Verjeana Jacobs takes lead in Pr. George’s School Board race; Morris in tight Alexandria fight

Two college students, who mounted spirited campaigns and trounced their opponents in the primary to capture seats on the Prince George’s County Board of Education, were in tight races Tuesday night against incumbent Chairman Verjeana Jacobs and newcomer Zabrina Epps.

The races, which pitted youth against experience, were the most closely watched races in the county.

As of midnight, with 76 percent of the precincts reporting, Jacobs held a slim three-point lead against Raaheela Ahmed in the District 5 race. In District 1, David Murray was trailing his challenger by less than one percentage point with 71 percent of the precincts reporting.

Candidates across the Washington region also ran for open seats in Alexandria and the District as well as in Arlington, Montgomery and Prince William counties, where school board members will tackle such weighty goals as closing the achievement gap, increasing school funding and easing school overcrowding.

In Alexandria, Vice Chairman Helen Morris, who represents District A, was facing a tough challenge in her reelection bid, according to early returns. With nine of 10 precincts reporting, Morris was in fourth place in a tight race that will take the top three vote-getters. Fewer than 300 votes separated Morris and William “Bill” Campbell.

Crowded schools, a stubborn achievement gap and a desire to improve student performance were the big issues in Alexandria, where all nine school board seats were up for grabs. Neighboring Arlington had two candidates running for two open seats.

In Prince George’s — which has lagged behind other districts in attracting jobs and businesses, in part because of its historically troubled school system — the election was considered pivotal. The current top priority: choosing a permanent schools chief.

“The results of the school board race are seriously important to how this county is viewed in the region and the state,” said Christian Rhodes, an education liaison for County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). They “will play a major role in the type of superintendent we are able to recruit and retain and the type of businesses we are able to recruit and retain.”

Ainisha Persuad, a marriage and family therapist, said she voted for experience, choosing Jacobs in District 5 in Prince George’s. Ahmed’s youth is “an important voice to bring to the table,” she said, but she added that someone so young might not be the right “person to make the decisions.”

To Danielle Ross, 24, a 2006 Bowie High School graduate, Ahmed offered the perspective of being a recent high school student and understanding the day-to-day student experience. She said Ahmed knocked on her door recently and shared her life story. “I was very impressed,” she said.

In Montgomery, where six candidates ran for three open seats on the Board of Education, two incumbents had comfortable leads with 36 precincts reporting. Candidates focused on budget and transparency issues along with concerns about the best way to close the achievement gap and engage the community.

The District saw three contested races for the nine-member State Board of Education, which sets citywide academic standards and approves policies for teacher licensing and graduation requirements. With about 82 percent of the precincts reporting in the District, Karen Williams was leading in the race to unseat incumbent Dorothy Douglas.

In Prince William, four candidates were running to fill the spot of Grant Lattin, who resigned in May. Michael E. Wooten, who was appointed to temporarily fill the seat in June, was in a tight race with Lillie G. Jessie, a former Prince William teacher and administrator.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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