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Board of Education chairwoman, recent graduate face off in District 5 race

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Published on: Friday, September 21, 2012

By Amber Larkins

Board of Education Chair Verjeana Jacobs emphasized her experience, while District 5 challenger Raheela Ahmed emphasized she would bring something different to the school board during a public debate hosted by the Greater Bowie Democratic Club on last Thursday.

Jacobs has served on the Prince George’s County Board of Education for six years. She explained the responsibilities of the board, such as overseeing the $1.6 billion budget and a system that serves 90,000 students as well as the hiring of a new superintendent.

“This work is the hardest I’ve ever done,” Jacobs said.

She stressed the progress the school system has seen over the past several years and how she has committed herself to this system.

“My experience in the board and in life have given me what I need to do this work,” Jacobs said.

Her experience also includes 23 years of working for the Department of Corrections.

Ahmed introduced herself as a lifelong Bowie resident and a recent graduate of the county’s public school system.

“I have a good understanding of the system,” she said.

Ahmed is studying finance and business at the University of Maryland, College Park, and she is also a community activist, an entrepreneur and a mentor.

“I’m not a politician. This is about giving back to the community,” Ahmed said. “The experiences I have are experiences of being a leader.”

The candidates also stated their platforms.

“Financial literacy needs to become a priority in our school system,” said Ahmed, who wants to foster stronger partnerships with universities, small businesses and unions in order to provide students with more internship opportunities.

She also hopes to create more transparency within the school system. Ahmed mentioned that she had gone to more than 5,000 homes during her campaign to ask what is working well and what is not working well in Prince George’s County’s schools.

“We need to focus on a wider scale community involvement,” Ahmed said.

She also stressed compensation reform for Prince George’s County teachers.

Jacobs rebutted that she has spent the past six years reforming teacher compensation.

“I would like to see us continue that reform work,” Jacobs said.

Prince George’s County needs to communicate its success better, Jacobs said. Education Week named Maryland as the state with the nation’s No. 1 public school systems for the fourth year in a row, and the Prince George’s County Board of Education is a finalist for the National Governance Award.

Jacobs went on to state how important the search for a superintendent is.

“It is critical that we get a superintendent who is committed to parent and community engagement,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs wants to make sure the county manages expectations in the search for a new superintendent because the average tenure for a superintendent is three years. She wants someone who is reform-minded and willing to continue with student-based budgeting.

Ahmed, on the other hand, stressed the importance of finding someone who can call Prince George’s County their home. She wants the new superintendent to have a good knowledge base and an understanding of policy and politics.

“We also need someone with vision and passion,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed was asked how her campaign differs from her sister’s. Her sister, Shabnam Ahmed, is the current student member of the county’s Board of Education. Ahmed pointed out that her sister had been elected by other students in the county whereas she would be elected by the constituents of District 5.

“It’s going to be a four month overlap. She is there to represent students. I’m there to represent all stakeholders,” Ahmed said.

In their closing remarks, the candidates reemphasized what they have to offer District 5.

“It is a serious election.” Jacobs said. “Our children deserve to have someone with experience who has proven themselves.”

“If you think we need something different, then I’m that person,” Ahmed said.

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