Andre J. Hornsby, chief executive of the Prince George's County public schools, thanked business leaders last week for helping area schools raise about $5,000 for the county's new Excellence in Education Foundation, participating in the inaugural Principal for a Day program, and being mentors, readers and speakers in the schools.
But at a breakfast meeting in Greenbelt with the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce, Hornsby also challenged members of the organization to get more involved throughout the school year, which begins Monday. "It takes an effective business community to help school systems find the resources they need in order to be successful," Hornsby said. "And it also takes the business communities involved to be able to lobby all of our officials to make sure everyone's doing their part."
Wendi M. Williams, the chamber's president and chief executive, said that county businesses are generally doing well, and that she hopes the school system will benefit from that success.
"We introduced certain new programs to just further our efforts in support of Prince George's schools," Williams said. "Our goals are to understand the priorities of the school leadership . . . and to identify resources to support those objectives."
Hornsby noted several chamber efforts. In February, the organization sponsored a reception in Annapolis where about 3,000 residents of Prince George's gathered to push for full funding of the Bridge to Excellence Act. Popularly known as the Thornton bill, the act calls for equalizing spending among school districts. The General Assembly subsequently passed a resolution that allowed partial funding of the bill to be included in the governor's budget.
On April 22, more than 100 business leaders served as Principal for a Day at several of the county's elementary schools, shadowing the real principals.
Antoine Harris, who works for New York financial consulting firm AXA Financial Inc., went to Kingsford Elementary School in Mitchellville. He said he was impressed by the discipline of the children and had an opportunity to witness how the school responded when one student accidentally hit another with a baseball bat in gym class. "The teachers were very professional, and they were very well versed in handling conflict resolution," said Harris. "It was a very orderly procedure."
Hornsby said it was a way to positively change the "misperceptions or myths" of the public schools that those in the business community hear about. "What we wanted to do was raise the awareness, help them understand the complexity of the responsibilities associated with running a school and also just give them a feel for what it's all about," he said.
Next year's Principal for a Day event will be held around the same time. The goal, Hornsby said, is for 200 business leaders to sign up.
"This support of the business community once again is a positive development," Hornsby said. "We all understand one thing. We're intricately tied together.
"If you don't have effective schools, you can't attract good businesses," Hornsby said. "You can't get development if in fact you don't have schools that are designed for individuals to move into your community and pay a lot of money for housing. Good schools contribute to a good economy. You can't do one without the other."
In addition to praising the chamber's work, Hornsby presented a broad-brush view of what the school system is facing in the next few years. Concerns include student achievement; deficit spending; inadequate funding for basic technology such as classroom computers; classroom space; leaky roofs; and problems with heating and air conditioning.
The executives applauded when Hornsby announced that although 51 schools in the county did not have air conditioning a year ago, only 22 schools are now on that list. "By next summer, all 51 schools will have air conditioning before the next school year," he said.
Hornsby said he took the initiative when he made a visit to one of the schools and a student asked him, "When are you going to assist us in getting air conditioning in our classroom so that our teachers will stop leaving our school every year?"
The question, he said, was profound.
With the establishment of the county schools' fundraising arm, the Excellence in Education Foundation, Hornsby said he hopes the area's business community will continue to make donations to support the Read to Lead initiative. The foundation's goal of $1.4 million for the initiative will be used to help increase literacy among students across the county. The foundation plans to hold a golf tournament and a dinner next month.
"This whole education imperative and priority has been stressed several times" within the chamber, Harris said. "It's something that the chamber is very committed to. It's not just lip service. It's not just something you do once a year."