Cit­i­zens, of­fi­cials ad­dress county school con­cerns

Dis­cuss Dis­trict 9 de­fi­cien­cies, needed im­prove­ments

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES [email protected]­news.com

Look­ing for di­rec­tion and in­put on how to im­prove school use and fa­cil­i­ties in the south­ern end of the county, Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Mem­ber Sonya Wil­liams hosted a Dis­trict 9 Schools Strate­gic Plan­ning Work Ses­sion Satur­day at the Sur­ratts-Clin­ton Branch Li­brary in Clin­ton.

More than 30 res­i­dents, school sys­tem staff and ex­perts from the Mary­land-Na­tional Cap­i­tal Park and Plan­ning Com­mis­sion at­tended the event, which in­cluded Prince Ge­orge’s County Plan­ning De­part­ment’s Coun­ty­wide Plan­ning Di­vi­sion Chief Der­ick Ber­lage, school sys­tem Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer W. Wes­ley Watts Jr. and Cap­i­tal Im­prove­ments Pro­gram Plan­ner II El­iz­a­beth Chais­son.

Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Mem­ber K. Alexan­der Wal­lace and County Coun­cil­man Mel Franklin (D) also made an ap­pear­ance.

“About 10 years ago, we had 137,000 stu­dents in our school sys­tem. To­day, we have about 127,000 so to put that in per­spec­tive, that’s like Dis­trict 9 is dis­ap­pear­ing,” said Wil­liams in her in­tro­duc­tory re­marks. “Imag­ine that be­ing dis­persed through­out the county. We have is­sues be­cause we’re not ef­fi­ciently us­ing our build­ings — that’s the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s per­spec­tive. … So at the end of the day, we want to hear from you about your strate­gies for help­ing us solve that prob­lem be­cause the state and the county will not con­tinue to give us cap­i­tal dol­lars [if we are not go­ing to be] as ef­fi­cient as we can be.”

Dur­ing the work ses­sion, res­i­dents were split into three dif­fer­ent groups — east, cen­tral and west — based on what area they live in within the dis­trict. Each group was pro­vided with in­for­ma­tion pack­ets and a list of guid­ing ques­tions which asked for their in­put on school bound­aries and con­sol­i­da­tions, as well as cap­i­tal as­set manage­ment.

Wil­liams ad­vised the groups to con­sider tim­ing, cost im­pli­ca­tions, the com­mu­nity im­pact re­gard­ing those bound­aries and con­sol­i­da­tions, knowns ver­sus un­knowns and their over­all de­sired out­come.

“We, as the [ed­u­ca­tion] board, are about to go through the ap­proval for the Cap­i­tal Im­prove­ment Pro­gram start­ing with 2017. In the spring, we’ll start talk­ing about 2018,” Wil­liams said. “Hav­ing those things in mind will help you re­ally craft your ideas so that we can get good thoughts from this ses­sion.”

Af­ter about an hour of col­lab­o­rat­ing and brain­storm­ing, the groups pre­sented their rec­om­men­da­tions to Wil­liams and the team of ex­perts.

First to present from the cen­tral group was Wanda Sledd of Clin­ton. Sledd spoke about the need for a busi­ness, com­puter or trade academy in all schools; train­ing staff to keep up with mod­ern tech­nolo­gies; updated bath­rooms and locker rooms with more pri­vate stalls and show­ers; bet­ter security cam- eras; im­proved fa­cil­ity light­ing; more user-friendly books and white­boards in the class­room; and smaller class sizes.

“I think they touched on a num­ber of con­cerns,” Wil­liams said. “Some of those are cap­i­tal main­te­nance con­cerns. Some of those are in­struc­tional in the class­room. Some of them are school-based bud­get is­sues. So as we move beyond this step here … we can have a bet­ter con­ver­sa­tion … about how we can fit it into busi­ness.”

Next to present for the east group was C. Sylvia Proc­tor of Brandy­wine.

“One of the con­cerns that emerged in our group was school closures but more im­por­tantly was the is­sue around bound­aries,” Proc­tor said. “We thought that to pre­vent closures, we should al­ways con­nect pro­grams to the high­est-per­form­ing schools. … That in turn, we hope, would also de­crease the size of classes.”

Proc­tor said there are too many over­crowded schools within the dis­trict while other schools are be­ing un­der­uti­lized. Shift­ing stu­dents to those un­der­uti­lized schools would be a bet­ter op­tion, she said.

“We also have con­cerns about build­ings. We think ren­o­va­tions to the schools is im­por­tant,” Proc­tor said. “If all else fails and some of th­ese high-per­form­ing schools had to close — whether ele­men­tary, mid­dle school or high school — one of the con­cerns that we have is that there be some type of mech­a­nism in place to en­sure that suc­cess­ful pro­grams are con­tin­ued at the new schools.”

In terms of fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion, Proc­tor sug­gested that the board of ed­u­ca­tion con­sider form­ing a non­profit com­mu­nity foun­da­tion to help board mem­bers gen­er­ate ad­di­tional funds for the school sys­tem, at least in Dis­trict 9, she said.

“When we talk about con­nect­ing those dots and con­tin­u­ing the pro­grams, that is so im­por­tant,” Wil­liams said.

“Part of the prob­lem that we’re deal­ing with on our side of the county is that there are three pri­mary schools — Po­tomac Land­ing [Ele­men­tary], Fort Wash­ing­ton For­est [Ele­men­tary] and Ac­co­keek [Academy],” said Michael Scott of Fort Wash­ing­ton, who pre­sented for the west group. “Fort Wash­ing­ton For­est is un­der­uti­lized and Po­tomac Land­ing is right at about max ca­pac­ity.”

At Ac­co­keek Academy, Scott said the ra­tio of kids to class­room size is too great in num­ber.

“It’s not op­ti­mal for the academy even though they just did the ren­o­va­tion,” he said. “The other prob­lem that we have is that we also have kids from within Dis­trict 9, they’re au­to­mat­i­cally fed over to Ac­co­keek Academy just be­cause it’s a TAG [tal­ented and gifted] cen­ter. So one of the things we talked about last year and brought up this year was let’s un­der­stand what the TAG looks like and let’s un­der­stand how the TAG lottery ap­ply to kids in Dis­trict 9, kids within the county and is there a way … we can make one of th­ese other ele­men­tary or mid­dle schools a TAG cen­ter so that we can get rid of the lottery that’s over­bur­den­ing Ac­co­keek Academy.”

“When you’re talk­ing about en­roll­ment in dol­lars, then the board needs to do bet­ter in pro­mot­ing those pos­i­tive sto­ries and pro­mot­ing Prince Ge­orge’s County Pub­lic Schools as a good school sys­tem so that peo­ple who can af­ford to go to pri­vate school will want to come to our pub­lic schools,” said Karen Gra­ham, who is also a Fort Wash­ing­ton res­i­dent. “The other thing is the Na­tional Har­bor pop­u­la­tion — that’s just a lit­tle ad­di­tive in the fact that there is hous­ing back there. Where are those kids go­ing to go? They’re go­ing to go to Oxon Hill Mid­dle or they’re go­ing to go to pri­vate school. They’re go­ing to go some­where. It’s go­ing to all im­pact Po­tomac Land­ing, Ac­co­keek and Fort Wash­ing­ton For­est at some point.”

As a mem­ber of the Mary­land 21st Cen­tury School Fa­cil­i­ties Com­mis­sion, Franklin said the im­por­tant work of strate­gi­cally plan­ning as it re­lates to the county’s fa­cil­i­ties — in­clud­ing im­prov­ing the look and re­sources of pub­lic schools — needs to be con­tin­ued.

“We talk a lot about choose pub­lic and try­ing to get peo­ple into pub­lic schools [but] I can’t get folks in the door to even in­ves­ti­gate be­cause of the look of a lot of our schools. So it’s a crit­i­cal is­sue,” Franklin said. “Some other ju­ris­dic­tions have some cre­ative ideas and we’re in­ves­ti­gat­ing all of those. The 21st Cen­tury School Fa­cil­i­ties Com­mis­sion is go­ing to make rec­om­men­da­tions to the state leg­is­la­ture by the end of the year for how to ad­dress bet­ter fund­ing school fa­cil­i­ties for the long-term for our cap­i­tal needs.”

“We have 210 schools. If you change a bound­ary, you’re go­ing to up­set peo­ple on this side and that side so there’s a lot of de­ci­sions that we have to make,” Watts said as the work ses­sion con­cluded. The in­put that we get from par­ents are go­ing to help us make those de­ci­sions. We have to work to­gether to fig­ure out th­ese so­lu­tions.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

Prince Ge­orge’s County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Mem­ber Sonya Wil­liams lis­tens as County Coun­cil­man Mel Franklin speaks to a group of res­i­dents, school sys­tem staff and county agency of­fi­cials dur­ing a Dis­trict 9 Schools Strate­gic Plan­ning Work Ses­sion she...

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