Prince George’s County education leaders said Tuesday evening they are moving ahead with various school construction projects in southern Prince George’s.
County schools superintendent William R. Hite Jr. told a crowd of around 300 people at a community meeting held by County Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro at Stephen Decatur Middle School in Clinton that projects such as the replacement of the K-8 Accokeek Academy and the renovation of and addition to Clinton Grove Elementary School were moving ahead as scheduled.
Hite said the Accokeek Academy projects are closest to fruition, with the Henry G. Ferguson Elementary School building on the campus slated to break ground in March. Once Prince George’s County Public Schools get the final “sign-off” from the state Interagency Commission on School Construction, the system will be “ready to go” on the project, Hite said.
The news was music to the ears of Accokeek resident Tommi Makila, whose son is a fourth-grader at Henry G. Ferguson Elementary. He said just walking into the building, you can tell how old the facility is.
“Everything is just old, you can see,” Makila said. “The A/V equipment is nearly non-existent, or doesn’t work properly. It’s really a shame that it’s been able to get to that point.”
But Clinton Grove Elementary’s $20 million renovation and addition, which was proposed to the state school construction commission earlier this year, has a longer road. The state agency issued recommendations on the project, which the school system is working to implement in their proposal before resubmitting the project, which currently does not have a timeline for completion, Hite said.
“The state committee [makes] recommendations, and we then have to redo our specs based on those recommendations,” Hite said. “But we are finalizing Clinton Grove and moving forward.”
School board member Donna Hathaway Beck (D-Dist. 9), whose district includes much of southern Prince George’s, touted at the meeting some of the unique programs in her district that help students become college- and career-ready, including the Student Built House, a long-running program where students build houses, which are then sold to potential homeowners, in a development off of Alexandra Ferry Road in Clinton.
Hite said brighter times are on the way for the county’s schools, as this year marked the first time in his four years as superintendent that he did not have to cut the budget by at least $100 million.
In addition to adding $15 million that go directly into schools and classrooms, Hite pledged to continue pursuing innovative programs, like the Middle College program, where high school students pursue a certification at Prince George’s Community College in Largo.
“We want to make sure you as parents have options throughout our school system that you feel are important to their education and opening opportunities beyond high school,” Hite said.
While Hite and Beck talked new programs and lofty goals, some residents had ideas for how to improve schools in the day-to-day. Makila suggested having, in addition to the already-implemented Back to School night, an orientation night before the school year starts, to avoid much of the chaos at the start of the year.
“[When we were in another school district] it really helped as a starting point and laid out the expectations, especially for homework, because you can’t rely on kids at the younger grades for that,” Makila said. “It may seem minor, but the three to four weeks before Back to School night make a difference.”
Hite agreed that the beginning of the school year can be chaotic, but the system is already working on plans get the “kinks” out of the system ahead of time for next year.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure the first of the year goes as smoothly as possible,” Hite said.