Before the presidential town hall debate Tuesday night, dozens of Prince George’s County residents attended a more local debate: a school board candidates’ forum at CenterPoint Baptist Church in Camp Springs.
CenterPoint Pastor Orlando Bego, formerly a District 8 candidate, said that all 10 candidates for the five school board seats up for election were invited to attend Tuesday’s forum. However, only six were in attendance at the forum sponsored by community organizations PRISM (Partnership for Renewal in Southern and Central Maryland) and SPACES (Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity). The forum was moderated by the Rev. Sylvia Bullock, founding pastor of Lanham-based Seek His Face Ministries.
Verjeana Jacobs, the District 5 incumbent and current school board chairwoman, touted improvements the school system has made under her tenure.
“Our school system has suffered and had some difficulties, but be sure you update yourselves on the progress we’ve made,” she said. “Six years ago, we had a 54 percent pass rate, now it’s 80 percent. Let’s continue our progress.”
Jacobs, of Mitchellville, cited greater access to Advanced Placement classes and healthier choices in school vending machines in county schools among her accomplishments and said looking at ways to improve funding was a goal for her next term.
Her opponent, Raheela Ahmed of Bowie, said she would like to see financial literacy taught in Prince George’s County schools and offered her way to retain teachers.
“It’s no secret what we need to do to retain teachers; we need to pay them more,” she said. “Treat them like employees who are valued and treat them well, and they will treat us well, [and] treat our children well.”
Ahmed said she would provide more community outreach if elected.
“We need to engage our community more, bring them into our schools and make sure their voices are heard,” she said.
District 7 incumbent Henry Armwood of Capitol Heights said that, if re-elected, his goal for the next year would be to improve compensation for employees.
“We’re losing skilled people to other jurisdictions,” Armwood said. “Our teachers have not had a pay raise in four years. We must see what is available in the budget, not just for teachers, but for all staff.”
Armwood said he would like to partner with faith-based and community organizations to establish “parent academies” to help provide needed skills to parents.
Armwood said that at-risk students need to be identified early on to reduce the county’s drop-out rate, which was 5.82 percent in 2011, compared to the statewide dropout rate of 3.18 percent, according to the Maryland State Department of Education’s annual report card.
“We need to make education relevant to them and get interventions in place for them,” he said. “Providing mentors is critical.”
His challenger, Carletta Fellows of Upper Marlboro, said that improving school infrastructure would be a major goal if elected.
“Sixty-six percent of our schools are structurally deficient,” she said.
Fellows said she would secure low-interest bonds to upgrade schools.
“If you do not have an environment that is conducive to learning, children fail,” Fellows said.
Fellows said it’s important for the school system to find ways to pay teachers more and for the school system to promote healthy lifestyle choices. She would like to see more dance, exercise and recreational opportunities provided.
District 4 challenger Micah Watson of Cheverly said the school system needs to do more to reach out to non-English speakers in the community, such as providing translators so that every member of the community can participate in PTA meetings.
Watson said it’s time for a pay raise for teachers. He said he would also like to look at what other school systems are doing, “to let teachers teach and to get out of their way.”
His opponent, District 8 board member Patricia Eubanks of Chapel Oaks, was not in attendance.
District 8 incumbent Edward Burroughs, of Camp Springs, stopped in briefly during a break moderating another event. Asked what he would do to promote healthy lifestyle choices, Burroughs said it is important to continue providing students with healthy eating choices, but that parents need to be educated on making healthy decisions, as well.
Burroughs’ opponent for the District 8 seat, Andre Nottingham of Fort Washington, was not in attendance.