Search committee hears from community leaders and elected officials

Many of the Prince George’s County community leaders and elected officials who attended a listening session Wednesday to offer their opinion on what characteristics the new schools chief should have said they are tired of the rapid turnover at the helm of the public school system.

Simply put: They want someone who will stay put.

“We have changed superintendents like we change our clothes,” State Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s) said. “Each time they bring their own entourage, their own curriculum. ... It creates instability ... I am convinced that is one of the biggest factors to our children not performing well.”

The committee that will provide County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) with no more than three names so he can choose a new chief executive to run the school system heard from about 20 people during the meeting.

The panel will gather its own information, but also has all the data from the school board’s search for a superintendent earlier this year. The school board’s search was essentially upended when Baker proposed changes to the school governance structure.

Prince George’s has had seven superintendents in the past 14 years. Interim Superintendent Alvin Crawley was brought on last year to replace former superintendent William R. Hite Jr., who took a job in Philadelphia.

“When we have so much turnover, we lose faith in the system,” Prince George’s County Council Vice Chairman Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington) said.

Tonya R. Wellons, a parent from Upper Marlboro, said the person who will commit to the post may come from the private or nonprofit sector, and she hoped the committee was considering those who are “in the business of education” as possible candidates.

“I just think we need to broaden our horizon,” she said.

Others said the new chief executive needs to be a team builder and a change agent. He or she needs to know how to be political without being a politician, and self-assured without being arrogant.

Bob Ross, president of the county branch of the NAACP, said the new CEO needs to change the culture and improve the image of the school system.

“The superintendent has to make this school system a family-friendly school system,” Ross said. “Parents say they don’t feel welcome in their schools. How does a superintendent look at that culture and change it?”

“It’s going to take a team effort to make sure the change is effective,” said James Cole, who works with Men Aiming Higher.

T. Carter Ross with the Hyattsville Elementary School PTA said he wants a new schools chief who is able to not only engage parents but the community in the public school system.

“We need a superintendent to speak broadly to our community and make the schools the centerpiece of our community,” Ross said.

Some criticized the committee for the time the meeting was scheduled and the late notice that was provided.

The committee has scheduled a telephone townhall Monday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Residents who want to participate can dial 855-246-7045, ext. 21990#.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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