Kevin Maxwell is no stranger to Prince George’s County.
A Bladensburg High School graduate, Maxwell took over as chief executive officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools last year.
Maxwell previously served as Anne Arundel County’s superintendent of schools, but came back home to resurrect Prince George’s school system.
Having completed his first full school year, Maxwell sat down with The Sentinel to discuss how it went.
Sentinel: A year ago coming from Anne Arundel county to Prince George’s County, what was the transition like last summer and how is this job different?
Maxwell: The transition was really busy. There was a lot to finish up at Anne Arundel when I was named the candidate. Everything happened pretty fast. The word got out before the official announcement as I’m sure you guys are aware so it created a bit of tumultuousness in the immediate public recognition that I’d be leaving Anne Arundel to come here. But again, there was a lot to close out in Anne Arundel and a lot to get ready for here so I was sort of working in between. I was coming to some of the public meet-and-greet sessions, having some conversations with the board. Once you’re named there’s some work on contracts, those kinds of things, getting the traditional things done. Like any job, you get you have to process in like everybody else come and get fingerprinted, fill out a bunch of paperwork and all those kind of things. It was just really busy because I was working there and doing a bunch of things here as well so it made it more busy than usual. Then I think strategizing about moving forward and starting the decision making about some of the opening on the executive team, some of the needs of the school district. All that work had to begin, and then we started work on setting up a transition team which started meeting in the fall and gave us a pretty good look at the district from a fresh set of eyes and made a whole series of recommendations. You said what was different; I think it’s a much bigger school district so the e-mail and mail traffic is much bigger. There’s almost a hundred more schools here than in Anne Arundel so a lot more school business to do in my first year. There’s a bigger board. A lot of things when you start new jobs-- it doesn’t matter what the new job is, people want to be reminded of who you are or know who you are, depending on whether they have worked with you before or not, so there’s a lot of demand on your time.
Sentinel: How did your first year compare to what you had expected going in?
Maxwell: I think it was pretty close to what I had expected. I knew it was a larger district. I’ve lived here even when I left to work in Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County. I’ve continued to live here, my wife continued to work in the public school system and retired last June. I have a lot of contacts in the public school system and I know a lot of people in the county, so I think it was pretty much what I had expected it would be. It was very busy and there was a lot to do, a lot to get started and a lot to establish, but I don't feel like I had any big surprises that I didn't anticipate.
Sentinel: What were your goals when you came here for your first year?
Maxwell: There are a number of them. I really wanted to get out to all the schools. It was really important to me because I wanted to see the facility condition, I wanted to see class sizes. I wanted to see what instructional program looked like I wanted to see whether I was seeing evidence of the standards, artifacts of the standards. I wanted to see if the teaching looked like it was changing with the standards or whether it was still kind of the way it had been or the way sometimes whether it translates into classroom work or not is really the big question of success or not success. I wanted to connect with people, I wanted teachers and principals and parents that I met along the way out at schools and everything to know their work is important to me and their success is important to me. I think when you give essentially 52 days of your time, that was the largest commitment of time I made to anything in my first year, 1,600 miles of travel time, 52 days equivalent of time. I hope that it showed people that it was important. So that was one really, really big plan to do, the other one was to build a high performing, high functioning team around me...The whole, again, trying to get most of the executive team in place was really important, transition team I mentioned already but having an independent group of people come in, they were some of our people from Prince George’s County and people from around the county and across the state, they gave us an independent look at what the situation is so that, it can take you a long time to figure that stuff out without that concerted effort to do some sort of evaluative work, that’s sort of like the middle states’ process for accrediting high schools, to have those independent people come in and either verify or give you a different opinion about where things are, all of that was really important. At the same time, getting started on strategic planning so we're pretty close to final strategic plan. With data points and goals and things going forward, but not wanting to wait for that. We certainly have targeted things we know have been a traditional issue here, graduation rate for example. We know that we lag behind where we should be with graduation rate. We started worked on that right away with expanding the credit recovery programs that we have in place and putting in an early warning system for 9th graders and those kinds of things. We also wanted to build strong relationships with our bargaining units and not have a situation where we don't have the support of our bargaining units so I’m really proud that we finished this year with all four of our bargaining units, the agreements all approved ratified, approved by the board, everything is going great. The labor scene here is great. It's a really good thing.
Sentinel: What would you say has been you're biggest accomplishment? Obviously going to all the schools would be up there.
Maxwell: I think that was huge. I think getting through our budget cycle. I think it went as well as it possibly could have gone. You know surely there’s always a few questions. There ought to be a few questions, that was all fine but I think the budget is great. It gives us the ability to really do some expansion of programs that are important to parents. It gives us the ability to give something to our employees. So I think the budget approval, all four contracts is huge, getting to all the schools in the district was huge. I think all of that's great but again it’s high profile but having the right people around you is really critical to long-term growth of the district and making sure you have really competent people.
Sentinel: What would you say your biggest challenge was in your first year?
Maxwell: I think whenever you transition into a new job there’s just a lot of, I talked earlier about all the demands on your time, I think just coming in and getting established and making all the connections you need to make. There are a million people you need to meet. That’s a bit of a hyperbole, but there's a lot of people that you have to meet and a lot of things that you need to go to and people sort of judge what you think is important by what you go to or what you don’t go to. So it was important to go to some athletic things, it was important to go to some art things because I don't want somebody saying, 'You know he just likes athletics he doesn't like the arts,’ or 'He just likes the arts, and he doesn't like athletics.’" I'm very sensitive. I always was as a principal, making sure you go to maybe not all the same year but you've got to make sure your time speaks volume about what you think is important, I believe that very strongly. So when you invest your time I think people get that, they understand that.
Part I of a series. Next week, Maxwell continues his first-year review.