When the new Prince George's County school board members are sworn in Dec. 3, they will have had less than a month from the election to prepare themselves for the responsibilities of their new position, which will include selecting a new superintendent.
"You just have to do your best to catch up, and get up to par as soon as possible," school board member Carolyn Boston (District 6), whose post isn’t up for election until 2014, advised new members.
As of Wednesday morning, Zabrina Epps remained ahead by a slim margin against David Murray in District 1, a post vacated by Rosalind Johnson. In District 7, newcomer Carletta Fellows was well ahead of incumbent Henry P. Armwood, by about 5,000 votes, according to the county board of elections website.
With about 91 percent of precincts reporting, incumbents Patricia Eubanks (Dist. 4), Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5) and Edward Burroughs III (Dist. 8) appeared to have retained their seats.
School board terms are staggered, so Boston and members Peggy Higgins (District 2), Amber Waller (District 3) and Donna Hathaway Beck (District 9) will not have to run for re-election until 2014. The staggered system is designed to allow for experience and continuity on the school board.
The process of selecting a new superintendent is one of the top challenges the board will have to deal with, Waller said, as well as issues of limited school system funding and changes in state and federal laws. In addition, some school board members have said another round of school consolidations may be needed to level out enrollment in county schools. The county school system shuttered eight county schools in 2009 to level out enrollments. Boston added that it is important to ensure that the academic progress made in Prince George's County continues and is not compromised by the superintendent search.
Former superintendent William R. Hite left earlier this year to lead the Philadelphia school district. The county has not had a superintendent remain in office for more than four years in the past two decades.
Ernest Moore, president of the Prince George’s County Council of PTAs, agreed that the search for a new superintendent should be foremost on the minds of the school board members. He commended the school board for its work so far in keeping the public informed and involved in the process, and encouraged new members to continue that practice.
“When a school board member isn’t really familiar with their community and its resources, it really makes it harder for them to do their jobs,” Moore said, adding that diversity on the board is also important to allow for differing points of view.
For Laurel High School PTSA president Natalie Waugh, it is very important that the school board improve the curriculum to prepare more students for college.
“We need to revamp the curriculum to be more college-ready,” Waugh said. “We need to have more grammar taught in our elementary schools, and in the high schools, we need our students to read and write a little better.”
Waller said she would advise new school board members to "listen when students’ parents and constituents need to be heard, and talk when they need to listen. I would also tell new board members to be flexible in their view of public education because everything isn't always black and white."
She said new members should have done all their homework before taking office.
"They should know the issues and know the school system," Waller said, adding, "They should also know about the purpose of an elected school board. There are many candidates who believe that their job ist to manage the school system This is not the case. A board member has only one employee and that individual is the superintendent."
Boston said the election, falling as it does in the middle of the school year, presents challenges for new board members, especially given that elected members will have less than one month from Election Day to prepare before they are sworn in to office and, the same day, attend their first meeting as board members.
Beck said newly elected members need to start thinking in terms of "we," not "I."
"They need to really focus on the concept of working as a team," Beck said. "So many of the campaign discussions have revolved around what 'I' will do in office. But it doesn't work like that. A board member can essentially do nothing unless the team moves the agenda forward."