A 1.4-acre plot of land east of downtown Takoma Park has long been eyed for development. While a neighborhood food co-op has sat on part of it for 20 years, a new plan to redevelop the space envisions restaurants, cafes, a parking garage and office space.
Just east of D.C., Prince George’s County public schools are on the front lines of the national debate over undocumented children from Central America. Hundreds of these new arrivals are enrolled in the Maryland district, which began classes last week. Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell — in his second year at the helm of a district in transition — joins Kojo to talk about immigration, education, and the range of academic and demographic challenges that keep him busy.
- Kevin Maxwell Chief Executive Officer, Prince George's County Public Schools
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Starting at noon, watch live video of Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell in studio.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Over the summer, thousands of undocumented children crossed into the United States, the subject of heated political debates about immigration and deportation.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISome reunited with parents they hadn't seen in years, others have no parent or relative in the country, many don't speak much English and didn't attend much school, in their native Central America. But some of these undocumented children have landed in Prince George's County, just East of the District and are enrolling in public school there.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThey're not the first immigrant students in the school district where nearly one-third of the children come from other countries, but integrating these new arrivals is one of many challenges facing a district in transition. And the schools chief, who is starting his second year on the job, Kevin Maxwell joins us in studio. He is the CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools. Good to see you again, thank you for joining us.
MR. KEVIN MAXWELLIt's great to see you again, as well.
NNAMDIIn case you are listening to this broadcast, you can also know you can watch it. We have a live video stream that you can find at our website, kojoshow.org. If you have questions or comments for Kevin Maxwell, you can call 800-433-8850. Do you have kids in Prince George's County Public Schools? What would you like to ask the CEO? You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website where, as you're watching the live video stream, you can ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDICan we start with the headlines? This summer's influx of undocumented and unaccompanied children, from Central America, has landed, in part, on your doorstep. How many new immigrant students are enrolling in Prince George's County Public Schools this fall? And how are the numbers different, if at all, from prior years?
MAXWELLSo the numbers are actually quite similar overall but with undocumented students, which is a fairly new phenomena, for us, as everyone is aware. There were about 174 students last year. And we're at about 145, so far, this year, and we're just a couple weeks into the school year. So, you know, combined it's, you know, a little over 300 students and considering the large number of students from other countries that we have, second language learners that we have, it's not having a huge impact on us.
MAXWELLYou know, a little bit of class size here and there but overall, I think, we're, you know, we're, you know, being able to absorb them into the programmatic, you know, spots that we already have in our E.S.L. programs and our other classes, as well. Our district has actually grown by a couple thousand students, so far, since last year. And so, again, you know, a few hundred is a very small portion of that growth.
NNAMDITalk about the welcome centers you set up in some neighborhoods where these immigrant students are settling. What are some of the hurdles getting these children enrolled in school?
MAXWELLSo we, we have had a number of programs, you know, some of the summer programs that are held in conjunction with camps and apartment to, you know, developments and our recreation and parks programs, we've been doing some summer feeding and some, again, welcoming programs over in the Rigs Road area, by Cool Spring Elementary School in the Judy Center. We have our International Student Counseling office where all of these students and other immigrant students, from around the world, go and register.
MAXWELLAnd so we, you know, we fully staff that over the summer, bring in extra, you know, people and volunteers to make sure that we're accommodating all of those students and getting them registered into the school district, so that then they can go to their appropriate school and be registered in the right classes.
NNAMDIWhat are the challenges of integrating these students into classrooms? Some not only don't speak much English, they haven't attended much school in their home countries. How many of them are going to E.S.L. classes?
MAXWELLSo the vast majority of the undocumented children, in particular, are going into E.S.L. classes. But I would say that also, the majority of students that we have who are documented are going into E.S.L. classes. The International Student Counseling office does testing to see, you know, what level of English proficiency students have and then place them in the, you know, correct level of second language learning, you know, classes so that they can advance and be released into the general population.
MAXWELLAll of these students though are taking some classes that are not E.S.L. classes. So E.S.L. is just part of the school day. The rest of the school day, they would be in classes with English speaking students and that will help them assimilate to our school system and to our language.
NNAMDIYou're district received the grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to open two new high schools, next year. They'll serve recent immigrants and second generation students who are struggling to adapt. Where will those schools be and what's their goal?
MAXWELLSo we're in the first year. We just received the grant this summer and we're in the first year of a three year planning grant. We're hoping the work that we've been doing has a plan for locating a site in the Langley Park area, where we have a huge immigrant population living. And then the other one is not designated to be in that area. We've been look at one of our high schools that is near the community college Largo High School, where we haven't made a 100 percent commitment to that. We're still looking at some of the facility issues and looking at what it would cost to bring the students in there.
MAXWELLWe've been in the process. We've had a community group that has included Representative (unintelligible) and some other organizations, interviewing candidates for the principals of those two schools because when you start doing the planning work, you need somebody that can devote, you know, their full time to the planning process which certainly with the responsibilities that I have, I can't do just that planning and there are, you know, everybody else has regular full time jobs too.
MAXWELLSo we're looking forward to getting some principals identified for those schools. And we're looking for a site in the Langley Park vicinity and we're examining whether or not it's feasible to locate the second school at Largo High School.
NNAMDIOur guest is Kevin Maxwell, he's CEO of the Prince George's County Public Schools. If you have questions or comments for Kevin Maxwell call us at 800-433-8850. How can public schools best serve recent immigrants from Central America and elsewhere? You can send email to email@example.com or go to our website kojoshow.org, watch our live video stream of this broadcast and ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDIDr. (sic) Maxwell, talk about the overall enrollment in Prince George's County Schools. It's gone up by more than 1,000 students, both this year and last. Where are these students coming from and what does it mean for the district to be growing?
MAXWELLWell, first I think it's wonderful that we're growing again. We lost a lot of students over the prior decade and we went up, as you said, over 1,000 students last year and our count this year is well over 1,000 again. We're almost at 3,000 since last year's early count in September, which is just fantastic. The -- I think they're coming from a number of places. I don't -- I can't tell you exactly where but I can tell you that I know some of them, as we have been discussing, are immigrant children.
MAXWELLBut we believe that some of them are also parents who have not had their children in our schools before now but are taking another look at our school district and enrolling their children there and parents who are making that decision is, in early childhood, are making the decision to come to us. We've expanded our pre-kindergarten, all day, programs from nothing a couple years ago.
MAXWELLWe added eight last year and another 16 for this year. So I think those are helping us a little bit. And then the specialty programs, we've opened a good number of new programs and we have added to existing programs, seats for gifted programs, Montessori programs, Immersion programs and a new Immersion programs as well as a new high school Aeronautics program at DuVal High School. We're very proud of the work we're doing in specialty programs.
NNAMDIWell you may have already answered my next question because when County Executive Rushern Baker reorganized the school districts -- governance, 18 months ago, one of his goals was to attract middle class families back to the public schools. But the majority of your increased enrollment is the past two years has been, it would appear, students from poorer families is measured by the number of kids who qualified for free or subsidized lunches, you may just have described to me what it is that you're doing to win back the students who left for private school. Anything else you'd like to add?
MAXWELLJust that, you know, I think, in addition to some of the programs I already mentioned, the three Spanish Immersion elementary school program expansion that we did and plus we have several, five I believe is the right number of international back at Laurel (sp?) High Schools programs. But we've added a middle years program at Madison Middle School and a primary years elementary school at Melwood Elementary School.
MAXWELLAnd we hope to expand in each of the areas that our high school programs are in, so that we can make sure that our parents and our students are well aware of that program.
NNAMDIYou have expanded your breakfast programs in the schools this year, why?
MAXWELLSo hunger is a very important issue for me and for a lot of people. And we were not anywhere near the state goal. Last year when I came here, of students who were participating in the free breakfast program, I think, that it's very, very difficult for a child to concentrate on math and language skills, literacy, social studies and science and other topics when they're thinking about their hunger and where their next -- when they're gonna have their next meal.
MAXWELLAnd I think that, you know, we have an obligation as a society to make sure that we're taking care of our children. And so we have a program that says who's eligible for free and reduced meals and we should be doing everything within our power to make sure that those kids who are eligible are eating those meals.
NNAMDIOur number to is 800-433-8850. Our guest is Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools, we'll go to our first caller who is Tammy in Eldersburg, Md. Tammy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TAMMYHi, thanks for taking my call.
TAMMYI grew up in P.G. County and in my teens and the early '90s and I had a lot of friends, I grew up in Laurel and how bad P.G. Laurel High School is getting and a lot of the other schools. And I was recently in College Park and I was shocked at how, you know, the high school there, right off hand, how bad it looked. And it looked like it was absolutely falling apart. And how can you be excited about growth of these illegal children when the financial burden is now the county's problem with these children? Where there's so many other children (unintelligible) who are legal citizen.
MAXWELLSo, you know, I mean, we can argue politics if you like but the...
NNAMDIYou can argue politics but it's my understanding that there was a Supreme Court decision in 1982 that said that public school systems are required to provide children with an education, regardless of their immigrant status, you can't even ask them about it.
MAXWELLNo, that is actually what I was going to say. And I appreciate that. These are children who live in our community and we're required as a public school system to educate them and to care for them. And so the responsibility is ours, as a society. These children live here whether, you know, whether they live here by choice or they don't live here by choice but they're still here and as American's, you know, we take care of those people who live in our communities.
TAMMY...I did know about that. It's just so very frustrating to see what's happening because there's so much focus on these illegal children and not on the other children, regardless of the law that was passed, when I was seven years old. You know, it's just really upsetting. Thank you. Obviously, things are just gonna keep going the way they are and more and more people are gonna be moving from P.G. County out or like we did to be away from the (unintelligible) thank you, good-bye.
NNAMDIWell, Tammy, are you suggesting that you think that that law should be reversed, that these children should not be allowed to go to school?
TAMMYNo, I do not believe that the taxpayers should be responsible for these children who are not here regardless of whether their parents brought when there's other problems in the country and especially if they never have gone to school before, why should we have to do that? It's -- we can't afford, you know, everyday things for, you know, these other children who are in need. It's just more of a financial burden and with all the other problems in our society, nowadays, it's just more money that isn't there, infrastructures are crumbling, schools are crumbling, bridges are crumbling. It's just getting worse and where's the money coming from?
NNAMDIWell, I'd like Kevin Maxwell to address how much worse you think it would be if those children were here and not able to go to school at all.
MAXWELLSo, I think, not having, you know, people who live in our communities educated and skilled and able to work and contribute to a society is a larger detriment than the cost it takes us to educate them and to give them the skills that they need to compete. I think that, you know, when you talk about, you know, these other children, I don't believe we're not meeting the needs of the other children in our district as well. These students, when they come to our school system, they come with a funding stream.
MAXWELLAnd that funding stream comes from a variety of sources, local government, state government, federal government. And so it's not like they're coming without funding and taking away from someone else, they come with their own funding stream from the sources that fund our school districts. But again, I think, it's more important for us to take care of our children and while you made a decision to leave, there are lots of people who have remained in Prince George's County.
MAXWELLI've lived here since I was seven and I'm into my 60s now. And I love my community. Two of my children graduated from school in Prince George's County, as I did. And, you know, my wife is recently retired from a career in Prince George's County Public Schools. So not everyone has made a decision to leave, many of us love our community and love our county and are working to make sure that we have what we need for all of the children who live here.
NNAMDIOn to Jason, in Columbia, Md. Jason, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JASONThanks very much for the call and thanks for this conversation. Dr. Maxwell, my question is about teacher pay. I'm a member of the Prince George's Action Coalition for Education. And I've heard from a lot of folks in Prince George's that the feeling is that teacher pay is just not on par with what teachers can make in Washington, D.C. or Baltimore City or elsewhere in the state. And I guess what I'd like to know is what your thoughts are about how we can increase teacher compensation.
JASONAnd in particular I'm wondering whether the property tax cap is a barrier and whether there's an effort that citizens could make to lift that or whether you think there are opportunities without dealing with that. Thank you.
MAXWELLSo I think in that local districts in Maryland fund their local portion by -- a lot of that is funded by the property tax. Certainly any limitation on that can be a barrier. I think that there are certainly lots of evidence and lots of work that has gone on over the years and conversation about the tax cap in Prince George's County. I do think there are possibilities to do things other than that, but I do think it's something that has to be a part of the conversation.
MAXWELLWe did this year -- and I'm very proud this year that we settled contracts with all four of our bargaining units before June 30th, which included compensation increases for teachers and secretaries and building service workers and maintenance workers and everyone who works in our district. I agree with you that we need to make sure that we're doing right by our employees. And we're going to continue, as funding allows, to make sure that that's a part of our work going forward.
NNAMDIThe caller suggests that your teacher salaries are not as competitive with the districts surrounding you. Is he correct?
MAXWELLI think it depends on which districts you're looking at. We're more competitive than some districts and we're less competitive than others. And certainly this great recession has caused lots -- all the districts, I think, in the state and across the country -- many others -- to not honor negotiated pay raises that were negotiated before the economy shrank the way that it did. A lot of people suffered a lot.
MAXWELLA lot of people lost jobs. And, you know, we just haven't -- and it's going to take us a little while -- we haven't yet. And it's going to take us a little while to overcome those issues that affected everybody in this country and around the world.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll be continuing our conversation with the CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools, Kevin Maxwell. You can still call at 800-433-8850. 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. Ask a question or make a comment at our website, kojoshow.org, where you can watch the live video stream of this broadcast. Or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools. It's my understanding, my sources inform me, that you're a fan of the book, "Great By Choice," a popular guide for business leaders. And you've even adopted the title as an unofficial model. How are you marketing your school district as a great choice for strong public education?
MAXWELLSo we feel like we spent a really good part of last year doing some great work, laying a foundation to move our district forward among the many things that we did was add a number of specialty programs and expand seats of programs that were already in existence that had waiting lists so that those parents are saying we want to attend your school and we want to attend these programs had a better opportunity to be able to do that. We've also realigned our parent outreach work.
MAXWELLOur board of education was very instrumental in getting us to a good place where we created a new office of parent and community resource. And we've hired a new person to lead that work, Sheila Jackson, who was in our -- formerly in our Comer office. And we're really hoping that we're going to have a lot of progress in that area this year, reaching out to parents doing some seminars for them, some programming for them, helping them to understand how to access our system, how to get into the right programs, learning about what we have, what we don't have and what they'd like us to have.
MAXWELLThe board is also getting ready to reactivate a board of education advisory committee of parents and community members. And I believe at one of the -- at the next board meeting I think they're going to approve the membership on that committee so that they can begin to meet. We've also hired a new chief communications officer, Keesha Bullock, who's going to help us with our communication, both internally and externally.
MAXWELLWe know that we have really, you know, struggled in that area over the last few years. And she brings a fresh perspective and a lot of experience in supervising communications to our district. And we're just really thrilled at the prospects that we have with her on board now.
NNAMDIOn to the telephone because Rostam, in River Park, Md., may have another suggestion about how to bring middle-class families back. But I'll let Rostam speaking for himself. Rostam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROSTAMHello. I actually don't have a suggestion. I just had a question. I work as an IT coordinator at three public charter schools in D.C., (unintelligible) public charter schools. And we've had to increase our technology stock quite a bit with the advent of these new PARCC exams and whatnot. And I was wondering what Prince George's County is doing to increase the equitable access to technology for its students. And I'd also like to say I'm one Dr. Maxwell's former students at Walter Johnson. Hello.
MAXWELLOh, hello. It's great to hear from you. I ran into a couple of other Walter Johnson students just in the last few weeks, as well. So like all schools that are in the PARCC consortia we are adding technology rapidly. We do not, like some districts, have a one-to-one plan at this juncture. All of our schools, though, are now wireless. And we have done an assessment of the amount of technology available for students and have a formula in place for what it's going to take to be able to have them all take the test in the required amount of time, the window, the testing window, and the amount of time that each test takes.
MAXWELLAnd we are well on our way before the testing is for real. This spring we did a pilot last spring. But this spring we will have all of the technologies needed. I was in three more schools this morning and I saw a robust amount of technology, not only in labs, but laptops and classrooms, laptop labs and a lot of hands on with students with technology. So we've made a lot of progress in the last couple of years, and we are going to continue to do so.
NNAMDIRostam, just between you and me, no one else is listening, what grade did you get from Kevin Maxwell when you were in school?
ROSTAMOh, I just -- I did quite well. I graduated and went to UMBC. And, I mean, I have a good job in the schools now. So I did quite well, yeah.
MAXWELLI was the principle at Walter Johnson when he was there, but he -- I'm sure that he was a stellar student or he wouldn't have gotten in to UMBC, where I did my PhD work.
NNAMDIRostam, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Here's Marion, in Riverdale, Md. Marion, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARIONHi. First-time caller. I have a son at one of the magnet schools in Prince George's County. I'm a big believer in the school, but, you know, I hear your Dr. Maxwell talking about the children's overall wellbeing and having breakfast and having all this technology and that is wonderful. It really is. But what about bad things? What about the state of -- the physical state of the schools. My son yesterday, his classroom had to be removed to the library because something as simple as the A/C wasn't working. He told me he felt very sick.
MARIONAnd then ever since the school year started he's on the bus for two hours and a half. So how is that putting my child's wellbeing first when he's only in second grade? He has a full day of school. He doesn't get home until 6:30, twenty to 7:00 p.m. And then he has to have dinner and he has to have homework and still be ready for the next day to be efficient and, you know, do well in all the subjects at his school. So, again, that's my question. You know, his school went for -- went from having 32 busses last year to 21.
NNAMDIYou say your son is on the bus for two and a half hours per day? Is that going back one way or round trip?
MARIONNo. That is -- he's gets on the bus at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon and he does not arrive home until 6:40, 6:20.
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Kevin Maxwell.
MAXWELLSo not knowing where you live or where the magnet program is I can say that the first thing I would recommend that you do is call our transportation hotline at 301-952-6570. You can also find that number on our website. You can also send me an email at CEO@PGCPS.org. And I will have someone look at that. I know with the magnet schools they are not your typical neighborhood school. They are some farther distance from your school. And, again, I don't know exactly where you live or which school you're in.
MAXWELLSo I can't, you know, really say how to fix that unless I know what the school is and where you live and those kind of things. And so I'll have someone look into that for you if you'll send me an email or call that hotline number. As for maintenance, you know, we had a pretty cool summer until school started. And then the heat seemed to have turned up and given us our first breath of summer. But we've been having pretty good success in most of our schools. We have one school today, after the storm last night, that we have only about half of the air conditioning working there.
MAXWELLBut, you know, maintenance things happen at home and at school as well. Some of our facilities are aging. We have a very large amount of facilities. We have over 205 buildings, just in schools alone, not counting other kinds of programs where we house central office employees and transportation officials and those kind of folks. But we do work very hard to keep up with the air conditioning. But I do know that at time units go out and we send maintenance folks there to deal with them right away.
MAXWELLAnd it sounds like it was the right decision by the school, if the air conditioning wasn't working in one room, and they had another place to take them that was cool until the maintenance folks could there. I wish that I could say to you that, you know, we would never have an air-conditioning problem or never have an electrical problem or a plumbing problem, but in, again, in a school system as large as ours with the number of buildings that we have, not having any maintenance concerns isn't, you know, isn't really ever going to happen.
MAXWELLBut we do believe that we are much more responsive than we were some years back. And I can say that the response times -- we've been monitoring them very carefully -- and people really have been, you know, getting to places that need attention pretty quickly.
NNAMDIMarion, thank you very much for your call. You may want to continue listening to see what Laila, in Cheverly, Md., has to say about how things have been operating under this CEO who's been in office for about a year. Here is Laila, in Cheverly, Md. Laila, your turn.
LAILAHello. Thank you, Kojo. And thank you, Dr. Maxwell. Just -- I really wanted to take a moment to give an idea of how having Dr. Maxwell on board has really made -- been a game changer for so many families and for their schools. My daughter goes to Judith P. Hoyer Montessori, a public Montessori here in Prince George's County, Md. And we had everything for success. We have a wonderful a principal, a wonderful board of education member. And when we came before Dr. Maxwell we were prepared for -- to hear no (unintelligible) again for what our school needed in order to expand, to offer what some of the other Montessori programs offer across the county.
LAILAInstead, what we heard was how can we make this yes. And it was amazingly refreshing. And it's made such a huge difference for our school that we have two middle school classes opening this year. And that means that student and families who are committed to Montessori are able to make the choice to stay within the public school system, have that excellent opportunity for education and continue to grow and continue to have all those forces that come together.
LAILAInvolved and invested parents, great teachers and staff, a really amazing principal, Carolyn Boston, our board of education member that made so much happen, and Dr. Maxwell and his team that said, "You know, we can figure out a way to make things work. You're going to have to be patient with us, but we can make it so."
NNAMDILaila, you should know, these calls are only for disgruntled parents. We don't allow parents here who -- but thank you, nonetheless.
LAILAOh, well, we've been through it and we also understand the amount of things that it takes to make something come together. And we're going to go through a lot of challenges, but it is refreshing to understand that somebody is willing to try to work to yes.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. And I'm pretty sure that's why Prince George's County's executive Rushern Baker chose Kevin Maxwell for this position. But what do you think about Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot's proposal that the state require public schools to start only after Labor Day?
MAXWELLSo this probably won't surprise you, but I disagree with it. And…
NNAMDII'm shocked, shocked.
MAXWELL…my organization, the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland has taken a position against it. The Maryland Association of Boards of Education is not in favor of it.
MAXWELLI think that, you know, first of all -- and primarily -- we believe that it's a local district decision on when we open school and when we close school. It's not for Mr. Franchot or others to make that decision for us. The state mandates public education. It mandates a certain number of days of public education as a minimum standard. There are a number of holidays that are mandated. And when you start counting the days and the holidays that we need to have in order to meet the requirements of the law, then you're doing one or the other.
MAXWELLYou're beginning earlier or you're extending your school year later. But there's no way to actually shorten the school year. We had schools this year, for example, with the bad winter that we had, that took well in excess of the days of inclement weather that they had planned into their calendar and had to ask for waivers from the state. There are certainly a couple of districts in this state that could have gone until the 4th of July had they been forced to start even later than they started before Labor Day.
MAXWELLAnd so, again, that's why I think it should be the decision of the local school district to decide, you know, whether they want to get out closer to the 4th of July or a week before Labor Day starts, the typical end of summer request or day. So I think that, you know, again, it should be our decision. And while I appreciate the arguments that Mr. Franchot puts forward…
NNAMDIParticularly the argument that it's causing the state to lose revenues from people who could still be on vacation spending money.
MAXWELLSo I'll just say I'm a little bit skeptical of that. I know they're, you know, they're saying that people don't do the vacation there, but, you know, there, you know, I know families just -- just as many families, if not more families who take their vacation immediately after school ends in June. And so they would be pushed back a week. And so, again, your summer is the same window, whether you start a week earlier or a week later and there's still the same number of vacation days that you have available.
NNAMDILet's talk about curriculum. How are your schools and your teachers adapting to the Common Core standards that are designed to increase digital literacy and offer students more depth in the studies -- in the subjects that they study? Will parents and students notice any changes this year?
MAXWELLSo absolutely. I believe they've already begun noticing them. We've been piloting curriculum and implementing it as we get it completed for several years now. I don't know of anyone in the education field that doesn't wish that they had more time, but more time has not been granted to us for the implementation process. So we're all working very, very hard to make sure that we are providing the professional development and the development of curriculum to make sure that we meet the deadlines that are required.
MAXWELLThis past school year, at the end of the year we worked very closely with our partners in the Teachers Association and planned a day-long day of professional development to work on the Common Core and digital literacy in collaboration with Discovery Communication. And we trained over 9,000 people that day. And we're very, very proud of that. It was one of the largest undertakings that we've ever done.
MAXWELLAnd so, again, we're trying to put the resource. We have an ongoing work group with the teachers association to talk about how we can realign some of the time that we already have available to use to devote more of that time to professional development. I think that the curriculum is more challenging for children.
MAXWELLAnd so, parents, certainly, there are resources available through our website and others to talk to parents or communicate to parents the differences in the curriculum and how that -- how those changes have happened and what they are going to mean for their children. So I hope that parents are, you know, paying attention to that. I know that I have talked to a couple of parents who have been very pleased with the amount of rigor that's in the new curriculum. And I think that, over time, that's going to serve us very, very well.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing our conversation with Kevin Maxwell, the CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Can -- ask a question or make a comment on our website, kojoshow.org where you can watch the live video stream of this broadcast or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. What do today's high schoolers need to be college ready or career ready when they graduate? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Kevin Maxwell. He is the CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools. I'll go directly to the phones where Ricardo in Langley Park awaits us. Ricardo, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
RICARDOThank you, Kojo, for accepting my call. I'm a first-time caller.
RICARDOAnd I love your show. I always listen to it. I'm a case manager. I work around Langley Park area and 100 percent of my cases are Latino and mostly immigrants, some of them were born here. And I just got to say, I've been dealing with Prince George public school last year compared to this year, I have to give credit to your guest. I think you're doing a wonderful job, especially with the E.S.L.
RICARDOI notice now they have an E.S.L. social worker and things like that. And that's -- that's very good. I'm very happy with the changes that I'm seeing with that, especially with dealing with these newcomers. There's only one thing that I wanted to say that, you know, I feel that a lot of times I notice that the staff that been in the school for a while, they still don't understand where these kids are coming from and all that. And some of them have been through a lot of trauma.
RICARDOAnd I always wonder, is there like a sensitive training for the school staff, because I do notice some of them, you know, one of the things I witnessed was one of the school security just screaming at one kid. And as, you know, the kid obviously seem that he didn't speak English and this -- the security kept screaming and getting louder, assuming that getting louder will, you know, will help him understand. So is there any sensitive training planned for the school staff?
MAXWELLSo, you know, we do, you know, regular professional development. I'm not aware that we have done any systemic culture proficiency training in Prince George's County, but I appreciate your suggestion and we'll go, you know, back and talk with my staff. And when we have our next principals meeting, I'll talk with our principals about that concern and make sure that they are monitoring, as you say, the sensitivity to our new children, to all of our children -- not just our new children, but to all of our children. So thank you for your comment.
NNAMDILupi (sp?) in Riverdale, MD wants to address the issue of immigrant children, I think, also. Lupe, you're on the air, go ahead please.
LUPI GRADYHi. How are you? Thank you for having me. And hello, Dr. Maxwell. This is Lupe Grady.
MAXWELLHi. How are you today?
GRADYI'm great. I'm great.
NNAMDIThis is old friends meet-up day we're having here, but go ahead.
GRADYYeah, I'm also a parent of Prince George's County and just wanted to make a comment. As a parent, I think, you know, partnering with teachers has been really key for me personally with my own children. And, you know, just having the mindset of being part of the solution. I know that, you know, I'm happy to hear that there will be, you know, being able to have -- parents have a forum to communicate or to really speak to different issues around the schools and our personal experience is really key. I come from that mindset so much, Kojo, that I'm actually running for board of education in District 2.
NNAMDII hope you're not calling here to boost your campaign.
GRADYWell, no. But as it relates to that with my work with the Latin American Youth Center, the integration of newly arrived immigrants, that question that you asked earlier for me is really important because one of the things that we've seen is a lot of times when young people come in and do not have the proper support. You know, Ricardo that called earlier, what we've seen -- they're also seen as bait or they are easily recruited to be in gangs.
GRADYSo my question to Dr. Maxwell is around -- how open is he to partnering with nonprofits regarding this issue? Or for example, being able to offer additional support around workshops, with these young people how to, you know, like the comments that you made earlier, Kojo, about that some of these children haven't been in the school system in their own schools.
GRADYSo this is a cultural shock. What kind of additional support?
NNAMDIHow willing are you to work with nonprofits for additional support for these kids?
MAXWELLSo, Lupi, I'm sure that you're aware that we've been doing a tremendous amount of work with Casa and some of our other partners. And we're certainly completely open to talk with people about what is available. Like with everything else, you know, it depends on whether there are price tags or volunteers or whether there's other funding sources. But we are absolutely prepared to work with our partners both in our schools and in the community surrounding our schools.
NNAMDIWe got a question posted on our website from an organization referring to itself as Parents' Coalition. It says, "On August 5th, Dr. Maxwell signed a lease with a company not approved by the BOE to build a cell tower at Flowers High School. Why did Dr. Maxwell sign this document without a public vote of the Board of Education and without input from the Flowers High School neighbors and community? Can Dr. Maxwell please explain how he thinks three cell tower compounds on every school playground will attract families to Prince George's County Public Schools?"
MAXWELLSo cell phones were approved under a prior superintendent by the Board of Education. And the authority was vested in the superintendent to talk with the company who has -- who comes forward with each one and seeks that approval. But, again, the contract was approved several years ago. It's all a matter of public record. And I think that, you know, cell phones and cell towers are a part of life and a part of our world.
MAXWELLI don't know very many people that do not have cell phones. And in order to use them, you need cell towers. The science -- I know a lot of people cite different scientific study, but I think there are wonderful arguments on both sides. You need to be very careful about how you interpret it. But I've been in this business a long time and I would not do anything that I thought was going to be harmful to our children. But, again, there is a contract in place and I don't believe, as the question says, that I've done anything illegal at all.
NNAMDIYou've added more specialty programs in schools in part because parents want them. Explain your plans for the International Baccalaureate Program and for expanded foreign language immersion programs.
MAXWELLSo starting with the International Baccalaureate Program first. I said a little bit earlier we have five high school International Baccalaureate Programs but we have no feeder system underneath them to prepare students for the program. International Baccalaureate is an international program. It's found around the world. But it offers an elementary, a middle years and a diploma program for high school students.
MAXWELLAnd what we -- what our intentions are there is to make sure that we have an appropriate number of elementary and middle year programs in place to support those high school, so they're not stand-alone programs. They were never meant to be that way, but that's how they started in Prince George's County and it's time to provide the feeder to them. Spanish and other languages do need to expand. We are in a very, very global world.
MAXWELLWe've had -- we have one of the oldest French immersion programs in the country in Prince George's County, a state blue ribbon school, Robert Goddard, French immersion that we're very, very proud of. But there's been a question for a long time about why there were no other immersion programs, particularly Spanish since about a quarter of our student population is Spanish speaking and about a third of our school system are immigrant children.
MAXWELLSo we have started three more Spanish immersion programs in elementary school in the early grades and we're going to help -- hopefully we're going to be able to afford to move them up grade level by grade level until we have programs like Robert Goddard that have a very substantial number of students through them. We're having some other conversations as well about expanding foreign language.
MAXWELLWe have a Chinese program, for example. It's not an immersion program, but a Chinese language program at Paint Branch Elementary School near the University of Maryland College Park. And we just added a program at Greenbelt Middle School for those students to feed into middle school. So we intend to continue our work in the language area. We've also expanded Italian instruction and we're looking at some other languages as well.
NNAMDIHere is Les (sp?) in Upper Marlboro, MD. Les, you're on the air, go ahead please.
LESThank you for taking my call. Last year in Annapolis, there was a pilot program legislation passed to put solar panels on schools. Now, as we all know, there are financially -- there are vehicles to where the Board of Education will not have to pay to have these solar panels installed. I have gone -- I have done CAD renderings, for example, to put solar displays on Frederick Douglass High School as well Martin Elementary School to show how much -- how many kilowatts these solar panels can produce and how electricity will be produced.
LESHow -- does he plan on moving forward with putting solar panels or have a pilot program to put solar panels on Prince George's County schools in place of net metering?
NNAMDIWhat's taking so long?
MAXWELLSo -- so I know that we opened a -- we opened school last year at University Park Elementary School on -- in cooperation with University Park town council, the county government and the school system. We have solar panels there. It's a teaching tool for our students. They learn about energy conservation and how much is coming from solar and how much money is being saved.
MAXWELLThe revenue savings are going -- are in a shared arrangement between the town and the county. I am certainly open to having those conversations, but I don't bid contracts and I don't, you know, approve them independently. And so, that's a facilities and contract question. Brenda Allen is our contract person. Monica Goldson is our chief operating officer and I would just suggest that you, you know, reach out to them.
MAXWELLAnd I don't know whether they solicit a proposal or it's a proposal that you sent to us unsolicited. But I would just recommend that you talk our facilities people.
NNAMDIOne of your new programs is an Aerospace Engineering and Aviation Technology Career Academy at DuVal High School. Who are your partners for that program? And how will it prepare students for college and for aerospace careers?
MAXWELLSo it's a really great program. I had the opportunity to be there on the first day of school. And, Kojo, I learned to fly. I took off in an airplane...
NNAMDII'm not flying with you.
MAXWELLI don't think you should -- should yet. But I took off in an airplane and got my plane up in the air and flew all the way to Annapolis and then turned it over to someone else. And, no, I didn't land it. But, you know, kids are going to be able to be in those flight simulators and they're going to learn aerodynamics and they're going to learn about flight, space, lots of science around it.
MAXWELLWe're talking with a number of partners, including some university partners and NASA. And we are just really, really excited to bring a high-end stem program focused on aerospace and aeronautics to DuVal High School.
NNAMDIThe experience that you had at flying, was it enjoyable? Was it fearful? What -- how did you feel?
MAXWELLI would say there was a bit of anxiety but it was thrilling. I think when I got home that day, I think it was the first thing I talked to my wife about. I said, you know, I flew a plane today. And I think kids experience that same sense of, yeah, it's a little nerve racking to think that you're taking off and there are a couple of different ways to view being in flight through instruments or through, like, what it looks like if you're looking out the window as a pilot. So, yeah, some anxiety, but some excitement. And the thrill of being able to accomplish a task safely.
NNAMDIThere's a nationwide debate about the future of the SAT and ACT tests that measure college readiness. Your district pays for every 11th grader to take the SAT. Why do you cover the cost? And what's the feedback from that effort?
MAXWELLSo I think that, you know, we're working to encourage children to take them. Access to college is a real game changer in personal lives. I'm the first person in my family to attend college, and I'm very proud of that fact. I'm very proud of the career that I built for myself as a result of being able to attend college. It wasn't easy. But I think anything that we can do to help our children access college is important.
MAXWELLWe also pay for 10th graders to take the PSAT, preliminary SAT. And not only does that give them an indicator of how they -- how prepared they are for the SAT, but it also gives us a -- an AP indicator of what AP courses might be appropriate for that student based on how they score on the PSAT. So I think that, you know, combined with AVID, Advanced Achievement Via Individual Determination, a program that we have for first-time college attenders, that those things combined will help kids understand that college can be theirs if they work hard enough. And we provide them with the tools that they need to be successful.
NNAMDIIn this era of helicopter parents, you're offering a new smartphone app that lets parents see their children's grades, attendance and homework/assignments on their smartphone. What will this mean for parents and students?
MAXWELLSo, you know, when Lupi called a little bit ago and talked about, you know, parents being engaged, you know, we're partners with parents and we want to make sure that they have the ability to understand and be good partners in their children's schooling. This is not, you know, secret knowledge for us to have. Parents ought to know how well their children are doing, and we ought to make it as easily accessible for them as possible so that they can keep up with their children's work and help us help their children.
NNAMDIWe're almost out of time, but we got a tweet from Rebecca saying, "What is being done about overcrowding in the schools?"
MAXWELLSo there are a couple of things. The programs that we've been starting -- the new programs, we've been looking at facilities and starting them in places where we have the room to grown and, hopefully, taking children from schools that are overcrowded to some of the less crowded schools where our new programming is. We're also adding some additional space. We're doing some pod conversions in our elementary schools, where we have had both some open space classes, but also we're trying to get rid of some of our portable classrooms by adding classroom spaces, additions. And we're looking for sites for a couple new schools.
NNAMDIKevin Maxwell is the CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools. Thank you so much for joining us.
MAXWELLI'm very happy to be here again. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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