Prince George’s schools open with expanded programs and new initiatives

Prince George’s County schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III spent Tuesday watching their vision for Maryland’s second-largest school system come into sharper focus as schools opened their doors for the second year under a new governance structure.

Maxwell said that he developed programs last year and that this year the school system is putting the plans into action.

“I think we will see the fruits of the foundation that we laid start to become evident,” Maxwell said after visiting a classroom at Mattaponi Elementary School in Upper Marlboro.

Maxwell began the day at Mattaponi, the newest county elementary school to serve as a center for the gifted and talented. He then made stops at Melwood Elementary, which now hosts an International Baccalaureate Early Years Program; Doswell E. Brooks Elementary, which now has all-day pre-kindergarten classes; and Edward M. Felegy Elementary, a newly built school facility in Hyattsville. He ended the day at DuVal High in Lanham, which is the site of the district’s new Aerospace Engineering and Aviation Technology program. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) joined Maxwell and Baker (D) at the new Hyattsville school, which has a creative-arts program.

Tonya Manning, a parent volunteer at Mattaponi, said she has been pleased with the changes at her daughter’s school during the past year.

“We are getting smart-boards,” Manning said. “I think it’s great. It’s good to see the students getting the technology that they are familiar with. Many of them have tablets at home.”

Manning said her daughter, Talia, 9, was eager to return to school. Last week, Talia began counting down the days until the start of classes. “I love to learn,” Talia said after reading the morning announcements.

Prince George’s, which in past years opened a week earlier in August, was the third school district in the Washington region to open this year. Schools in the District and Montgomery County started classes Monday. Northern Virginia schools open next week.

First-year teacher Melissa Wong instructed her students to stand in a circle after they wrote information about themselves on a piece of paper.

“Take your paper, crumble it up into a snowball,” Wong said. “When I count to three, I want you to throw it in the middle of the circle.”

Each student then picked a paper off the floor, unfolded it and introduced a student to the class.

“Madeline likes to ride horses and likes to swim,” one student said before everyone said hello to Madeline.

Maxwell said the 126,000-student district experienced an increase of 1,400 students last year and is projected to grow by an additional 1,200 this year, which he believes is a positive sign for a district that has seen its enrollment dwindle.

“We were falling for over a decade,” Maxwell said. “It’s a pretty good change.”

In March 2013, Baker sought a takeover of the school system, hoping to improve the long-struggling schools in an effort to boost the county’s overall reputation. State lawmakers gave Baker greater authority, allowing him to hire Maxwell and select school board leadership and some of the board’s panel members.

One of the central goals of Baker’s plan was to attract middle-class parents back to the public school system. While Maxwell is hopeful, it remains to be seen whether some of the new initiatives and expanded programs that debuted Tuesday help in that effort.

“Our objective is to build a great school system,” Baker said in a statement. “I am urging everyone to work together and get involved in our schools and support our young scholars. We need everyone to get excited about our schools, and I am looking forward to a new school year.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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