As both a Member of the Board of Education for and a citizen of Prince George’s County, I know I am not alone when I confess that the 2016-2017 School Year has not been perfect. From administrative leave issues and school air quality concerns to our fight for the equitable funding of our schools and, most recently, the unfortunate questioning of our system’s success in educating students of color and/or poverty, I, for one, will always remember this school year as one that highlighted our areas of needed growth.
Many of you, throughout District 7, have reached out to me to express your views on several different policy and budgetary matters before the Board of Education. As your elected voice on the Board, I have tried, and will continue to try, to bring as much value and resources back to our communities – from Suitland to Westphalia and from Camp Springs to District Heights.
Late last week, the Board of Education approved our FY2018 Operating Budget that totals more than $1.97 billion in local, state, and federal funding. While this budget does not fully fund all the initiatives and programs that we all wanted, here are some major budgetary highlights:
Restorative Justice: Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) will fully fund a Restorative Justice pilot program for nearly 10 middle and high schools – including several District 7 schools. This was a major pillar of my campaign platform and I proudly voted to support it.
Educator Supports: PGCPS will expand our PAR/Mentor Teacher Assistance Program, where we pair a new educator with an experienced Mentor Teacher that serves as a valued resource, coach, and a literal lifeline in supporting the highs and lows that come with being an educator.
Teacher Academy: Starting next school year, PGCPS will begin our first cohort of students in our new Teacher Academy. This academic program will afford high school students who are interested in becoming teachers the opportunity to earn an Associate’s degree in Teaching from the county’s community college – setting them on an affordable pathway to a Bachelor’s degree and, in return for our investment, then coming back to PGCPS to teach in our schools.
Healthy Start Breakfast: While this was not originally funded by the county, I made the motion to allocate $200,000 to expand our PGCPS Healthy Start Breakfast program for low-income students. Many of the schools in District 7 are served by this program and I have personally seen the social and academic benefits reaped from having programs like this for our students.
Background Checks: As Chair of the Board’s Family and Community Engagement Committee, I proudly supported allocating more than $500,000 towards waiving the cost of background checks for low-income families. I strongly believe that a family’s socioeconomic status should not be a barrier for them wanting to be an engaged parent/guardian in their student’s school.
Language Immersion: PGCPS offers over 200+ academic programs for our more than 132,000 students – the most of any jurisdiction in the State of Maryland. One of those 200+ academic programs is the Overlook Spanish Immersion program in District 7. In our FY18 budget, language immersion programs, just like the highly sought after one at Overlook, are expanded.
While these six topics are some of the major highlights, the FY18 Operating Budget addresses many other concerns, including transportation, maintenance, funding AP Course Exams for low-income students, student athlete safety, high school counseling services, expanding Pre-K classrooms, revamping our employees' technology and students' textbooks, hiring more school-based Literacy and Math Specialists, and much more.
As our county heads into the summer, please know that my job on the Board of Education does not end – there is still plenty of work left to be done. Yes, many of the promises I ran on in 2016 were fulfilled – from a new Suitland High School and Restorative Justice to Educator Supports and Alumni Engagement – but throughout the next few months, I will be working on the following District 7 and county-wide initiatives:
- Launching the District 7 Community Advisory Council and a weekly online forum for updates;
- Chairing the PGCPS Board of Education’s 2017-2018 Equity Task Force; and,
- Crafting a Board Policy that establishes a county-wide Community Schools program.
Yours, in service,
K. Alexander Wallace
Board Member, District 7