The Prince George's County school board has a new student member.
Morgan Shepard, 16, took over from outgoing student board member and Suitland High School graduate Tia M. Young last week.
This fall, Shepard, a resident of Upper Marlboro, will be a senior at Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale. She also will serve as the senior class president.
Shepard was elected by members of the Prince George's Regional Association of Student Governments in May. She defeated Ronald McFadden.
"I've always had something to say about this county, how it can get better, what needs to happen," she said. "There's an endless amount of possibilities."
She's already started thinking about them. The biggest challenge that lies ahead for the 137,000-student school system, Shepard said, is making sure students pass high school state exams, which will soon be required for graduation. School officials should also tackle the problem of aging facilities, she said.
Shepard will not have full voting rights. Student board members can vote on many issues, except for budgetary and personnel matters.
Still, Shepard said she believes she can make a significant difference on the board. One of her main goals, she said, is to make students more interested in achieving in school. She said too many of her classmates do not try to excel in school because of peer pressure.
She recalled getting teased as a fifth-grader because she won a game in which students had to name states and their capitals.
"I think a lot of people get educated because they want to make money, and maybe it should be about getting educated for the sake of being educated and learning," she said.
Shepard, whose father is a teacher at Northwestern High School, is determined to excel in school. She ended the academic year with a 3.89 grade-point average. She is in Flowers High School's science and technology program. Last school year, she and her classmates built a robot.
She is active outside the classroom as well. She plays the flute for the marching band and enjoys softball. She also helped start a club called the Junior Statesmen of America, for aspiring politicians.
She is one. Shepard said she wants to be governor of Maryland, then president of the United States someday.
"I have a lot of work to do," she said.
Her mother, Vera Shepard, a manager at the Department of Energy, said she believes her daughter will succeed on the school board, and beyond.
"I'm extremely proud of her, I really am," she said. "She has really strived to do a lot of different things in high school as a student. She sets her mind to do things, and she's successful."
Shepard also is an independent thinker. When she was deciding where to go to high school four years ago, she had a choice between Eleanor Roosevelt High School, the county's highest-achieving and most sought-after school, and Flowers, which had just opened. She was accepted into Roosevelt but decided to go to Flowers because it was untested, she said.
"I wanted to be one of the people who helped build that reputation, to help make it great," she said.
Her goal this year, she said, is to do the same with the entire school system.
Schools Improve Scores
Last year, about 120 Prince George's County schools did not meet state standards on the Maryland School Assessment math and reading exams.
This year, only 55 schools failed to score high enough on the achievement tests, according to results released by the State Department of Education last week.
Eleven schools that had failed to meet the benchmarks last year met them this year, but they will have to show one more year of improvement before the state considers them no longer in need of corrective action.
"I am very impressed with the preliminary data," said schools chief Andre J. Hornsby in a written statement announcing the results. "By staying the course for the upcoming school year, we can look forward to continued measurable gains."
The tests were taken this year by students in grades 3, 5 and 8. Reading results for 10th-graders were also released, but 10th-grade math scores will not be made public until later this summer. Students in grades 4, 6 and 7 also took the tests, but their scores will not count toward school performance because this was the first year they took them.
The actual test scores, released last month, also showed significant improvement among Prince George's students.
Hornsby attributed test gains to a new focus on improving reading instruction, better teacher training and significant administrative changes.
The story was similar across the state: Many schools showed improvement, and fewer schools failed to meet the targets.
State officials attributed the improvements to a revamped statewide curriculum.
But they also acknowledged that the playing field had been altered in another way. There were new, less stringent rules for assessing results among the different categories of students by which schools are judged. Those include low-income and special education students.
The test results still are significant because school systems that don't show improved scores and fail to meet standards face sanctions or possible state takeover in a few years. The federal No Child Left Behind Law mandates that all students be "proficient" in reading and math by 2014.