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County residents weigh in on schools’ CEO search


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Published on: Wednesday, June 12, 2013

By Kayla Faria

In the Prince George’s County version of “Can you hear me now?” The residents have spoken.

They want a public schools CEO who is innovative, experienced, strategic, communicative, sensible, honest, trustworthy, understanding, fair, accountable and a “fighter” in it for the long haul.

Maryland State Board of Education Chair Charlene Dukes hosted a public conference call Monday night inviting citizens to dial in and share their opinions on what type of experience, attributes, knowledge and skills the CEO Search Committee — Dukes, TJC Consulting Group principal Orland Johnson and Sodexo assistant general counsel Kenneth Johnson — should be looking for in a new county school leader. It came nine days after the education reform legislation HB1107 went into effect.

“Looking for a superintendent in Prince George’s County, I want one — for lack of a better word — that’s going to be able to fight for out county,” caller “Monica” from Upper Marlboro said. “I want that CEO to be able to go to the state board to say, ‘Look on the backs of (Prince George’s) County with all the schools behind me. I want to be able to fight for the money and the resources for (Prince George’s) County.’”

According to the call moderator, more than 2,000 phone lines tuned in for the 90-minute phone call that featured more than 40 voices.

“It shows the commitment that our whole county has to education,” county spokesperson Scott Peterson said of the engagement figures.

A “proven track record,” of “longevity” and “commitment” and ability to “engage” with students, parents and the larger community were the catchphrases throughout the call.

“Sonia” from Glenn Dale wants someone with a strong track record in closing the achievement gap, improving on-time graduation rates and reducing dropout rates.

A caller from Bowie encouraged the search committee to look for a candidate who has not frequently changed jobs.

She wants someone with a “proven track record of commitment and staying and improving a system, rather than people who already have a track record indicating that they are looking for the next opportunity.”

“Wanda” from Laurel suggested that the new CEO make a written commitment, so the county can evade the “revolving door” of leaders in charge of the school district.

Some suggested asking for references and conducting background checks.

Dukes said the committee would do its “due diligence” in that regard.

“Monica” from Upper Marlboro wants more budget transparency outlined in “layman’s terms,” rather than pages of complicated spreadsheets, when she attends PTA meetings.

“Dr. Robinson” from Laurel wants a person with experience managing budgets that have not resulted in massive cuts to staff, increases in class sizes, eliminating programs or closing schools.

A handful of callers want the new Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO to have a deeper connection to the county or children who attend the county’s public schools.

According to one of the surveys conducted during the call, 25 percent of residents said a “connection to Prince George’s County” should be valued most in the candidate search. It ranked higher than “longevity in last job” and “test scores indicating student performance.” Forty percent said the committee should most value superintendent or CEO experience.

Some callers said they want a candidate with cultural sensitivity, ready to address diversity in the cosmopolitan county.

“Consider the growing Hispanic and other immigrant populations in our schools,” “Laurie” in Greenbelt said. “I feel that that’s an area where the population doesn’t necessarily have a voice to speak out for themselves, and I think those children are being neglected.”

Pointing to bundling issues, another caller said she wants the special needs program to be more focused.

“Alexandria” from Oxon Hill wants a CEO who understands generational diversity among parents and uses social media as a platform to engage with parents.

“Bob” from Bowie also wants someone who has at least “thought” about a plan for technological integration within the curriculum.

Many of the callers said the curriculum has to be revamped by de-emphasizing standardized tests.

“Somebody who will really put an end to this mindless focus on standardized testing,” caller “Tommy” said.

It diminishes an “authentic” learning environment, a teacher calling from Upper Marlboro added. 

Of the call’s survey voters, 17 percent said the CEO’s top priority should be safety and 36 percent voted “low performing schools” as the top priority. The demand for equitable resources and expectations throughout the county was continually reiterated.

“Please keep students engaged in the process as students do have a voice. At the end of the day, this all impacts students,” Oxon Hill High School student “Marcel” urged the committee.

The search committee plans to host another “telephone town hall listening session” and is asking residents — and students specifically — to email newschoolsceo@co.pg.md.us with comments and general suggestions. It will identify and conduct candidate interviews, then recommend no more than three candidates to the county executive.

“We understand just how important this is to our county, to each of us who lives in this county and, most importantly, the young people that we are charged with educating every day,” Dukes said.

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