Monday, March 10, 2014 7:30 PM
Published on: Wednesday, May 22, 2013
By Jason Ruiter
Walking through the hallways of his alma mater, Crossland High School, Edward Burroughs III isn’t back to say “hello” to old teachers like most students. He’s there to work with them as their Board of Education member.
Although Burroughs won’t mention what he’s working on as he stops by at least a half-dozen classrooms and offices to talk, he does say that it’s urgent and he wants to help — not because he has to as a board member, but because he can.
“This is my old school, so I can do more here than I would at others,” Burroughs said, who graduated from the high school in 2010.
At the age of 18, Burroughs beat three candidates more than twice his age to transition from Prince George’s Board of Education student representative to the county’s District 8 board member.
“For months and months … we were canvassing,” said David Murray, Burroughs’ longtime friend, who also waged an unsuccessful campaign to win the District 1 seat on the board. Together, they canvassed hundreds of homes.
In the past 15 years, Prince George’s County Public Schools has been the last of 24 jurisdictions in the state, said Sen. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, whose Education Liaison was Burroughs. The bussing transportation has been so bad as to affect grades and PGCPS is searching for its eighth superintendent in 14 years. The board, at one point, considered a policy that gave them the copyright of a first-grader’s artwork.
In the 2012 elections, Murray lost to Board Member Zabrina Epps, District 1, by less than 1 percent. Raaheela Ahmed, another 18-year-old at the time, campaigned for a District 5 seat against the board’s current chair, Verjeana Jacobs, but lost last November even after garnering more than 20,000 votes.
The three young candidates — all under 20 — won their primary in 2012, but Burroughs was the only one to survive the gauntlet with 80 percent of the vote.
“As soon as I finished the (2010) campaign, I launched into another one,” Burroughs said, who added that with more money and connections, his opposition sat back and said: “I’m an adult, he’s a child. He’s going to screw it up.”
Now, Burroughs has a four-year term ahead of him to prove himself.
A slim 6-foot-3 inches, 20-years-old, black and sharply dressed, Burroughs has partaken in middle and high school, county, state and national student government, graduating in the top 5 percent in his class.
Burroughs’ parents both work for the U.S. government, “but they’re far removed from politics,” he said, describing his affinity for it as “innate.”
“As a young person, he’s very bright, very mature,” Muse said. “I think the wonderful thing about being a young person is that he will be seasoned. He’ll understand the political process. I see him as being the governor, the county executive. I see him as going very far.”
Burroughs takes 17 credits at the University of Maryland Baltimore County — majoring in political science with a minor in Spanish — on top of his part-time job as board member where, he says, the phone never stops ringing. A typical day is packed with meetings, hearings, phone calls and homework. On a recent night, he was up until 3:30 a.m. writing emails, he said.
The involvement and success in politics is met with some resistance, however.
“People tried to act like we were alternative candidates,” Murray said. But “we had a combination of general voters. I think newspapers endorsed both of us.”
Two months into Burroughs’ first term he was censured, a formal condemnation, by fellow board members for helping settle a truancy complaint at High Point High School, which lies outside his district.
In a Washington Post article, Burroughs was reported as saying that he got the job done, but “the situation was frankly scary.”
“They basically said I shouldn’t be here and didn’t know what the role of a board member was,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs saw his aid as a common-sense response to the area’s Parent Teacher Student Association.
“I want a reputation where people can feel like they can call me,” Burroughs said.
Others thought that he was censured because he brought attention to a school that experienced a stabbing.
“What does it take for us to get embarrassed?” he said. “Now, I wear it as a badge of pride.”
Visiting Crossland High School, Burroughs opted to conduct an interview for this article in the disciplinarian’s office rather than the main office. He talked to administrators and linked a young student with a mentor he knew personally, employing what he calls his “hands-on approach.”
“What do you like to do?”
“If you could fix one thing about Crossland, what would it be?” Burroughs asked, vetting the young freshman.
It looked like a process he had done before. Walking through the hallways of his old school, Burroughs stopped to hear the complaints of a janitor and to clarify a few things about budget and salary changes.
Because there is currently no superintendent to attend to the day-to-day of PGCPS, oversight has lagged, according to education officials.
“Our elected officials need to realize that the superintendent is hired to see the everyday,” said Andre Nottingham, Burroughs’ campaign opponent in 2012 and a consultant for college readiness. “Overall, there’s a lack of follow up and follow through. … We need a superintendent who is able to galvanize the system to move in a specific direction.”
Many involved in the politics say the same. Recently, County Executive Rusher Baker passed a bill — which Burroughs opposed — that gave him control over the superintendent selection process. The law goes into effect June 1.
Dr. Robert Croninger, a professor of education policy and research methods at University of Maryland, College Park, said that he hasn’t seen a takeover like this play out in a county.
“In some cities that’s been effective,” he said, adding that some might say there’s too much meddling from the board, and that’s why there’s high turnover of superintendents.
“The micromanagement needs to stop at all levels. Allow the professionals to do their work,” Nottingham said. “The board’s responsibility is to make sure there is a match between the budget and the overall outcome.”
Board of Education Member Carletta Fellows, District 7, hypothesized that problems may stem from a lack of cohesion on the board as well as a vision, but that the role of a board member is to “be the fiduciary” and ensure that they reflect their constituents as best they can.
Fellows has been the only other board member besides Burroughs to be censured in recent years for obstructing board hearings from sometimes aggressive questioning.
In Burroughs’ first term, he was also prone to questions but says he has taken a more subtle approach his second term.
“The measure of a successful board member is not that you fought, but that you got something accomplished,” Burroughs said. “My first term, I fought, and people loved it. It’s so much easier to grandstand than to sit down and work with board members. … I realized if I want to get anything done, I had to change my approach.”
Smiling, Burroughs added that he misses being a rebel. With his free time, Burroughs likes to engage in the student government he regards with a nostalgic reverence.
“I’m built a little different, alright?” Burroughs said. “Yesterday, I helped a candidate get elected student president — my fun yesterday was doing politics on campus.
“I love student government. It’s where I first learned to go up to an adult and say ‘no.’ How cool is it to go to a CFO with a rally of students behind you? It’s where you get that fire in the belly.”
During his time in student government at Crossland High School, Burroughs lobbied for the school to have its own auditorium, whipping votes, advocating and testifying.
Currently, the multi-million dollar state-of-the-art facility is near construction with Burroughs currently monitoring its progress.
“It’s rare that an SGA president gets to see that,” he said, adding that he considers it one of his greatest accomplishments.
For the summer he plans to visit Argentina for three months to study abroad and learn Spanish to help assist his growing Hispanic constituency. He has never been away from the county for that long.
“Since I’m young, people call me a lot of things,” Burroughs said. “But the one I like, the one I’m OK with, is the ‘son of Prince George’s.’ … I love Prince George’s. I love my district. I’m not going anywhere.”