Segun Eubanks, who on Saturday took over as chairman of the Prince George’s County Board of Education, said people have been unsure whether to offer him congratulations or condolences.

Eubanks takes the helm of a reconstituted board after months of heated debate about the future of the county’s public school system, which has shown improvements in recent years on state testing but continues to languish near the bottom of Maryland’s counties.

Eubanks’s appointment was the first action County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) took since Saturday, when the law that restructured the school system took effect. The board moved from an elected body to one that is a hybrid of elected and appointed members and cedes power over hiring a superintendent to the county executive.

“I wanted somebody who is collaborative, who knows how to build bridges,” Baker said of Eubanks’ selection. “Right now we need someone to take the elected with the appointed and make them into one cohesive group.”

Eubanks, 51, faces the task of repairing the rift between the school board and Baker, which grew after Baker’s announcement in March that he was asking state lawmakers to allow him to have control over the school system’s $1.7 billion budget and a new superintendent. Lawmakers instead created the new board and gave Baker the power to select the schools chief and the board’s chairman and vice chairman. The school board vehemently opposed Baker’s school takeover plan.

Segun Eubanks, the newly appointed chairman of the Prince George's County school board, speaks during a press conference. (Courtesy Mike Yourishian)

“It will be touchy in the beginning, but we can bring it all together,” said Earnest Moore, president of the Prince George’s County PTA Council.

Eubanks, who is the director of teacher quality for the National Education Association, said he is excited about the opportunity to serve the 123,000-student system.

“While I have things to offer, there are people [on the board] who have been doing good work and have experience, knowledge and skill, and I need to listen to those folks,” Eubanks said. “I’ve heard the county executive say it often: ‘We have a good system, but it needs to be better.’ ”

As the school board focuses on improving academic achievements, Eubanks would like to concentrate some efforts specifically on pre-kindergarten to third grade, working on reducing class sizes and improving literacy and math skills.

“I’m not coming in with an independent agenda of my own. . . . I want to hear from folks,” he said. “I’m saying we have to re-craft an agenda that is going to accelerate the pace of academic growth across the system.”

Eubanks is a Bowie resident and the parent of two children who attend the county’s public schools. He has spent his entire career in education.

Before joining the NEA, Eubanks was executive director of Community Teachers Institute and vice president of Recruiting New Teachers Inc.

Eubanks, who is Baker’s former brother-in-law, was born in Boston. As a child, watching his parents participate in what he described as the “more radical fringe” of the civil rights movement, he dreamed of becoming a civil rights lawyer.

He received a bachelor’s degree in educational advocacy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a master’s degree from Springfield College. He earned a doctorate in teaching and learning policy from the University of Maryland at College Park.

Eubanks has served as chairman of Baker’s education commission since last June.

He said advocating for improvements in public education is his way of continuing his parents’ legacy and a way to pursue social justice and equity.

State Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s), the education liaison for Prince George’s Senate delegation, said she had concerns about forming the education commission because she thought it would usurp the school board’s power. But after talking with Eubanks, she became impressed with his experience and his desire to improve the public school system.

“He has the kind of personality to win friends and influence people,” Benson said.