a feasibility study usually takes four to five months at the cost of about $7,500 and the construction of a school building would usually take four to five years. The cost for a new High Point High School, which is currently overcrowded by 30 percent, would be about $120 million.
The BOE passed the agenda item with the intent of completing a feasibility study by the end of April and finding an architect to work on the school 90 days later.