The Politics of Education Matters
Now that the gambling issue seems to be put to rest (at least until 2014), I can get back to blogging about issues that I believe really matter, like education. This is the single issue that I believe will directly influence and shape the future of our county, whether it’s in a positive or negative direction. Our county’s success is intertwined with our ability to effectively educate our students for the 21st century.
Our students’ success hangs in the balance, and the puppeteers holding the strings are the nine individuals elected to serve on our School Board. While many other contributors play key roles to support students in our public schools and we couldn’t do anything without our teachers, ultimately the Superintendent and School Board make the decisions that affect our outcomes.
I was hesitant to comment after the astounding victories of three youth in our School Board primaries on April 3. I was pleased to let the voters’ voices speak instead. Just as I thought they would, voters told us what what qualifications really matter in being a member of the School Board. Age mattered less than platforms, policies, and communication with the community stakeholders where they live. The victors proved they have done that, those who lost did not.
That’s a tough pill to swallow for incumbents who finished second. It’s proof that you can’t run on name recognition alone to hold onto your seat. The people are watching, and they are making their voices heard.
That being said, it’s still an uphill climb for at least two of the three young candidates. While they were lauded on major media outlets such as CNN, they still face a difficult path to victory in November, where the voter turnout in a presidential election is expected to be high, and many of the voters who show up will be less educated about their choices down the ballot (where the School Board candidates reside) than at the top. Name recognition will carry the day, unless we get out there door-to-door and educate our neighbors about our choices for the School Board.
When I say “educate,” I’m hopeful that part of this outreach focuses directly on making our current elected School Board accountable for their actions. Here are some issues I am concerned about, and I hope you will add your own in the comments section of this blog post.
(1) Make Parental and Community Engagement a Priority. I have yet to hear of any parental or community engagement initiatives led by members of the School Board. I’ve never received any invitations from my elected School Board member, Donna Hathaway-Beck, to attend forums or meetings or email her with my concerns as a parent in her district. Councilman Mel Franklin has invited her to participate in his community forums, but she hasn’t taken that initiative on her own. How can she represent my interests as a parent and community stakeholder if she doesn’t even know what my priorities are? Instead, I am required to go to her and the School Board to voice my concerns, at their convenience (usually during weekday or evening meetings that are difficult to attend as a working mother of young children). School Board members need to take leadership in engaging both with parents as key partners and with businesses and community members as future employers and key stakeholders with public schools in our neighborhoods. Ask your school board candidates to commit to that goal if they are asking for your vote.
(2) Ask why the County Executive Needs an Education Commission if the School Board is Effective. County Executive Baker made a Pledge to the People of Prince George’s County in his 2010 campaign. The first two pledges were targeted at improving education, by “supporting demonstration projects for early education, year-round schooling, early college; teacher recruitment, and other innovative programs.” He also promised “greater coordination of the entire Prince George’s County government with the school system for accelerating improvements.”
Very little of this has been accomplished; but with the introduction of an education liaison in his office and a newly-appointed education commission to provide guidance to Dr. Hite, it seems that Mr. Baker is implying that the School Board is incapable of doing the job it was elected to do. I have yet to find other citizen commissions that are appointed by local elected officials, to do the work that an elected School Board is already tasked to do. We already know that as a former state delegate, Baker helped to abolish the elected school board, so I’m assuming that he believes voters are incapable of electing competent individuals and thereform he must take action to help steer the ship in the right direction. Hopefully, voters will speak for the need to move in a different direction for the School Board at the ballot box in November instead.
(3) Leave the student board member alone. As the Washington Post reported and editorialized earlier in June, the School Board spent a lot of wasted time debating whether the student board member should be allowed to attend executive sessions. To be quite blunt, it does nothing to help improve BOE Chair Jeana Jacobs’ image in the county, since the student board member is also the sister of her opponent in the November election. It provides additional proof of the petty politics that Jacobs will engage in, following her crushing loss to Raheela Ahmed in the primary election. If Jacobs wishes to refute these allegations, and tell us what platform she is running on to be re-elected, at the very least I would welcome a website where we can learn more information about what she has accomplished in her previous terms. So far, none exists.
(4) Get rid of the negative press. When the school system is defending itself against discrimination lawsuits or questionable suspensions, we can’t focus our energy on improving student achievement. Let’s develop an organizational culture that doesn’t tolerate unethical behavior, so we can be role models for our students. It’s time for all of us to step up to the plate to accomplish that goal, but it starts with elected leaders and public school officials should be held to the highest ethical standards, first and foremost.
What do you think the School Board needs to prioritize? How will School Board candidates earn your vote in November? I’d like to know, post it here and I’ll be sure to share it!