Bigger focus on Latinos, ending duplicated services among Pr. George’s school goals

The Prince George’s County Public Schools System needs to focus more on its Latino students, improve the image of the district through a “rebranding” effort and conduct an internal audit of its central office to eliminate duplicated services, according to a transition report presented to the school board Thursday.

“The challenges that the system is facing are multifaceted and interconnected,” said Lillian M. Lowery, the state superintendent of schools and co-chair of the 31-member transition team. “To address them will require a great deal of focused effort and strategic use of resources.”

Kevin M. Maxwell, who was hired in July as the school system’s chief executive officer, assembled the team of parents, school system employees, and local and regional educators late last year to analyze the school system and offer recommendations for improving it.

The committee reviewed data, conducted interviews, and identified both the district’s strengths and areas needing more attention. It focused its efforts on teaching and learning, communication and community engagement, the use of resources and the organizational structure.

“The transition team’s report provides us with sound recommendations for moving our school district forward and ensuring that every student graduates prepared for college and careers,” Maxwell said. “I greatly appreciate the hard work that went into preparing this document and thank all 31 of the team members for their input and expertise over the past several months.”

Maxwell joined the district after County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) asked Maryland’s General Assembly to allow him to assume control over the school system. Baker wanted to be in charge of the school superintendent and the district’s $1.7 billion budget as well as reduce the Board of Education’s power.

After contentious debate, state lawmakers offered Baker a compromise, allowing him to select the schools chief, appoint three members to a new hybrid school board and choose the board leadership.

Maxwell and the new board have had a rocky start adjusting to the new governance structure. Last month, district leaders held a two-day retreat to address the transition and ways to forge better working relationships.

But the school system has taken several significant steps, including some outlined in the report, to move the district forward since the new governance law went into effect.

The transition team acknowledged those efforts. For example, the district hired a diversity officer whose focus is on the growing Latino community.

It has recommended increasing the number of speciality programs to provide parents with greater options for their children. And Maxwell has restructured his cabinet because, he said, he noticed that some jobs were not being done adequately and that children were not being properly served because there was less coordination.

The growing Latino student population “should get more attention than it is receiving,” Betty Molina Morgan, a member of the transition team, said at Thursday’s presentation.

Latinos have the lowest graduation rate and the highest dropout rate in Prince George’s, so “their success will in part be the school system’s success,” Morgan said.

The transition team identified a number of strengths in the school system, including having a committed staff and innovative programs, Morgan said.

Still, the team found that in many areas, the school system is not working efficiently. The district needs a “strategic focus to unite the vision” and lacks the coordination to implement some initiatives, the team found.

Maxwell said that his executive team will review the report, “Great by Choice,” and identify which recommendations are deemed short-term and which are long-term.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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