WHEN PRINCE George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) made a push for more control over the county’s troubled public schools, his advisers thought he should get his head examined. The problems were so vast and the system so dysfunctional as to present a no-win situation that could result only in political headaches. The advisers were right about the dysfunction — and the headaches. But Mr. Baker was right to make a cause of public education, and his efforts have helped to put the schools on the right track for improvement. The current controversy roiling the system should not be allowed to turn back that progress.
The loss of a $6.4 million grant for Head Start because of the school system’s inadequate response to instances of abuse and neglect in the program and allegations of a coverup have prompted calls for the ouster of school head Kevin M. Maxwell. In addition, one state legislator said he wants to introduce legislation that would change the school board, now a hybrid of elected and appointed members, back to a fully elected board, thus undoing authority won by Mr. Baker in 2013 to make key appointments.
The mistreatment of children in Head Start is concerning. That there have been other allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct, including the high-profile case of a school volunteer charged with videotaping students performing sex acts, suggests deep-seated problems in school culture. Mr. Maxwell appears to recognize that and has undertaken a series of reforms, including improvements in training and outside investigations to assess school protocols. He requested the resignation of his chief of staff after revelation of an email seen as disrespectful to the school board and its need to have information.
But nothing is to be gained by driving Mr. Maxwell from the system. A large part of the system’s problems can be traced to the instability and churn of eight superintendents in 17 years. More importantly, there have been hopeful signs of progress in the 3½ years since Mr. Maxwell was named as the system’s chief executive. Graduation rates have improved, rigor has been added to the curriculum, specialty programs have been introduced and full-day kindergarten has been expanded across the county. In resisting calls for Mr. Maxwell’s ouster, Mr. Baker again has demonstrated a willingness to subordinate political interests to the educational needs of Prince George’s children.