ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s County schools face low test scores, a serious achievement gap and a school board that is still shaking out from a major overhaul.
How to put the district on track to improvement will be the subject of nine half-day summits called by County Executive Jack Johnson that begin today.
Johnson’s aim is to get parents and the community involved in helping remedy the problems.
In September, Johnson initiated a countywide dialogue aimed at increasing parent and family involvement in education. He then hosted the county’s first community empowerment education summit, which resulted in the half-day summits.
Blacks make up about 65 percent of the county’s population, while Hispanics are the fastest growing minority, according to figures from Johnson’s office.
Prince George’s County numbers among the most affluent majority black counties in the country, “so why’s our school system struggling?” said Walter Dozier, spokesman for Johnson. “We’re the second worst in the state, enough is enough. Money’s not the only solution.”
Last year, state lawmakers saw the problems – and a school board that continually bickered with the superintendent – and replaced the all-elected board with an appointed one.
There is an achievement gap among black and Hispanic students in the county compared to whites and Asians, Dozier said.
For example, recent test scores showed 59.3 percent of white students and 54.5 percent of Asians passed the algebra portion, compared with 18.9 percent of Hispanic students and 20.6 percent of blacks.
One of Johnson’s goals is to make Prince George’s County the first in the country to have parents involved in changing the school system, Dozier said.
“He’s made parental involvement a priority of county government,” Dozier said. “He won’t let the school system do it alone. If you have high parent involvement, then you’ll have high achievement.”
Howard Tutman, Council of Prince George’s County PTA president, is an advocate of the summits. Tutman said parents should be more involved with their children’s schooling through middle and high school.
“If parents don’t speak up, (things) may not change as fast as we want them to,” Tutman said. “This puts things in place to get things moving in the proper direction.”
Rick Tyler, a parent of two and an education advocate, said the summits are a good thing.
“The county government can be a catalyst for these (issues),” said Tyler, who’s been active with the PTA for more than 30 years. “This is a very powerful and important first step . . . and I’m doing my part as a parent.”
Former student school board member Bernard Holloway is looking forward to the summit, not only as the keynote speaker, but also as a listener.
Holloway said he will talk about student involvement and academic achievement. But he said another important piece of the puzzle is students standing up to voice their concerns.
“A lot of students don’t hold themselves accountable,” said Holloway, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School. “Students need to be an advocate in their classroom and (have an) understanding of what that power is.”
Future summits will focus on achievement, business, community, cultural diversity, educator, higher education, legislative and parental matters.
Dozier said the community is eager and willing to do the work.
“We’re going to turn our schools around,” Dozier said. “We have to.”