There's a whole new world under that rock.
Dr. Monica Goldson is now the CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools, after a year of serving in the position in an acting capacity.
And she’s got her work cut out for her: PGCPS serves 134,000 students and employs 22,000 people. The school district’s test scores are below the state average, it’s still recovering from revelations last year that it was graduating students who hadn’t met its own graduation requirements.
In a new Blueprint for Prince George’s County Public Schools, Goldson lays out her vision for PGCPS’s future, including an increased emphasis on mental health support, more wraparound services for high poverty schools, revamping school infrastructure, and a pre-K expansion.
Dr. Goldson joins us to discuss what’s next for public education in Prince George’s County.
Produced by Monna Kashfi
- Monica Goldson Chief Executive Officer, Prince George's County Public Schools; @drmonicaceo
KOJO NNAMDIThis summer, Dr. Monica Goldson was officially named the CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools, but she has been on the job since July, 2018, when she was appointed interim CEO. With approximately 134,000 students and nearly 22,000 employees, Prince George's County is one of the larger school systems in our region. And it has not been without its challenges in recent years. But now, there's a new blueprint for taking on those challenges and improving the classroom experience for both students and teachers. Monica Goldson joins me now to share her vision for Prince George's County Public Schools. Thank you so much for joining us.
MONICA GOLDSONThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWhat is this blueprint for Prince George's Public Schools?
GOLDSONIt's an opportunity for us to begin to provide services and supports for our students and our schools every day. We are offering 45 community schools, which provides wraparound services and support in the form of, like, mental health supports, and digital literacy that focuses on some of our most struggling learners, to make sure that our students have one-par experiences that will set them up to be successful.
NNAMDIThe funding for these initiatives was provided by the Kirwan Commission. Do you expect this funding to continue beyond the $53 million that the commission has so far provided?
GOLDSONWell, we have been guaranteed that we'll get additional year past this year's funding. After that, we're grateful that our own chair of the Board of Education, Dr. Alvin Thornton, is on a commission to look at creating a funding formula that will allow us to have it beyond 2022.
NNAMDIOne of the new programs you're rolling out this year as part of this blueprint is mental health support services in 45 schools. This was in direct response to something students have asked for. Tell us about responding to that feedback and what these programs look like.
GOLDSONYes. Our student member of the board last year held a forum really just to engage the community on mental health supports. And our students have been asking to have an outlet for them to be able to share their concerns and get additional strategies for them to be able to cope with their day-to-day experiences. Having grown up in this community, I know that there's a stigma around mental health, and this was a way for us to begin to break down that barrier.
NNAMDIAnother priority in the blueprint is restorative salary raises for teachers who have been with the school system for the last decade. Why is that necessary?
GOLDSONYeah. So, as most people know, we had an economic downturn from 2009 to '12, and our employees remained at the same salary scale during that timeframe. And what we found by doing that is that we weren't up to par in terms of salary with surrounding jurisdictions. And so, we were able to provide a longevity salary increase for those employees who remained with us. Over the next three years, they will get an increase that will allow them to be back at the same level they would have been, had we not experienced that.
NNAMDIYou don't want other jurisdictions stealing your teachers.
GOLDSONYou got that right.
NNAMDIPrince George's County schools lagged behind academically, with students going below the state average in reading and math. What needs to change to bring test scores up and to make sure students are achieving at higher levels?
GOLDSONSo, I shared recently with our board of education, we had increases in English language arts for every grade level up to grade 10, as well as in mathematics for grades six through eight. And our focus really has to be on getting back to the fundamentals in the classroom, making sure that our students have experiences every day that will make them competitive and on par with other school districts. That's why our focus this year is on getting back to the fundamentals: literacy and numeracy.
NNAMDIWhy does math, in particular, continue to be a struggle?
GOLDSONMathematics is taught totally different now than it was when you and I were growing up and in school. Our students have to write about and justify their responses that they give mathematically. I'm a former mathematics teacher and math major, and I can tell you the experiences and the way our students learn are totally different, but they have to be able to write about mathematics more than just giving a number.
NNAMDIYou talked about mental health support earlier. I think that's what Shaunda in Prince George's County wants to talk about. Shaunda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHAUNDAI have a question. So, I have a student. She's a junior in high school. She has had some mental health challenges, is in treatment. And she actually now has a 504 plan, where she will be able to go and speak with her counselor if she's having a tough day. This school year, she's had a couple of tough days.
SHAUNDAAnd when she's gone in, she's kind of been met with -- for this, I guess is the best way -- not necessarily from the counselor, who was new, but the staff in the office, the attitude wasn't that kind or supportive. Kind of like, what are you here for? You can't be here. And she had to repeat, literally, her name, she's a 504 plan, she's having a hard day, to four different adults while she's at lunch, just trying to get a quiet moment to herself.
SHAUNDASo, my real question is, one of her teachers -- well, I think the coach has started a wellness center, which she told me is basically the size of a classroom. And that's something that we have been wondering about. When I heard you mention plans for services for mental health. Where is your vision for that, and how soon, practically, do you see that happening? And what does that look like, day-to-day, in the school?
GOLDSONYes. Over the next four years, we are expecting that it'll be rolled out, mental health supports, in every school. Right now, it's in 45 schools, based on the percentage of students who are on free and reduced meals. We expect to have rooms where our students can go to do exactly what it is that your child needs to do. And that really is to have a secluded place where they can begin to internalize, debrief and use the strategies they've been provided to help them to cope and prepare for the rest of that school day. They should still have access to their professional school counselor when needed. And every time they enter, they should not have to explain.
GOLDSONSo, what I will ask you to do is, when you get a chance, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, so that I can address that specific school. I check my own emails, so I appreciate you responding.
NNAMDIShaunda, thank you very much for your call. Ever since you were appointed interim CEO last year, you have made engaging with the community a top priority. Why is that important to you?
GOLDSONWell, I'm a product from the same school system that I have the opportunity to lead now. And this is the same village that helped to support me. And what I do know is that their voice is so extremely important, one, in changing the narrative, and improving Prince George's County Public Schools. I'm grateful that this morning, I did a morning with Monica at a Starbucks. And we do that every quarter, and we have listening sessions. It's going to take all of us coming together in order to make sure our students have the best educational experience possible.
NNAMDIWhat have you learned from your conversations with community members that is having a direct impact, say, on the decisions you're making?
GOLDSONClass size was one of them. One of the things in our last year listening sessions parents talked about was to lower class size for our primary grades. And we were able to pull that off in our last budget request that is coming into fruition now. It's from those kinds of conversations we get recommendations on ways to improve, our employees get an opportunity to share with us how we can do better, and even from our students.
NNAMDIHere now is Rachel, in College Park. Rachel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RACHELThanks for taking my call. I was calling, wondering what's being done about the busing situation. I have a kindergartner and I have a special needs three-year-old. And the bus situation is really pretty whacky. I spend all afternoon waiting for the bus. They're coming from two different schools. Both of them tend to get home about an hour after school ends, even though we only live about 10 minutes away from either school. And, you know, since I have to wait for both kids, I can't go pick them up.
RACHELAnd I understand there's a shortage of drivers, but, you know, it's really hard on us as a family, and I'm sure it's hard on a lot of my fellow families. I'm wondering what's being done to resolve this.
GOLDSONSo, transportation continues to be an issue that we're working to address every day. As you stated earlier, there's a shortage of drivers, not only in Prince George's County, but in neighboring school districts in the state of Maryland and across the country. So, what we have done is really looked at a way to begin to reduce some of our routes. We have a thousand routes. We have the largest transportation system in the state of Maryland. So, we will be beginning the process of looking at ways to consolidate bus stops to help to reduce the travel time.
GOLDSONIn addition, we'd have a phone bank in the morning and the afternoon to address parent calls, so that if you have specific questions about a route, someone's there to assist. And we're doing more communication via technology, of letting you know via email or on our website whether a route is late, if there's been an accident. You know, in our area, one accident can cause an hour backup. And if that exists, we post it so parents are aware.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Rachel. Prince George's schools have been criticized for not being equipped to provide the needed resources and support to students with special needs. How do you respond to that?
GOLDSONYes. We have 18,000 students that have individualized education plans. Some vary in supports that they need for maybe just one period, and some are very extreme. We are rolling out a systemic special education plan that will address our programmatic issues and make sure that there's one-to-one support for our students, and continue to provide an outlet for parents to share their concerns for our individualized special needs students.
NNAMDIHere now is Kahunda in Bowie, Maryland. Kahunda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KAHUNDAGood morning, Kojo. Good morning, (word?). My name is Kahunda, from Bowie. Specifically, we are (unintelligible) buses, as well, but some kids in the neighborhood don't have their bus stops near them, but I think they're correcting that. Thank you for that.
KAHUNDANow, we (unintelligible) had a gym for 30 years, no A/C, no heat, and we have been (unintelligible) tell us that the Capital Grants Office is supposed to fix that. (unintelligible) at Bowie High School, as well, has been repaired for the last five years. What's the plan for repairing schools which are in bad condition? In Bowie, up in Marlboro, and (unintelligible) we're having no results. The kids have poor results academically, and we pay the highest taxes in this area. What's the plan for fixing school facilities and results for kids in academics?
GOLDSONYes, thank you. As you are well aware, we have a 50-year, aging infrastructure. We have 206 schools, and we have an $8.5 billion plan to begin those renovations of our schools and maintaining them. I'm grateful that just last week, our Board of Education helped to push through a resolution to begin to build six new middle schools within the next three years. We have a plan of 30 schools over 10 years. And improving that A/C situation at Bowie is included in that plan.
NNAMDIThe county will be the first in the nation to create a public-private partnership to address infrastructure issues. What prompted that decision?
GOLDSONYes. We've been using the traditional route to begin to address our aging buildings, and it just takes so extremely long. As the previous caller shared, we've been working on our maintenance issues for a while. And so, we'll continue to use the traditional route, but we realize, after doing some research, that there was an opportunity to do what some of our universities and private entities do, which are public-private partnerships. And so we are excited to be able to go into this realm with another strategy, along with our traditional, to begin to address our infrastructure needs.
NNAMDIWhere are you in that process now? What kind of timeline are we looking at for students to be in new or modernized buildings as a result of this partnership?
GOLDSONThose six schools that I mentioned will be up and ready to roll in three years.
NNAMDIOkay. How does the student experience today differ from what their parents, us, and many of the majority of their teachers experience as students?
GOLDSONYes. If a parent were to enter a classroom now, you may find students working in four different groups on different activities, students using technology, hands-on materials, less of the teacher talking, and more of the students talking. Students writing about their experiences and justifying their responses, all the things that we would expect that they would need in their work experience.
NNAMDIMary commented on our website: I moved to Prince George's County from Virginia with three school-aged children over the summer, and was very surprised by the school transportation situation. Children as young as five are expected to walk up to 1.5 miles to get to school, while children that lottery into special schools are provided transportation throughout the county. Most of the children of the well-educated parents in my neighborhood seem to have won the lottery.
NNAMDIHow can you expect single parents, parents that work long hours, parents that are new to this county or are struggling for other reasons to navigate this bias system? It's giving grater advantage mostly to already privileged children. How would you respond to that?
GOLDSONFirst, let me say, if a child is in a specialty school that is 1.5 miles away from their home, they don't get transportation. They still are just like any other child, and would have to walk to get to that facility. I, too, am a single parent, and understand the plight of being able to get our children to school. But that's why we offer transportation for those students who are beyond that distance. And I can tell you, for a parent who's had kids in specialty programs, for those parents, they'll tell you that they would give up that transportation some days because of the length of that ride. We really are focused on providing equitable experiences for every child and student and family.
NNAMDIYou grew up in Prince George's County. You had a teaching career there, as well, before moving into administration. And you, it is my understanding, are the first county native to have the role of CEO of Prince George's Public Schools. How do your local roots factor into how you approach this job every single day?
GOLDSONYes, that's accurate. I am the very first homegrown CEO for this school district, and I am so extremely proud of it. My experiences from the lens of a parent, a student and from a leader in the building helps to shape the policies and strategies that we use to meet the needs of our families and our students and our kids. I'm blessed to be able to have students that I led as a principal who come back to say, hey, what you shared with me worked, or who now have kids in the school system. It's that village concept that helped me that I am now using through our adopt-a-school program that will help to elevate our school system.
NNAMDIAnd, finally, John emails: you raise teacher pay by regional comparison, but you recognize that bus driver pay is below the regional average. What is the logic there?
GOLDSONActually, bus driver pay is not below the regional average. It actually is on par, but the great thing is is that our union that our bus drivers are in and our support staff are in are up for negotiations this year. And as I vocally stated last year, I would expect the same consideration we've given to teachers and administrators, we will do the same for our support staff. We are all part of this together.
NNAMDISo, in other words, John, keep hope alive. (laugh)
NNAMDIDr. Monica Goldson is the chief executive officer of Prince George's County Public Schools. Thank you so much for joining us.
GOLDSONThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIThis conversation with Monica Goldson, CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools, was produced by Monna Kashfi. And our look at suicides in Virginia jails was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, we'll find out how religious and educational institutions in our region are approaching the responsibility of writing a wrong in their past. Plus, we'll meet the creative director of a new theater company set to bring an international flair to D.C.'s playhouses. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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