As a former board member of Maryland’s second-largest public school system and the current president of a community college, Charlene M. Dukes is considered by many education officials to be a natural choice to chair the board that sets policies for all of Maryland’s public schools.
Dukes, who has 32 years of experience in higher education — including five as president of Prince George’s County Community College — was selected in July to serve a one-year term to lead the Maryland State Board of Education. She served on the Prince George’s County Board of Education from 2002 to 2006.
In her new role, Dukes, 57, said she will be the board’s voice on critical issues and work in partnership with her colleagues and Lillian M. Lowery, the Maryland superintendent of schools, to ensure that Maryland public schools continue to move forward.
“We want to make sure we are focused on our vision on building a world-class school system,” Dukes said.
Lowery and the board hope to focus on closing academic achievement gaps, Dukes said, adding that in the coming year the board will examine why achievement gaps continue to exist and whether the appropriate policies are in place to close them.
In 2011, Maryland had the second-largest disparity in the country between low-income students and their wealthier classmates on the eighth-grade math test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“We need to look at eliminating the barriers so [students] can achieve success across all levels,” Dukes said.
The board also plans to work on ensuring that the federal Race to the Top grant remains on track, improving the state’s lowest performing schools, implementing new teacher evaluations — which must be tied to student performance — and preparing teachers for using the state’s common core curriculum.
State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who serves on the Senate’s education committee, said Dukes is known for “seeking solutions,” is highly respected in the education community and is a great choice for the state board.
Pinsky said there is much debate in Maryland and across the country about how to make students ready for college and careers, and he said Dukes has seen firsthand the number of students who must take remedial courses because they are not ready for college.
“She is right in the middle of that,” Pinsky said. “She’s well-placed because of her profession and well-suited because of her persona.”
Dukes, who graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor of science degree in secondary education with an English concentration, said her parents instilled in her the importance of education. Her father finished high school and her mother received her GED while Dukes was in junior high.
While in school, Dukes said, she realized what a privilege it was to “be the manifestation of [her parents’] dreams.” She later earned a master’s degree and doctorate in administrative and policy studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
In addition to her continuing work at Prince George’s County Community College, Dukes has been in high demand this year.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) chose her to serve on a commission to advise him on educational policies, but Dukes later resigned because she did not want to have a conflict of interest by serving as a member of the local commission and president of the state board.
“The county executive obviously chose her to be on his commission for the same reasons she was elected state president for the board,” said Christian Rhodes, Baker’s education liaison. “Those qualities that make her an excellent state president are her ability to know, to describe and to gain buy-in for the needs of her students at the community college, and probably most importantly her ability to execute for the success of our students in Prince George’s County.”