Prince George’s school board holds two-day retreat to work on building better relationships

The Prince George’s County Board of Education, which continues to have difficulty adjusting to the county’s new school governance structure, spent the past two days at a retreat trying to figure out ways that members can work together more effectively.

Board members and Kevin M. Maxwell, the county’s schools chief, sat at four round tables in a small conference room at a National Harbor hotel and discussed not only the challenges the district faces but also ways to develop working relationships between the board and Maxwell and between elected and appointed board members.

Board members said they were pleased to have the opportunity to hash out problems, including some issues that linger from County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s effort to take over the school system last year.

Baker (D) did not gain complete control, but through legislation in Annapolis he gained the power to select the schools’ chief executive, name the school board’s chairman and vice chairman, and appoint several members to a new hybrid board that includes elected members. Questions about the board’s authority, the responsibility of the schools chief and the leadership style of the school board have created tension since the law went into effect.

Several elected board members previously said they felt marginalized. Donna Hathaway Beck (District 9), who resigned in September, said she left, in part, because the work was more focused on adults than on students.

“We’re making progress,” board member Edward Burroughs III (District 8) said. “There is so much work product that has been produced. Now we have to figure out how to implement it.”

Beverly Anderson, who was appointed to the board in June, said the sessions, which were conducted by the Panasonic Foundation, were productive. The foundation works with urban school systems to implement reforms

“I hope that we are able to accomplish more efficient and more effective board meetings,” Anderson said.

The board came up with a “shared understanding” of the law that changed the governance structure; developed protocols for board operations and communication between board members and the schools chief; and created a plan for the “next level of work.”

Maxwell said he was glad the leaders were able to take “a pause” and take an assessment of where they are and where they want to go.

“We haven’t made the time to work on the changes that took place on the board while trying to do the work on the school system,” Maxwell said.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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