LANHAM – For the first time in nearly 25 years, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) will see its leader serve more than one term.
On Feb. 17, County Executive Rushern Baker, III announced the reappointment of Kevin Maxwell to the chief executive officer (CEO) position and head of the county school system during a ceremony at DuVal High School.
The DuVal High School cheerleaders added “four more years’” to their usual “work it” cheer. The marching band played the “2001: A Space Odyssey” theme song and speeches were given in Maxwell’s honor as Baker announced the reappointment.
“We’ve seen a profound shift in the culture, outcomes and progress within Prince George’s County Public Schools,” Baker said. “This reappointment is recognition that our system is innovating and our students are succeeding. I am proud to reappoint Dr. Maxwell to a four-year term. I am confident that our schools will continue to reach new heights under his leadership.”
Maxwell was appointed to the CEO-ship in 2013 after Baker petitioned the state General Assembly to pass a bill (HB 1107) to give the county executive the power to appoint the CEO and some at-large board members to the county board of education.
The move has been controversial among county residents over the past four years, and it is frequently brought up in discussions about the school system.
That power of appointment is also one consistently referenced in conversations about recent scandals in the school system, including a child pornography case and the loss of the federal Head Start grant. Both of those have largely overshadowed Maxwell’s tenure as CEO, with many calling for his removal.
Baker’s announcement last Friday stood largely in defiance of calls for removal. In fact, Baker’s announcement was on the same day as a bill calling for an overall of HB 1107 was formally introduced to the Maryland House of Delegates.
Baker said it was a mere coincidence that both events happened on the same day.
“We made the decision at a time when I felt that, once I got the notice from Maxwell and I heard back from parents, teachers and everybody, that’s when we made it,” Baker said. “So no, (it was a coincidence).”
Despite controversy, PGCPS has seen large improvements under Maxwell’s leadership.
Maxwell, Baker and Segun Eubanks, the chair of the board of education, lauded many achievements the school system has had over the past four years. Among those are growing graduation rates and the growing partnerships with both county and community organizations. That list includes the county fire and police departments, Ventura Philanthropy, CASA de Maryland, and the county library system.
In addition, in the last four years PGCPS has seen enrollment increase by nearly 7,000 students while also seeing expansion in full-day prekindergarten from eight to 50 schools, expansion in language immersion from five to eight schools, the instigation of dual enrollment, arts integration, eight Excellence in Gifted and Talented Education Awards and 71 Maryland Green Schools.
“I think we have some great results,” Maxwell said. “I think that the results are what convinces people that you are engaged in the right work and that they should be a part of it and that they should join in and get on the bandwagon.”
Though Baker announced Maxwell’s reappointment, the board of education will have to vote to approve it and some members are hesitant to do so.
Edward Burroughs, III, who has been a staunch opponent of HB 1107 and a loud voice against many Maxwell proposals, said he is “going to vote (his) conscience” when it comes to Maxwell’s contract.
“I’m going to vote my consicence, there’s no doubt about it. There are a number of individuals that have approached me about being supportive of the contract renewal in the name of keeping stability – that’s the argument – and I agree with that, but I will not vote for (him),” Burroughs said.
Over the past several board meetings, Burroughs has lamented increasing class sizes, a reduction in SAT scores and the possible cut in funding for programs Burroughs thinks should be funded.
Burroughs also largely blamed the system set up by HB 1107 for the woes PGCPS has faced lately. He said he believes the Head Start grant would not have been lost if the CEO was accountable to the board.
Still, Baker said Maxwell has led PGCPS with professionalism and has expertly guided the school system through a tumultuous time.
“Have we had problems? Yes we have. Did I think we would have problems? Yes I did,” Baker said. “You’re going to have bumps and stumbles. The question is how you react to those things that go wrong. In every point of an incident that has happened in our school system, I have never lost confidence in the man that is sitting there.”
Now, both Baker and Maxwell are looking toward the future for PGCPS. Maxwell said he has a number of goals for the school system as he continues for four more years.
He wants to continue to see graduation rates rise, so PGCPS can meet the state average, and he is seeking expansion of a number of programs within the system.
“We’re going continue to expand our work in the arts. We’re going to get every high school to graduate at 90 percent. We’re going to expand our immersion programs. We’re going to expand our university partnerships,” Maxwell said. “And we’re going to keep moving forward.”