This week we conclude our conversation with Prince George’s County Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell.
We focus on the school system’s construction backlog, as well as learn about Maxwell’s favorite movie and more.
Sentinel: I believe it was you that said at a recent meeting that there's a $2 billion backlog in school construction funding. That's a huge number, larger than the budget that was passed this year. What needs to be done to lessen that gap? And then obviously with more students coming in you're going to need better facilities.
Maxwell: There are a few things that need to be done. We need to be really good stewards of the money that we already have and so I mentioned earlier, when we're fixing something we need to be really sure that we're fixing it and we're not wasting the resources that we have. There was an article earlier in the year about giving money back to the state. For example, because we weren't able to manage the money well as a school district in the year before I got here, and that's not the only time. So we have to be seen as good managers and good stewards of that money, and getting the projects done, and getting the projects done on time because that gives the people who fund us the confidence that we can use the money, that we can manage the money, that we can handle the amount of work. So that's one important thing, and the second really important thing is that we need to talk to our partners because in Maryland we don't raise our own money. I can't go out and sell $2 billion dollars in bonds like they can at other school districts and other places in the country and raise all the money I need to fix all my schools. Through our county and state partnerships, we have to sit down and we have to come to some understanding of how are we going to solve this problem. This isn't just my problem. It has come from not having appropriate funding levels, for a lot of different reasons, not malice by any stretch of the imagination but having the right amount of money to make our schools the way they ought to be. The right infrastructure, the right learning environment for kids is critically important. So talking to the county council, talking to the county executive, talking to the state. You're aware, I think, that our county executive and the county executive from Baltimore County and Montgomery County went down and said, 'Hey as the Big 3 we've got more kids in our three districts than almost the whole rest of the state put together.’ And we have this backlog of funding needs and those kinds of things, and if the state will increase, we will increase. So it's those kinds of conversations that we really need to support and we need to push. We are having some and we will continue to have some and we will have some additional conversations on top of the ones that are already about how do we really solve this problem? Is there a 10-year answer to this, a 15 year answer, what’s the answer and lets map out a strategy.
Sentinel: You mentioned the coalition with Montgomery and Baltimore counties and the plan that they were lobbying for is the plan that Baltimore City got, or a similar kind of deal. So what's it going to take to get something done? I mean obviously the bill this last session didn't pass, is it going to take just more lobbying with the Prince George's County delegation? What's it going to take?
Maxwell: It's going to take identifying a source of funding. I think that's really what it’s going to take. I think that there are a lot of delegates and senators in the three districts that were talking about but they are very intelligent and very capable people, and they're not going to approve something that's not fundable and not able to be accomplished. So what they need to find is the same thing that I'm looking for, which is just how do we get it done? And I think that continuing those conversations is good. I don't think anybody wants to take money away from other districts. So we're really talking about new revenue and the question is where does that new revenue come from?
Sentinel: Can you talk about some of the specific policy changes that have been made in the past year regarding cell phones, suspensions, and what's to come?
Maxwell: First of all, some of those are responsive to changes in state rules. There's a big concern, a rightful concern that some of us have been working on for a long time about suspensions of kids for what a lot of us refer to as discretionary offenses. What you see as disrespectful behavior may be different than what he sees as disrespectful behavior, and who's to judge that and how many days that's worth? So I think the response to the discipline code is in response to changes that the state made...Cell phones, look, technology is evolving and it’s evolving really, really fast. When I came up through school we didn't have cell phones. The first cell phones were as big as a shoebox. So I think there was a concern when pagers and all those kinds of things first came out, about who was using them and whether they were for illicit purposes or whatever, but I know that kids study on them. I know, I’ve sat with high school students in the last several years and we've talked about how they've used their technology. The study groups that you may have participated in college can be done remotely now. Just as I text or email with my deputy or whoever, the way I work is different and the way students learn is different and what we have to do is figure out how do we harness that, because our kids do need to be technologically aware. I was a principal when 9/11 happened, and I was a principal when the sniper thing came in. I have a whole different view on cell phones and kids than I had before that. When you see the panic in kids about whether their parents are alive or dead, when you see the panic in parents trying to reach their kids, when you have a teacher who can't reach their son who works in the World Trade Center and goes back and teaches her class and every period comes out and tries to reach him again until finally, thank goodness, he's managed to change the voicemail message on his answering service...so finally she knew that he was okay. But I'm telling you, my perspective on people, again, its never going to be acceptable that you're sitting and talking to your boyfriend in English class. It’s not going to happen ever. But teaching kids to use technology responsibly, just telling them to leave it in the locker, you've seen the price of smart phones recently they are just not going to do it; it's not real.
Sentinel: A couple just wrap up things. So we talked a little bit about the first year, now your feet are wet. What are you hoping to accomplish next year, what’s the outline?
Maxwell: So I'm very hopeful about it, we had this big training, discovery education, one of the biggest probably the biggest that discovery has ever done. Focused on getting that work done there, trying to resolve the last issues around evaluation tools, setting up a more collaborative partnership with the teachers association with the Pierces center review program. I think all of that's going to be really helpful to us. Building these programs we've gotten the approval for. Getting them up and running and getting some results out of it. The new program at Duval there, for example, the honors program, I mean we really have an attention to put in a really high-end program there that’s going to be really attractive to people, so I think that's really positive. I think finishing out my team, getting the strategic plan done and then I'm going to continue to do some visits to focus on some curricular areas. I mean you know that we're not meeting all of our compliance responsibilities, special needs for example. I'm going to look at some of those areas. I'm going to look at them in a more targeted way rather than just trying to get to all the schools. We're going to pick some schools and sort of highlight the issues and concerns in different curricular areas and get out there and kind of focus on them and focus my team on those issues and then I think I really want to work on that issue of highlighting the right work, the successes... there's really some great things going on and how do you sort of deal with those two things? I think that's kind of a big focus that we're going to push.
Sentinel: We always like to close with just a couple really quick short fun questions. What's your favorite band ever?
Maxwell: My favorite band ever...so I like a whole lot of different music. Probably one of my favorite pieces of classical music is Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D. On the other hand my wife and I saw Ella Fitzgerald in her last performance at Wolf Trap. So I like a lot of things.
Sentinel: Favorite movie?
Maxwell: I guess Amadeus is one of my favorite movies, I’ve probably seen that more than any other movie, but I like all of the Indiana Jones movies. I'm a Lord of the Rings fan, Star Wars.
Sentinel: So who's your favorite actor then, Harrison Ford?
Maxwell: Yeah, Harrison Ford is really awesome.
Sentinel: We've been talking about education, what was your favorite subject growing up?
Maxwell: I have to tell you, I really liked a lot of that, I was pretty good at math, I love to read, that’s one of the things I like to do most, I'm always reading, I read a lot for work obviously but I'm always reading for pleasure. I'm reading the Cold Finch right now, I’ve read almost all the Scotrow Books and the Tom Clancy books and the John Grisham books. I read a lot I read non-fiction, I read two of the three they just came out with not long ago with the final of the three versions of William Manchester Churchill series. I read the first two when they came out pretty quickly and then the third took a long time.
Sentinel: What do you like to eat?
Maxwell: I like all kinds of food but I'd say my favorite food is probably Italian, but I love a good bacon cheeseburger, company coming to dinner tonight we're serving steak and mashed potatoes. I like seafood, I like crab and fish and those things. I'm not a big crap picker like a lot of people are in Maryland. I'm too impatient for that, I want a good crab cake or crab dip or crab casserole or something, it takes me too long to get full picking those crabs. I know people who just like it as a social thing in Maryland, I do like crab a lot but I'm just not much on picking them.