Prince George’s County Council holds college and career readiness strategy session

Prince George’s County Schools Chief Executive Kevin Maxwell told a crowd of 150 parents, elected officials and school system employees Tuesday night that the percentage of students who drop out of school in the county remains higher than the state’s average and that lowering the number is one of the school system’s top priorities.

The dropout rate has gone down in Prince George’s in the past year, but it’s still about double the Maryland average. According to state data released in January, the dropout rate in the county fell by 1.3 percentage points, to 18.5 percent.

“We absolutely know this is an area of focus for us,” Maxwell said during a meeting hosted by the Prince George’s County Council at Surrattsville High School in Clinton to discuss the county’s “Pre-K-20 Strategy for College and Career Readiness.”

Maxwell said the school system has been trying to identify students who are at risk of dropping out and has been providing services to them. The district has three schools that offer evening high school, and it is continuing to enhance its career technical education, Maxwell said.

In addition to reducing the dropout rate, Maxwell said, the school district is working to enhance curriculum rigor, collaborate with colleges and universities and strengthen workforce development programs.

The meeting was another opportunity for Maxwell, who was hired last year to help turn the school system around, to lay out his plans for the 125,000-student system. Included in Maxwell’s proposed budget are plans to expand the International Baccalaureate program to elementary and middle schools and to expand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs to middle schools.

Maxwell and Prince George’s County Community College President Charlene Dukes also provided details about a state law passed last year that will enable high school juniors and seniors to take college-level courses while still in high school. Under the program, students who have a minimum 2.5 grade-point average and their principal’s approval and who have taken a college entrance placement exam are enrolled simultaneously in high school and in state university or college courses. The tuition is paid by the school system.

After presentations from Maxwell, Dukes, Bowie State University President Mickey L. Burnim and Donna L. Wiseman, who is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland-College Park, residents asked Maxwell about special programs, parental engagement and the needs of boys in classrooms.

Robert Adams of District Heights said he was disappointed by the lack of parental involvement at Capitol Heights Elementary School, where his second-grade daughter is enrolled in the talented and gifted program.

“The school should be the center of the community,” Adams said. He said there does not seem to be anyone leading an effort to galvanize parents.

Maxwell said he agreed with Adams and that the school board had added an ombudsman position to the fiscal year 2015 budget to help address parental involvement.

Dukes said she would like to see the colleges or universities organize a boot camp to help guide parents who want to be engaged in the schools but don’t know.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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