Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
Prince George’s County is welcoming its eighth schools chief in 14 years, and this one is hand-picked by the county executive. Kevin Maxwell is a product of the county’s public schools and was a teacher and principal there for two decades. He joins Kojo in studio to talk about raising test scores, closing an achievement gap and creating stability in a district used to turnover at the top.
- Kevin Maxwell Chief Executive Officer, Prince George's County Public Schools
Fewer students are enrolling in public schools in Prince George’s County, Md., than in other Washington suburbs. In particular, students from middle-income families are attending non-public schools instead. New schools chief Kevin Maxwell says the school district will need to add more programs and remain competitive in order to lure parents back to the county. “Their return is critically important,” Maxwell said.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The new chief of Prince George's County public schools has to gear up quickly. He started his job Aug. 1, and school starts Aug. 19. But it's not like he doesn't know his way around. Kevin Maxwell grew up in Prince George's County, went to the public schools himself and was a teacher or principal there for more than two decades.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINow he's back as the head of Maryland's second largest school system, his arrival marking the final piece of country executive Rushern Baker's plan to overhaul the public schools. Test scores are worse than in most other Maryland districts, and leaders in the school system don't last in the county. Maxwell is the eighth schools chief in 14 years.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAmong the challenges facing Kevin Maxwell: winning back middle class families who pulled their kids out of the public schools and boosting test scores of minority students. It's a tall order, but people who know Maxwell say he is the man to do it. Kevin Maxwell joins us in studio. He is the CEO of Prince George's County public schools. Kevin Maxwell, thank you for joining us.
DR. KEVIN MAXWELLGlad to be here.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation. Give us a call. What would you like to ask the new chief of the Prince George's County public schools? The number is 800-433-8850. Or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a homecoming of sorts for you. As I said, you grew up in the county, graduated from Bladensburg High School, spent more than 20 years as a teacher and administrator in the county, including eight years as principal of Northwestern High School in Hyattsville. What made this the right career move for you, taking the helm of the county's troubled school system?
MAXWELLI think the -- it was actually the change in the organizational structure under the new law from the state that made it more appealing to me than at other times. I have a relationship with Mr. Baker. I've known him since I was principal at Northwestern High School, and he was with the leadership academy at the University of Maryland. And we developed a, you know, a good chemistry, a good working relationship and have, you know, been in touch off and on over the years.
MAXWELLIt's not like we're, you know, the regular, you know, chum buddies. But we certainly know each other. We have a respect for each other's work. And, you know, I think, you know, when you have the state legislature, you have the county council, the county executive and everyone kind of lining up saying, we want to make things to be better, it makes it a special moment, a magic moment, if you will.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that education is a four-generation family business at your house. Your wife and three of your four children are educators, as well as your wife's mother and grandmother.
MAXWELLThat's correct. It's really a wonderful thing. The dinner table conversations are sometimes quite interesting. We had the opportunity a little over a year ago to have my mother-in-law join our daughter and my wife in her elementary classroom in Anne Arundel County and, you know, take some pictures and have three generations of teachers there at one time. It was pretty amazing.
NNAMDIThat's got to be an enviable kind of support system to have when you're undertaking this kind of task. In the dozen years since you last worked in Prince George's county, public enrollment -- public school enrollment has fallen, in part, because middle class parents have pulled their kids out. What will it take to lure those families back to the public schools? And how important is their return for the success of the system?
MAXWELLWell, I think their return is critically important, and I think it's going to take a multi-pronged effect. First of all, we need to establish some communication with those folks who have become disenfranchised with the school system and really let them know that, you know, we value them. We want them to return to the public school system. But we also need to be competitive. And in that, I mean, you know, I've read a lot over, you know, the period of time that this debate has been going on about waiting lists for programs that are very popular with parents.
MAXWELLThey just simply want more of what we already have to offer, but they also want some additional programming as well. And I think that those voices are there. And by opening up that dialogue and really becoming competitive with what other schools are offering and what other districts are offering, those parents will come back to the school system.
NNAMDIWhat do you think? You can call us at 800-433-8850. As we mentioned, a lot of middle class families have pulled their children out of the Prince George's County public schools in recent years. What do you think it will take to lure them back? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Or you could send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Our guest is Kevin Maxwell. He is CEO of Prince George's County public schools.
NNAMDIYou can send email to email@example.com. Or simply go to our website, kojosjow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. The number of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals provided by their school has grown in recent years from 44 percent in 2008 to 60 percent last school year. What challenges does that present when more than half the kids in the school system are from low-income families?
MAXWELLI think, you know, certainly poverty presents some challenges to us, but I don't think it should be looked at as, you know, an impediment to achievement because we certainly know that children who come from impoverished backgrounds can learn, can do well, can be very, very successful. So rather than look at excuses, I think we look -- need to look at some of the things that we can do.
MAXWELLFor example, we've just expanded, in the last couple of weeks, the opportunity for children to attend preschool education in some of the transforming neighborhoods that Mr. Baker has identified and, you know, so you can compensate for some of those issues by providing some additional resources to children through the way you allocate school system resources.
NNAMDIWhen you stepped down as superintendent of the Anne Arundel County public schools to take your new post, you said you'd like to have gone even farther in closing the achievement gap between students of different races. You made good progress especially in the early stages of your tenure. Then the improvement seemed to slow. What happened?
MAXWELLWell, I think that it's easier -- depending on how low your scores are, it's easier to make gains in the beginning. And the gap is one part of the conversation. But there's also the overall achievement. And so while we close the gap -- and remember that the other groups are not stagnant in their achievement, they're growing as well.
MAXWELLSo while closing the gap around seven percentage points, depending on which statistic you're looking at over seven years, we also increased math achievement by African-American students by 16 percentage points to 75 percent of students achieving advanced and proficient and by 17 points in reading to 79 percent.
MAXWELLSo again, as you get closer and closer to 100 percent, those gains become harder and harder to achieve. But students are actually achieving, you know, quite well. It's one of the higher performing districts in the state. And we're very proud of that achievement although, again, I would really like to get to the point where all students are achieving at the same levels.
NNAMDIHow has that influenced you? How can that guide you in addressing the same problems in Prince George's County because despite being one of the wealthiest majority African-American counties in the entire country, two years ago, black students reportedly scored 19 points lower on math assessments and 14 points lower in reading than white students. How do you plan to address that achievement gap?
MAXWELLWell, I think there are a number of ways to do that. Again, I mentioned preschool education earlier. We need to get more kids into the preschool -- pre-kindergarten arena and kindergarten, of course. And we also need to provide greater access to students. And this may sound, you know, backwards at the beginning, but sometimes we focus too much on remediation instead of acceleration.
MAXWELLAnd so instead of, you know, constantly going back over the things students haven't learned, sometimes you need to give them different challenges that get them to the same point. So instead of a summer school for remediation, how about a summer school program for acceleration where you give students some opportunity to work on the work before the other kids are getting it to sort of give them a head start as they enter that work?
MAXWELLSo we've done -- we did some work in Anne Arundel County where we gave students some additional time with some of our best and brightest teachers to go over that material that they were going to face in today's math lesson earlier in the day than other students were getting it. So they were getting more time. But that was focused not on going back over, you know, previous skills but on the skills that they're getting ready to learn and trying to set them up for a positive experience.
NNAMDIWe got several tweets from Eugene Williams who I know is an educator himself. One of them says, "Eighty --" and oh, hi, Eugene. "Eighty percent of the freshmen enrolling in the Prince George's Community College must take developmental math." Eugene Williams says that teachers are having problems with the Praxis exam, especially in math. He talks about discipline problems plaguing elementary, middle and high schools. And he asks, do you have plans for dealing with these issues?
MAXWELLWell, indeed. First of all, you know, the Praxis exam for teachers needs to be a responsibility of universities, and we need to have some serious conversations with higher education about that. There are a number of universities that require that in order for educators to graduate, and putting it on them post-graduation is sort of passing the, you know, the problem on to someone else.
MAXWELLAnd, you know, I'm meeting with some university officials beginning next week, and I plan on, you know, carrying that message to them, that I want teachers to graduate already with a certificate, you know, able to come in and not waiting for that, you know, to happen.
MAXWELLAnd when it comes to the remediation work in colleges and universities, we've been doing some, you know, work in my past career where we partnered with a community college in something we call math first where we're getting kids ready while they're in high school to get them where they're not going to need the remediation, and that's been quite successful. We've been doing it for about two years now and the early data is really good. We work with two of our 12 high schools, and we're talking about broadening out to scale in the county.
MAXWELLBut of course, I've left to come here. But I'm going to have some conversations with Dr. Dukes at the community college here in Prince George's and with Dr. Loh and the other folks at the University of Maryland, College Park and at Bowie State in the coming weeks to have conversations about those kinds of projects where we take care of that work while they're still in high school rather than there.
MAXWELLAnd as for discipline, I think we need to focus on -- and the success that, again, I've had in my past career with intervening with positive behavioral interventions and working to reward kids for good behavior and not focusing solely on bad behavior is very, very important, making sure that, you know, teachers have good classroom management skills and that there are supports for kids who need, you know, that kind of structure in classrooms.
MAXWELLThat, I think, is a much better answer for us than, you know, taking kids out of class or taking kids out of school where they fall farther and farther behind on their work. And so we have to really work on those issues as well.
NNAMDIThere's another kind of equity issue being discussed right now in some school districts -- I know in Montgomery County for sure -- and I'd like to know if you had that experience maybe in Anne Arundel County, private donations raised by PTAs or booster clubs that fund resources like new football fields, computers, and the argument is that these things are happening in the more affluent parts of the county and it further extends the gap between what's happening in those schools and those schools where children from lower income families are attending. Is that an issue that you've had to deal with?
MAXWELLIt's an issue everywhere, and of course, I was in Montgomery County for six years before I went to Anne Arundel County. But, you know, things, you know, even things like elementary playgrounds there are some communities where, you know, the PTAs and folks can raise money to upgrade the playground equipment. And then there's some money that's available for the highest poverty schools, the (unintelligible) and things out of Annapolis.
MAXWELLAnd then the sort of lower middle class schools were getting squeezed for that kind of work in Anne Arundel County. But I think you need to come, you know, together as a community and talk about that issue. And if there's more private funds going to one area or another, then you probably need to reallocate your public resources towards the other schools to balance that equity issue out.
NNAMDIPlease put your headphones on because we're about to go to the telephones where Ebeca (sp?) in Bowie, Md. awaits us. Ebeca, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EBECAHi. Can you hear me?
EBECAHi. I have a question for your guest. I live in Bowie, Md., and I've been living there for quite a while, love it there. I love my home, don't want to move. But I have three boys. They're going to start going to public school soon. One is going to start pre-K, which I don't qualify for pre-K, so I have to pay for it. But what I'm concerned about is the fact that this -- not necessarily the elementary school but the middle schools and the high school in the area are really poorly rated.
EBECAAnd either we're going to be making some tough choices in the coming years to figure out if we want to stay in Bowie or not, even though we're so close to Anne Arundel County where I grew up and went to school. So I wanted to hear from your guest what is it that I should be doing as a parent to ensure that we don't have to make that tough choice and we can stay in Bowie and send our kids to middle school and the elementary school. But that, you know, it's something that, one, either I can do or you will be doing in the next, you know, five, six years to make sure that I can stay in Bowie.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Kevin Maxwell.
MAXWELLSo I think there are a couple of things that I think are important for you to be doing, first, is to make sure that you're engaged as a parent in the community and talk to other parents who are in the community and be involved in the conversation for both funding and for the right kinds of programming. You know, when you say that Bowie schools are poorly rated, I would, you know, I guess question in relationship to what. I lived in Bowie for a very long time myself, and two of my four children graduated from Bowie High School, went to elementary school in the Bowie schools.
MAXWELLMy youngest daughter who came out of there has been a teacher now for -- she's starting her fourth year and four years of university. So about seven years ago, she graduated from Bowie High School. My wife just graduated -- just retired after 36 years of teaching, the last 15 years at Bowie High School. And I think that, you know, there are plenty of kids who are succeeded quite well at Bowie High School and a number of programs there they're thriving. That's not to say that there aren't still some concerns and some things that need to be addressed.
MAXWELLBut I'm not, you know, convinced that it is the worst school in town. And again, I sent my own children -- two of my own children there. The, you know, the work in terms of monitoring those schools, working with leadership in the schools, working with teacher leadership in the schools and making sure that we continuously improve those schools is one of my priorities.
MAXWELLI plan on being and I've said this a number of times in a number of forums at every school personally this year to visit classrooms to see the level of instruction, to see the level of, you know, conduct in the schools, of teaching capacity in the schools. And so that's what I'll be doing, and I again, I hope that you will be engaged in the community and be engaged in conversations with PTA as your children grow older and enter the schools.
NNAMDIEbeca, did he sound like a Bowie High School booster? Ebeca?
EBECAYes, he - yes, indeed.
NNAMDIWell, he obviously likes the high school.
EBECAYou've given a little bit more confidence. However, in comparison to what, you know, what we look at and all of my peers look at what we're looking at ratings are, the grade school ratings and the ratings are available publicly, and Bowie High School right now is not in the top performing at all.
NNAMDIYou raised a fascinating question, Ebeca. What should people look at if they're looking at a high school besides ratings?
MAXWELLFrom my perspective, they should look at the test scores, but they should also look at the colleges and universities students are going to. They should look at the scholarships kids earning. They should look at the quantity of work beyond just the reading and math scores that are published on MSA scores but advanced placement scores, SAT scores. And you should look at not just the average scores, but you should look at the range of scores. You can certainly have and there's plenty of, you know, evidence across the country.
MAXWELLYou know, you can have students who get into great schools, Ivy League schools, for example, and have pretty mediocre careers, and then you can have people who go to, you know, state colleges and have outstanding careers and do quite well. So student motivation, student support and making sure that as a parent you're advocating for the right, you know, things, the right supports in your school, the right teachers in your school, the right level of funding in your schools is an important part of that.
NNAMDIEbeca, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you have calls, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you're interested in calling, the number is 800-433-8850. What do you think is the biggest challenge for the new chief of the Prince George's County Public Schools? 800-433-8850 or you can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George's County public schools. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What do you think Kevin Maxwell's top priority should be as the new head of the Prince George's County public schools? You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I am glad that our last caller, Ebeca, talked about ratings because the nation is also obsessed with standardized testing.
NNAMDIFormer D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee embraced tests as a means to evaluate teachers and measure student success. However, in Montgomery County, Superintended Joshua Starr says we shouldn't put so much stock in testing. How well do they actually measure success for both teachers and students in your view?
MAXWELLI would put myself somewhere in between the two of them. I'm not in favor of a moratorium of standardized test nor do I think they're the only part of, you know, how you look at or rate schools. I believe that students need more than just, you know reading and math scores. Being proficient in reading should be looked at as sort of a baseline that everyone should be able to achieve, being proficient in numeracy, same kind of thing. You know, you should expect that of kids. But it isn't enough.
MAXWELLAnd so you want to make sure kids can read, write, compute. You want to make sure that kids also can create, that they can, you know, solve problems, be engaged in projects that they need to able to work together. I mean, in this world today, we have very few jobs where you sit in a, you know, a place all by yourself and produce all by yourself. Working together is part of the fabric of our society.
MAXWELLSo being technologically competent, being able to use the latest in technology as you graduate from high school and move on to college, the world of work or the military, you need to be able, you know, to be versatile in that way. Reading is a part of that, but I -- and I also think that, you know, being able to, you know, to play an instrument, to be athlete, to be engaged in the other aspects of school is very, very important as well.
MAXWELLSo you look at test scores as part of what you do. But I know, you know, for a fact that there are, you know, teachers who teach reading, for example, they're like held up to a different standard. And teachers who are not reading teachers, they feel sort of that ultimate responsibility for the reading scores.
MAXWELLBut, in fact, reading is a responsibility of everybody in a school. Writing is a responsibility of everyone at school. Computing is part of everybody's responsibility in a school. And so, you know, working together in collaborative teaching teams, professional learning communities, everybody needs to be sort of, you know, pulling the oars in the same direction so that the boat moves forward.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned sports and arts because we got a tweet from Patricia, who says, "A quick thank you for removing pay to play. Kids should be encouraged to be active and involved." I should mention that Prince George's County just dropped the activity fee for each sport that students participated in during the school year, correct?
MAXWELLYes, they did. And I'd love to take credit for that, but it happened prior to my arrival. But I'll take all the force I could get.
MAXWELLYou know, I do think that students who are engaged in school and sports and activities and band and orchestra and theater and all the different aspects, you know, they're very focused on their own learning. They're focused on achievement. They know that there are minimum requirements for participating in those activities. And I think being engaged in that broader life of the school is just very, very helpful, healthy for kids.
MAXWELLAnd I think that parents should encourage children to find their niche, whether it's the literary arts magazine, whether it's the school newspaper, whether it's working with the SGA or graduating classes, chess club. Whatever the different activities are that appeal to them being engaged in school beyond just simple academics is very helpful, I think.
NNAMDIOne more question about testing and then I'm going to get to the phones, which are filled. If you're trying to reach us right now, you might want to shoot an email to email@example.com or a tweet, @kojoshow. Parents with kids in the Maryland public schools are familiar with the annual MSA test, the Maryland School Assessments.
NNAMDIBut the state is about to switch to a new standardized test called PARCC for short. It stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers. And it's tied to the new national common course standards. How will this new test affect curriculum and, well, the testing anxiety among teachers and students?
MAXWELLWell, I'll take the first one -- last one first and that is the testing anxiety is going up very high right now. As for as how it will affect things, the common core is being adopted. And there are a couple of different assessments, smarter balance is one of them. PARCC is the other one, large ones. And the curriculum is being rewritten to higher standards, and it's also a realignment of when certain things are being taught so the math curriculum in middle school, for example, is very, very different than it was before.
MAXWELLSo it's forcing a rewrite to the state standards. It's forcing a rewrite of the local standards. And so teachers, administrators, people who supervise schools, curriculum writers, they're all engaged in this very, very hectic schedule of trying to get everything rewritten and realigned. And for those that are, you know, doing the teaching, learning the new standards, learning the new sequencing and it's created a great deal of stress.
MAXWELLThere's going to be, in my view, an adjustment that's going to take place between the test scores that we've been seeing on MSAs, for example, and the new PARCC assessments. The PARCC assessments are more rigid, and, again, they're aligned to different standards. It's not a one-to-one ratio. You can't say, well, it's a harder test. So if MSA is easier, then why aren't, you know, the test scores, you know, doing better on MSA? They're simply different standards at different grade levels in many cases.
MAXWELLAnd so it doesn't equate really. So you're going to see a drop in the MSA scores. We've seen that already this year. You're going to continue to see a little bit of drop as we make that adjustment, and then we're going to take that reset and move forward. It happened exactly the same way when they rebased the SAT scores some years ago. It isn't anything that I think people should look at and go, oh my goodness, you know, the test scores have dropped. They should understand that this big adjustment is taking place, and it's taking place across the country.
NNAMDIOh to the telephones now. Here is Pilar in Washington, D.C. Hi, Pilar.
PILARHi, Kojo, and hi, Mr. Maxwell.
PILARWhat assistance is given to mentally retarded children in Landover schools?
MAXWELLWe have a very robust special education program to work with the mentally disabled students that we have. And there is a whole scheme depending on how severe that level is. There's an individualized -- individualized education plan is developed for each special needs student in the District and all districts. It's a requirement of law. And it focuses on the least restrictive environment that a student can be -- in which a student can be successful.
MAXWELLAnd so, again, not knowing the specifics of a child, you should expect that when they enter our school system, they're going to be evaluated. There's going to be a conference with parents, and there's going to be a decision made about the appropriate level of instruction in the academic setting for each of those children.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Pilar. We move on to Celia in Washington, D.C. Celia, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
CELIAThank you, Kojo. And I really appreciate this show. I would like to know whether or not you have any plans in place to help those parents who don't have the reading and computation skills themselves so that they can then help their children excel in the school system. Thanks.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, please.
MAXWELLYeah, absolutely. You know, when I was in Prince George's County before, one of the areas that I worked in was Adelfa, (sp?) and there was a very robust parent program at Langley Park Elementary School in those days. It used to be that some of the adult education work was done by Prince George's County public schools, but my understanding is that's mostly with the community college now.
MAXWELLAnd I've already had a very brief conversation with Dr. Dukes, the president of the community college, and we're going to be doing -- having some meetings here pretty quickly to talk about how we can collaborate how many, you know, of our schools could we open up for them to assist us in that work and how much of it do we need to, you know, sort of realign back into our work to make sure that's happening. But I agree that that's a concern and an issue, and working with our community in a number of different ways is high on our priority list.
NNAMDICelia, thank you for your call. We move on to Mark in Hyattsville, Md. Mark, your turn.
MARKThank you, Kojo. And welcome to our new CEO. I have a few suggestions. I'll try to fire them off shortly, and I do want to echo what the last caller was saying about the importance of parent education in the process. I just think it's not going to be possible to get the kind of achievement, you know, without bringing parents along with the curriculum.
MARKSo my suggestions in sort of rapid order are universal pre-K, not just the Title I pre-K. We had kids in the system though they really would benefit for pre-K both socially and academically. I think that there needs to be more of bringing the parents in early in the year to orient them and teach them about helping their kids with homework, especially in math and reading. And, you know, provide especially with -- there's always changes in math curriculum, their parents really need to be brought along with that.
MARKI also think that some things need to be done to sort of bring some equity into the physical plan in schools and whatever we can do to equate the quality of the physical plan, maybe doing some cooperations or (word?) with municipal government to, you know, to use, I mean, good facilities would be helpful.
NNAMDIMark, that's a mouthful right now. Allow me to have Kevin Maxwell respond.
MAXWELLI agree with you on all accounts. Universal pre-K would be great. The state is having a conversation about it, and it will certainly take state funding to make that a reality. In the meantime, we have been beginning to expand the availability of pre-K, particularly in the transforming neighborhoods areas, and we hope to continue to do that. But again, funding becomes sort of a big question there.
MAXWELLIn terms of outreach to parents and the, you know, teaching them about how to help their kids, I did a lot of work with that in my, you know, past, you know, career paths both at Northwestern and Buck Lodge Middle School when I was here before. And also in Anne Arundel County, we've had -- working with our PTA and others, we've had a pretty robust set of parent workshops both on weekends and during the week for some parents.
MAXWELLWe opened up an international parents academy and have done a lot of work in multiple languages, you know, in those language, target language only. So Spanish-only meetings, for example, to help parents in those areas and other languages as well. The physical plans are certainly a focus. I actually will be getting an update on the facility conditions and the capital budget plan for the school system.
MAXWELLLater this week, we have a meeting with members of my staff and members of the board of education to have some conversations about that and then, you know, re-examine that. And there was also a part of the new restructuring law that ask us to do an audit of facilities to kind of get an overall picture of the 240 -- 204 schools, plus other buildings that we have.
NNAMDIMark, thank you for your call. We have Kim in Bowie, Md., who I think has a question related to school safety. Kim, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
KIMYes, hi. Good afternoon, Dr. Maxwell. I'm going to give you the Reader's Digest version because I have sent an email to you. I just sent it actually a couple of days ago. My daughter has Asperger's and ADHD. As you know, autism is fast and growing -- at least the diagnosis of it is growing. My daughter was at Benjamin Tasker several years ago, and she was bullied and harassed and also suffered a horrible assault. I could not get the folks at Benjamin Tasker to assist at all.
KIMIn fact, a good friend of mine turned me on to Channel 7 and Brad Bell did a story. And so that was a couple of years ago, and fast forward, we're here in -- my daughter is now 17, and she has Asperger's, that's true, but she also has a high IQ. She is a voracious reader, and she has a keen knowledge of science.
KIMAnd she recently -- she's now an artist too. She's really exceptional artist. That's just not mother's thing, you know, but she won the Prince George's County library bookmark contest and -- for 9th through 12th graders. It was the summer reading program. In addition, she also has illustration that she drew that's going to appear in the Smithsonian. So she's actually going to be published. But Ameena -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
NNAMDIWhat's your question, Kim?
KIMWell, my question is that as a result of the bullying and harassment, my daughter deserves to be placed in an environment that's going to help her heal. I had to take her to several therapies and spent monies on care.
NNAMDIWhat kind of environment are you suggesting to the CEO?
KIMOK. So what I'm saying is that she suffered, as a result, school phobia, depression and post-traumatic stress. The doctors are saying she needs a small environment with people who are well-trained with Asperger's and a program that's geared towards college education.
NNAMDIAnd you're saying that the Prince George's County public schools has no such resource?
KIMI'm saying that, and they tend to lump them in with children who are mentally retarded or who can't read at all. And that's not -- my daughter reads on a sophomore college...
NNAMDIAllow me to have Kevin Maxwell offer what -- offer his thoughts on a situation like this.
MAXWELLLet me say, first of all, you're right. Asperger's and other forms of, you know, concerns, you're right. They're very different. You know, they're moving away from using the word mental retardation to more appropriate words these days, although that's twice I've heard it on the radio this morning. But I agree. Asperger's is completely different than that, and Asperger's, they're -- the high functioning, you know, that you talk about is part of that spectrum.
MAXWELLBut in terms of what programs they're offering, I mean, that's something I really don't know about at this point. You said you just send an email, and, you know, your name is Kim, so I will have people look for that email, and that I'm -- certainly not in the office right now, and we'll see if we can have somebody reach out and contact you and see what kind of placements there are. I'm assuming that you've had some IEP conferences or other kind of things. Perhaps, you have gone to another level of mediation. Are all those things true?
NNAMDIKim, I'll also put you on hold 'cause we have to take a short break now so that we can get your number and pass it on to the Prince George's County public CEO's people, if you will. But thank you very much for your call. We do have to take a short break. But if you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. The Prince George's County school system ranks close to last in performance among Maryland school districts. What do you think it will take to pull up that ranking? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Kevin Maxwell. He is CEO of Prince George's County public schools. We got an email from Pilar, who called earlier, Dr. Maxwell. She said, "I got cut off before I could tell Dr. Maxwell that what he described as not being applied to mentally retarded students in Landover. Last Saturday, I met the father of a 9-year-old girl who attend school in Landover, and she could not read or write. And she's in fourth grade.
NNAMDI"When the father asked the teacher why she passed her to fourth grade, the teacher told him that's what they have to do. I wish I could've have gotten a number to call to get some help for this child."
MAXWELLI would -- I guess say -- I don't know enough about those specifics, but we have students who are disabled enough in the public schools who are not on a diploma-advancing track. But they're -- I mean, we have some very multiply disabled students. I mean, there's a whole broad range. Some students are on the academic track where they're going to be graduating with other students' disability, you know, has been, you know, the compensation has taken place there for them so that they are able to do that.
MAXWELLBut there are students who are disabled to an extent that graduation is not really, you know, they're not on that diploma track. They're on a completely different track and not knowing enough about the situation of individuals. It's very difficult respond to that. If I did know it, I wouldn't be able to discuss it publicly anyway because of the privacy rights that children have.
MAXWELLBut everybody should understand, there's a broad spectrum of disability that exists in our world from quite minor to very, very extensive. And some of those students, again, are on a diploma track with everyone else, and some of them are not.
NNAMDIYou're the eight superintendent in 14 years in Prince George's County. But it's my understanding that the county, on the other hand, has a high retention rate for principals. Talk about the importance of stability and continuity in the school system.
MAXWELLThe stability and continuity is critically important, really, at all levels, and it's been to the disadvantage of the school district that they have not had stability at the top not just in superintendents, but there are a number of acting, you know, positions right now on the executive team level. Having the stability at the school level is critically important also when you're starting and stopping and starting and stopping and going in different directions, it's very, you know, difficult for schools to, you know, get anywhere.
MAXWELLThe teacher leadership is really important, too, and I want to make sure that I don't, you know, leave that out. You know, having great department chairs, having great, you know, individual teachers in different programs in the school, an advanced place in teacher in one content area or another makes the whole difference in that program sometimes. You can't just, you know, you can have a teacher who does great in an academic area, an AP area, for example.
MAXWELLAnd if that teacher leaves sometimes, the programs, you know, sort of wane. They don't stay on that same track. So, you know, great teachers make a difference in classrooms. Teacher leadership and buildings makes a difference, principals and assistant principals and other building-level leadership makes a difference, and then having stability and central office leadership makes a really important difference as well.
NNAMDIYou are a long-time resident of the county. What guarantees can you offer to residents, in general, and parents, in particular, that you are going to hang around for a while?
MAXWELLWell, you know, I've gotten this question a lot since I was announced as the CEO, and I get it a lot when I go to these meet and greets that we've been having around the county.
NNAMDI'Cause we know where you live, buddy.
MAXWELLYou do know where I live. You know, but, you know, well, depending on how old you are, you might look at me as old or as young. I would say that I feel…
NNAMDIYou're a young guy.
MAXWELL...I have a good number of years left in my career, and I don't have anywhere else to go. It's not like I have a home that I came to from somewhere else to come here to become the CEO. I didn't come here from some other state, some other, you know, part of the country. I live here. I'm vested here.
MAXWELLI still know a great number of people in the school district, and I really look forward to, you know, finishing this four-year term and renewing my contract. By law, contracts are four years in Maryland, and I'd like to get to eight, maybe even a little bit more than that. You know, that would be just fabulous.
NNAMDIYou were a former teacher, a long-time principal. How is your relationship with the teacher's union? It's my understanding that you have worked with the president, Kenneth Haines, at Northwestern High School and that you have a pretty good relationship.
MAXWELLWe do have a good relationship. You know, when I was a teacher here in Prince George's County, I was actually a building rep for the teachers' association, so I also know their executive director, Lou Robinson. He's been there a good long time. And Ken Haines was a teacher at Northwestern High School when I was principal there.
MAXWELLI've had a number of conversations with him since it was announced that I have been named the new CEO. And we have a meeting coming up. I believe it's later this week with Ken and Lou and myself, and I'm looking forward to that. But, yes, I have a good chemistry with Ken and with Lou, and I look forward to, you know, focusing on, you know, how we can continue to improve things for teachers and for our school system.
NNAMDIOn to Jim in Annapolis, Md. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMI have two related questions relating to the proper role of the superintendent, the relationship to an elected or appointed school board. The first one is the matter of law and the second one is just a matter of good practice. And the -- can you hear me well...
NNAMDIYes. We're hearing you. Yep.
JIMYes. Right. OK. So the first one is that the federal government has a law called the Hatch Act which prevents public employees in getting involved in school board elections. That doesn't really apply to school boards 'cause they're not partisan elections. And the first question is, should that loophole be removed so that the same restrictions on, say, a county government applies to school board involvement by the public employees?
JIMSo just, for example, the county executive was removed from office in Anne Arundel County for the improper involvement in elections, the Maryland state prosecutor went after him. The Maryland state prosecutor, to my knowledge, has never gone after a superintendent for similar types of behavior. And then the second question is the matter of actual practice.
JIMAnd regardless of what the law says, is it appropriate for a superintendent where he has to work with these folks in a day in and a day out basis and often has strong feelings about who he wants to work with to behind-the-scenes lobby, like -- and this is perfectly legal to prevent a school board member from winning a seat either through election or appointment. Is that type of involvement behind the scenes appropriate for a superintendent, or should the superintendent shouldn't be involved at politics, you know?
MAXWELLWell, I can't really speak to the Hatch Act and those rules with local boards. But, you know, laws change from time to time, and whatever the laws are, you know, we'll try to comply with them as we understand them and as we're advised by our legal advisers when it comes to the involvement of superintendents. You know, I would say to you, I'm a resident of the county. I've been voting for school board members here since I was able to vote, and I will continue to vote for them unless somebody ethically or legally advises me that I should abstain from voting for members of the school board.
MAXWELLIn terms of, you know, your other question about a process when people ask anyone's opinion, I mean, I have -- I think, again, not having a lawyer sitting next to me, I think I have the right to freedom of expression as well. And if I have an opinion and someone asks me that, I don't see anything wrong with my answering a question that I'm asked. I don't know that that's called lobbying. I don't know -- again, I'm not going to, you know, parse words with you but...
NNAMDIBut you're not going to be opinionless. You're the school district's first CEO...
NNAMDI...after a string of superintendents. How much of this job will be figuring out the new relationship between you and the school board and you and the county government, which is -- are questions I think Jim was at least obliquely referring to?
MAXWELLRight. Well, I think it's a big part of the job. In fact, you know, the board and I have had a conversation about the new law, the differences in the current operating structure from the former operating structure, the reporting requirements. There's actually a reporting requirement to the state legislature that will entail a response from the county executive, myself and the school board on how the law is working.
MAXWELLAnd so, you know, that's certainly saying to people here, here's how I think things are proceeding and how things are improving or not. Over that period of time, the county executive will be weighing in and the school board will be weighing in as well. So all of our opinions will be heard.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Es (sp?) in Glendale, who says, "I'm part of that population that is middle-income college education and -- college educated and left the Prince George's County schools at the end of middle school for both of my sons. It was a difficult, expensive decision both times. Two points of departure among several was my shot that neither son learned cursive writing well enough to take notes and the other was the incredible inconsistency with grade reporting in terms of progress reports.
NNAMDI"Both sons attended the French Immersion School, a true gem that merits expansion on better administrative support," which brings me to another question I got from Eugene Williams. And that is, "Will you be increasing the number of charter schools?"
MAXWELLI'm not sure whether I'll be increasing the number of charter schools or not. It depends on the applications from charter schools and how they fit into, you know, the overall direction of the school system. But we will certainly be expanding specialty program offerings, whether it's the expansion of French immersion to additional sites, or whether it's going to be the addition of what I understand is no Spanish immersion program in the county as of this point and other -- again, other programs that are out there.
MAXWELLCharter schools certainly offer some options. And there are number of pretty successful ones in Prince George's County as well as other places around the state. I observed one in Baltimore City not long ago that's built on a Primary Years International Baccalaureate platform with four language strands -- Chinese, Russian, Spanish and French -- so kids, you know, in that school all take and are immersed in one or the other of those four languages, and again, are learning through the frame of the Primary Years International Baccalaureate program.
MAXWELLYou know, that's one run as a charter school, but there's no reason why a public school couldn't do a similar, you know, program. So there is certainly will be additional programs. The question about whether its charter or ours or a combination of both is, you know, a little bit down the road yet.
NNAMDIAs you head into your first school year at the helm of the school district, what are your top priorities?
MAXWELLMy top priorities include -- I wouldn't say it's going to be an exclusive list here, but they include fillings on very important positions at the executive level of our organization. There have been some recent vacancies in principalships, and getting those filled as quickly possible with the school opening next week, as you've noted, is very, very important.
MAXWELLGetting out into schools is quite important and making sure, again, that I visit the schools, that I see what kind of instructions going on, what the facilities look like. All those questions have come up today, looking at, you know, the safety questions that people have been talking about, all very, very important and best seen with my own eyes.
MAXWELLAnd then, you know, making sure financially that they were doing the things that we should do. You know, the question about facilities is there. And I want to make sure those dollars are being spent wisely and that we're accessing, you know, the appropriate levels of revenue that we should be from both the local and state levels and once again, looking at that issue of, you know, recruiting and retaining the best teachers and principals that we can.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Dawn, who says, "My son will be an eighth grader at Greenbelt Middle School this year. Last year on a conference with several of his teachers and his guidance counselor, we were told that our concern about his three to four hours of homework per night was unfounded because this was to be expected from middle school. Now that the school were not let out until 4:20 p.m., if this expectation of homework load continues, when will our son have time to do anything but academics?"
MAXWELLWell, you know, it's interesting. I'm not sure about the four hours. I'll have to ask them when I'm over there about that. Or maybe I can get a phone call in this afternoon between the meetings that I already have scheduled and asked about that four-hour requirement. But I do think that people should understand, parents should understand that homework is something that's important. It shouldn't be just busy work. It should be a really important extension of what's going on in the classroom for students.
MAXWELLBut to think that there's not going to be any homework or summer reading is not really practical. You can't getter better achievement if you limit the amount of time that you're devoting to things. And students should be doing outside reading, they should be doing writing, they should be doing research, and particularly in some of the immersion programs and other specialty programs we have. You know, there are high expectations for those programs. And when you come into those programs, you should understand that there is a high bar.
NNAMDIKevin Maxwell is the CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools. He says he hopes to be around for a while. You have a reputation as someone who is a good motivator, succeeds at taking schools to the next level. Any final message you have in 30 or so seconds for the teachers and principals in Prince George's County?
MAXWELLOnly that I'm really happy to be back in Prince George's County working with them. I look forward to, you know, getting, you know, some re-acquaintances and making some new acquaintances as I go through the school year.
MAXWELLAnd I hope that, you know, while we certainly understand, there's a lot of change going on in public education and a lot of pressure on public educators across the country, we're certainly not the only industry that's facing those kinds of pressures and those kinds of realignments. And so in the context of what we're doing, you know, we need to roll up our sleeves and get the job done.
NNAMDIHe's back home, and he says he's not going anywhere anytime soon. We'll be watching. Kevin Maxwell, thank you so much for joining us.
MAXWELLThank you for having me.
NNAMDIKevin Maxwell is CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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