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Iris T. Metts
Q & A With Iris T. Metts

Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2000, noon EDT

As leader of the largest school system in Maryland, Iris T. Metts often has her hands full. When she became superintendent in 1999, there was broad concern over management of the state's largest system, and state leaders had threatened a takeover.

Metts is known for acting first and asking questions later, a style that has been both beneficial and detrimental. (Read the article.) Formerly Delaware's first Secretary of Education, Metts has been described by colleagues as a visionary and a people-oriented leader.

For more information, visit the Prince George's County Schools News page.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

washingtonpost.com: Thanks, Dr. Metts, for taking the time to answer questions today.

Landover, MD: Dear Dr. Metts:

My daughter's first week at Nicholas Orem Middle school has been a nightmare! Monday -no bus arrived(I had to drive her to school), her schedule wasn't ready (they told her to sit in the cafeteria all day). Tuesday - office personnel told her to STAY HOME ALL DAY! Wednesday - STILL NO SCHEDULE, office personnel told me to go home and bring her back at 11:00am. I am a working mother and don't have the flexibility to take her back and forth. She and I are VERY UPSET at her introduction to Nicholas Orem. HOW CAN YOU ASSURE ME THAT THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN TO US AGAIN? AND WHO IS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THIS. THANK YOU!

washingtonpost.com: A Washington Post article on the impact of the bus driver shortage, including Monday's lost schools bus, can be found here.

Iris T. Metts: We sincerely regret any inconvenience that we've caused you because of our transportation problems. We still need to hire additional bus drivers and I am confident that we will resolve most of the route issues by the end of next week. We anticipate additions and changes in student assignments which will impact bus routes.

Additionally, we have instructed all principals to keep all students in school while schedules are being developed. If you continue to have difficulty, please email me at imetts@pgcps.org.

We are also sending a copy of your email and my reply to the principal to ensure follow-up.

Bowie Maryland: As a parent/resident of PG county I have real concerns about our school system. One major issue is all day kindergarten for a system that is having a difficult time educating students in grades 1 - 12. Why would we invest the time a precious class room space for all day kindergarten when we do not have enough class space, teachers or money to educate the first through 12th graders? Wouldn't the cost of all day kindergarten be better put to use in a program to help faltering students or reduce overcrowding? It just seems that if we have a "sinking ship" that it is ridiculous to add more kids to the ship?

Iris T. Metts: Thank you for your interest in our school district. Research clearly indicates that students are better prepared to succeed academically when we intensify and extend instruction at an early age, particularly with emphasis on reading literacy. Our statistics indicated that 70% of our students were not performing on grade level in reading by grade 3. I too want programs of quality for all of the students in the school district. I believe an expenditure on full day kindergarten is an important step in helping the system to provide a quality education for every student. Further, all school districts in Virginia have consistently provided full day kindergarten for many years. Full day kindergarten is a proven model to improve academic success.

largo,md: Can you explain why many of your schools such as Crossland, Potomac, and Bladensburg, for example, Have mice running thru classrooms and cafeterias?

Iris T. Metts: We have not had any reports of rodent infestation in any of the schools mentioned. We will certainly investigate and follow up with the appropriate department.

Annapolis, Md.: Thanks for taking my question.

The purpose of education is disputed. Some say that it is to teach us to all get along. Some say that it is to ignore social skills, and learn academic skills. Some say that it's to train us to be good citizens.

What is your vision for PG County Schools' goals.


Iris T. Metts: Both social and academic skills are important assets to the growth of our students. We expect our students to work well in groups and individually. Since most of our students will attend institutions of higher learning, we of course want to assure that they are well grounded in the basics. But, our ultimate goal is to also prepare them for a productive career. Success in any work environment requires the ability to work cooperatively with others. A balance of both academics and social skills can better prepare our students for the future.

Capitol Heights, Md.: "When are you going to visit Lyndon Hill Elementary!!!"

Iris T. Metts: I will schedule a visit to Lyndon Hill Elementary in the month of September. I look forward to my visit!

Largo, Maryland: During the summer I moved my family to the Largo area from Temple Hills, therefore in June I made preparations to transfer my children to the schools in the Largo area. When I requested transfer records from the elementary school they refused my request. Then insisted on sending the records to the corresponding middle school. For the last month in a half I have played "find the school record" and "catch the registrar in".
Q1 Why was my request denied?
Q2 Why when the exact same question is asked at several different schools in the same area, I get several different answers?
The high school did a summer withdrawal and I had no problem.

Standardize procedures across the board, backup with training of staff.
Hire high school juniors and seniors during the summer to assist the registrars with new student registration, class scheduling, etc.
Hold orientation two or three weeks in advances of school opening to get a better idea of how many student will need schedules, changes, etc.
Two week before school opens extend the registrars office hours for new registration.

C. Weathersbee

Iris T. Metts: Thank you for sharing this information with us; we will investigate the procedure. Please email all pertinent information using our Web site at www.pgcps.org and we will respond. Thank you for your suggestions.

Bowie, MD: Dr Metts:
I have perceived that the issues of low test scores, low performance, etc. in a lot of the county schools are due to social issues that the students are dealing with, which in turn impact their education (or lack of). Unfortunately this affects the entire school system test scores, etc. How can the administration take on these social issues and better the school system overall, not just for those kids who have the support at home. Do you think that test scores will always be low, that certain schools will always underperform (I'm really not comfortable using these terms b/c I think they "label" people, but for the sake of this question, I'll use them) because a large percentage of kids are dealing with inadequate home environments?

Iris T. Metts: We have many examples of schools within the Prince George's County school system that are demonstrating a high level of academic achievement with a population of students living in poverty. Since I grew up in poverty and was helped by so many gifted teachers, I know that we can have a great deal of success with all of our students regardless of their social circumstances. I remain optimistic that we will succeed in improving academic achievement across the district. We are very encouraged by the support for full day kindergarten, expanded Head Start programs, reading recovery, and our volunteer mentoring program. All of these efforts are important components of our plan to improve test scores across the district.

You would like to volunteer in which school?

Seat Pleasant, MD: I have heard that many of the PG County Graduates have no plan once they graduate.
Do you have any working agreements with PG Community College?

Iris T. Metts: Last year, we had a record number of students to receive scholarships to four-year institutions. Additionally, at least 75% of our students go on to additional training and/or education after high school. We have a partnership with Prince George's Community College such as Tech-Prep, which allows our students the opportunity to take college level courses in high school. Our relationship is strong and growing.

Chicago, IL : How do you view the role of the Student Board Member ? Do you find the role beneficial to the school system ?

Iris T. Metts: We have had some outstanding Student Board Members. We feel that they bring a great perspective -- the students point of view -- to the issues that the Board of Education addresses. It is certainly beneficial to the school system to have representation from the student body that we serve.

Ft. Washington, MD: Do you know when you may be visiting Tayac Academy?

Iris T. Metts: I will be scheduling school visits beginning with the month of September. As soon as the schedule is established, the school will be notified of the date. I look forward to visiting the students and staff of Tayac Academy.

Ex-PG County: I went to Prince George's County Schools for all of grade school K-12. I graduated in '93. Only in the last year or two of high school (when I was able to take Advanced Placement courses) did I feel like I was challenged. The remainder of my grade school was spent in a bored haze, wondering why we were covering the "parts of speech" YET AGAIN, when I learned it the first time around. I was not the only student to feel this way. Clearly, the classroom is being dumbed down. I do not blame the teachers - with 30+ kids per class of course they would spend more time helping the kids who are struggling to learn the material. What is being done about the situation? How do you challenge the "smart" kids? So much attention is directed to the kids who are failing, that no one stops to see if they "smart" kids are getting any benefit from their education. Thankfully, I made it through okay (mostly due to Mom & Dad who introduced a love of learning on my own at a young age). But so many of my classmates struggled through college (NOT dumbed down) because they never learned how to learn. They just coasted through the PG county school system, never challenged to learn.

Iris T. Metts: Thank you for your question. Please be assured that we have high expectations from all schools and all students. In the performance goals submitted to the Board of Education, we propose an accountability system expecting significant improvement in test scores and academic achievement for all students.

oxon hill, md: Our school system has such a negative image. How do you help keep morale among your employees?

Iris T. Metts: First, we are improving compensation for employees. We will also strive to improve working conditions including renovation of our buildings, adding technology and showing more respect and appreciation for the efforts of staff.

Oxon Hill Maryland: Hi Ms. Metts: My question is. What do you plan to do about over crowding. I have a son at Oxon Hill Sr. High, which has a student body of 2700 student this year. They give the student 5 minutes to get to class. Please explain how this can be accomplish with such a large student body. Last year I was contacted 3 times that my son was caught in the HALL SWEEP as they call it. My husband teaches at Oxon Hill and he states that the over crowding is worse this year than any other. Both my husband and I are both products of PG County public school, and we have 1 son that graduated from Oxon Hill Sr. High and 1 in Middle School. This is one of the issues that concern me. Is my child education being neglected due to the class over crowding.

Iris T. Metts: With our Capital Improvement Program, we are working to relieve overcrowding at all levels. I can assure that Oxon Hill will be scheduled for a review by our Capital Improvement Division with specific recommendations made to the Board of Education to renovate and expand the school facility. That report will be given to the Board in the spring of 2001.

landover,md: One of the problems I have with PG county is there seems to be a budget problem when it comes to education. My son attended Central High last year and I was very disappointed with the staff on hand. My son had been skipping class and hadn't been in class over half the semester before I found out. I had him to fill out and have his teachers sign a daily progress sheet noting all of his assignments and attendance. Some names were being forged by my son and his schoolmates. One of the problems I have is if a teacher/s is aware a student is not in class and has not been for several days and not inform the parents or office out of concerned then why are they teachers and what can be done to assure that when my child is absent that I will be informed in a certain matter of time. What is your policy on contacting parents when child is not present?

Iris T. Metts: We are in the process of investigating student attendance software package that will include a module to automatically contact parents when students are absent. We sympathize with you and will forward your email to the principal at Central High School.

Landover, MD: Is there any truth to the rumor that you may not finish your 4-year contract and may already be shopping your resume to other school districts?

Iris T. Metts: I have every intention of fulfilling my contract. I am committed to the district for the next three years.

Upper Marlboro, MD: You just expressed an interest in adding technology for staff, in an effort to improve morale. As a technologist, I'm interested in working with the PG County Schools to improve the use of technology as an education support, not as a end product. Any suggestions on where I could start?

Iris T. Metts: Contact Roland Moore, Director of Technology at www.pgcps.org. Thank you for your interest in our schools.

Laurel, Md: Under your revised CSI formula more money will be going to inner-beltway schools with lower test scores. How will you measure accountability? Will we continue to throw more money at lower performing schools regardless of the effectiveness?

Iris T. Metts: In a recent review of research literature from Texas, I am assured through the work of Gov. George W. Bush that the programs that we have outlined will work. Gov. Bush has shown tremendous progress in lifting the test score of children in poverty through aggressive funding and accountability. We are confident that we are on the right path.

Laurel, Md: What will you do if the State Board of Education rejects your revised CSI funding formula on September 15th?

Iris T. Metts: CSI funding is local money. The state will only review the distribution of Targeted Poverty Grants. We are confident that our plan will be accepted.

Bladensburg, Maryland: Dr. Metts:

I am a teacher in Prince George's County Public School system. Last school year you promised to have telephones installed in our classrooms for parent/teacher contacts. I believe this would make portions of my job much easier. When will this promise be implemented?

Iris T. Metts: The implementation process has begun. Please look for updates in our employee newsletter on our progress.

Greenbelt, MD: What is your vision for special education students, particularly those with autism?

Iris T. Metts: Since I raised an autistic child, I certainly care deeply about the education of children with special needs. Since I've been Superintendent, we have moved to relocate children with exceptionalities who were placed in schools outside the school district in schools closer to home. We're moving ahead with inclusion programs and a constant monitoring of program quality.

Bowie, MD: Dr. Metts, my son eats lunch at 10:15 at a elementary school in Bowie and I have heard that they serve lunch as early as 10:00 am at Benjamin Tasker Middle School. Don't you think this is too early? I thought this subject was raised last Spring and you were going to ensure that the early lunches were discontinued.

Iris T. Metts: Thank you for your question. We are concerned about over crowding conditions throughout the district. In the spring of this year we will be presenting to the Board a Capital Improvement Plan that will expand our capacity by adding classrooms and multipurpose additions that could be used as additional cafeteria space in several of our schools. We know we can count on you to support the need for such expansions.

Bowie, Md.: What is the school district's policy regarding "social promotions?" I ask this because I understand that a very large percentage of the students from P.G. need remediation when they go to the community college. Is this the result of allowing students to pass without the math, reading and writing skills necessary to function at an institution of higher learning or is it due to some other factor(s)? Thanks for answering my question.

Iris T. Metts: We plan to announce an accountability program to address to address the criteria necessary for promotion. Expect to see recommendations for summer school, extended day and extended year programs to meet higher standards. Thanks for your concern.

Bowie,MD: Do you think the Prince George's County schools can reach the quality of others in the area as long as the salaries for teachers are so much less than those of neighboring systems at a time of tight labor markets?

Iris T. Metts: Help is on the way! We have just reached a tentative agreement with the teachers union that will provide for the largest salary increases in 16 years.

College Park: How do you plan to address the racial achievement gap in your county?

Iris T. Metts: Just yesterday I met with the Dean of the School of Education at the University of Maryland, College Park to design a school improvement program to lessen the academic gap among social, economic and racial groups. We will pursue vigorously foundation grants to help us in the important endeavor.

Bowie: Why is there all the fuss about needing certified teachers? Aren't there teachers who can do a good job without jumping through all the hoops of certification?

Iris T. Metts: We are subject to all of the certification requirements of the State of Maryland. We are however, intensifying our efforts to offer alternative routes to certification, and assistance with meeting certification requirements.

Laurel, MD: You have made a number of controversial and poorly received changes since your arrival. What is your process for decision making? At what point to you take into consideration the impact on the children and the opinions of the parents and principals?

Iris T. Metts: When I arrived in the district, I was directed by the state legislature to implement 300 audit recommendations. I collapsed the list to 40 with the approval of the Management Oversight Panel. I am mandated to make these changes. Other changes resulted from a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Board of Education and other parties to end the court desegregation case. Further, the district was required to implement a Master Plan authorized by the State Board of Education. By all accounts, the state and county officials believed the changes were necessary and granted the system a $65 million increase in its base budget, as a result of our good faith efforts in implementing change.

Upper Marlboro, MD: Many schools are now connected to the Internet and many classrooms average a minimum of 2 computers per class but teachers are not skilled in computer technology. How will this problem be rectified? Are IT courses mandatory for PG teachers?

Iris T. Metts: Over 1,000 teachers received technology training last year in staff development. Our goal is to train a minimum of 2,000 additional teachers this year through our Regional Technology Centers. These centers are open to the public and are available after school hours.

Thank you for your questions. I enjoyed our online chat and look forward to this new school year.

washingtonpost.com: Thanks, Dr. Metts, for joining us today.

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