When voters were allowed to choose every member of the Prince George’s County school board, just 25 percent of the members had college degrees a year and a half ago. That percentage was lower than any other school system in the Washington region and far below the national average.
Today, with the recent graduation of Prince George’s School Board member Edward Burroughs III (District 8) from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, 10 members of the reconfigured 13-member board have college degrees, and nine have earned advanced degrees. In November 2012, just two out of eight members held a bachelor’s degree, opening up a debate about whether a board that has a goal of getting the county’s students college-ready should be populated with adults who aren’t college-educated.
The spike in the number of college graduates is largely due to the new governance structure, approved in Annapolis, that allowed County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to appoint several members to the board and set the direction for the long-struggling school district.
The shift places Prince George’s more in line with boards in large districts throughout the region and across the United States, according to national school board data and a Washington Post survey of Washington area school systems.
Every member of the boards in the District, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties has at least a bachelor’s degree. All but one member on the boards in Montgomery County and Alexandria have a college degree.
According to the National School Boards Association, 75 percent of school board members across the country have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Aimee Olivio, chairman of Baker’s education commission — a group of parents, business owners and educators who advise him on ways to improve the county schools — said the school board is stronger since changes were made to the school system’s governance structure last year. Part of that, she said, has to do with the make-up of the board.
“We have a highly-educated population,” Olivio said. “It was a disservice that a few years ago that our board did not reflect that. Now our board reflects who we are as a county, a highly-educated county.”
While residents, parents and educators said they are pleased that more board members have strong academic backgrounds, some said they do not think a degree can determine the effectiveness of a school board member.
“There was a time we had people with advanced degrees, but they had problems in terms of passion, commitment and integrity,” said Arthur Turner, a community activist. “I would just prefer someone who is committed . . . not someone who is trying to pad their résumé and promote themselves. I think we have a committed board now.”
Burroughs, who is the youngest elected official in Maryland and served on the board in both its old and new configurations, said it is important to have a diverse board, including some members without college degrees.
“They bring significant value and reflect a part of our community,” Burroughs said, adding that the previous make-up of the board might have sent the wrong message to students. “Two out of eight members is frankly unacceptable for a board of education who promotes education and prepares students to be college- and career-ready.”
Bart Lawrence, president of the PTA for Hyattsville Elementary School, said the county school system has its share of “real and perceived challenges.”
“Something like that may take away a talking point,” Lawrence said, noting the negative impression some might have about the county schools and its leadership. “For some, it will improve perception.”
Perception is one of the key elements of Baker’s move to have more control over the schools, as he believes how the schools perform and are viewed is directly tied to the county’s future prosperity. He has been working to convince the county’s middle-class families to embrace the public schools, and the school board has been perhaps the most visible change, along with hiring new schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell, who has deep ties to the county.
Baker’s efforts to draw highly educated people to the school board has thus far proven successful. Baker chose Segun Eubanks, director of teacher quality for the National Education Association, as chairman of the board. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in educational advocacy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a master’s in human services administration from Springfield College, Eubanks earned a doctorate in teaching and learning policy from the University of Maryland.
The county executive also named Lyn Mundey (District 7), who has degrees from the University of Maryland and Strayer University; and Sonya Williams (District 9), who has degrees from the University of Maryland and Georgetown University.
He also appointed Daniel Kaufman, who has a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College and a master’s and doctorate from the University of California; and Beverly Anderson, who has degrees in mathematics and mathematics education from Dillard University and Howard University and a doctorate in educational psychology and evaluation from Catholic University.
Under the law that changed the governance structure, the County Council was given the power to name a member to the board. It appointed Curtis Valentine, who is a graduate of Morehouse College and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
And voters elected Zabrina Epps (District 1) to the board. Epps holds a bachelor’s degree from Benedict College and a master’s degree in public management from the University of Maryland.