Thursday, June 28, 2007

School board needs improvement, many say

Parents, activists express disappointment at school year’s final meeting; critique helpful, board members say

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Prince George’s County schools officials received their report cards a day earlier than students this year, but theirs came from a handful of county activists and parents.

The informal group confronted Superintendent John E. Deasy and the eight school board members at the final board meeting of the 2006-2007 school year on June 21, offering their critiques during the public participation forum held before each meeting.

The group dished out a litany of complaints and sharp criticism for the school board, accusing school leaders of failing to deliver on promises and demanding greater responsiveness from officials.

The group expressed frustration with what activists described as a lack of progress across the county school system.

Their criticism came a week after the county school system saw a significant bump in Maryland School Assessments reading and math scores, an accomplishment lauded by Deasy and other officials.

Sandra Pruitt, a leader of People for Change in Prince George’s County – an activist group formed during the 2006 election, said officials should make greater efforts to involve parents in policy making.

‘‘Parents have been locked out of the process,” she said. ‘‘Many of the new programs being introduced ... were rolled out without countywide input and community organizations’ input.”

Pruitt, as she has done throughout the spring, pointed to the county’s parent liaison program as an example. While officials, school administrators and many parents have commended Deasy’s plan to hire a liaison for every school, Pruitt said the program needs more oversight and planning.

Deasy and board members do not respond to public comments. The officials listened as speakers offered their critiques, including one woman who called Deasy’s commitment to the county school system into question. The report card grades ranged from B’s to D’s to F’s for the school board and B’s and C’s – with an A+ in the mix – for Deasy.

Afterward, board members had a tempered response to the criticism.

At-large school board member Ron Watson said he was encouraged by residents’ knowledge of board policy and initiatives.

‘‘When they can quote board policy, it shows we’re making progress,” Watson said. ‘‘And we didn’t run for this board because we were afraid of challenges.”

At-large board member Verjeana Jacobs said officials would digest the critiques during a six-week break before they reconvene in August.

Residents’ claims that the board did not respond to e-mails and phone calls, Jacobs said, were unfounded.

‘‘I refuse to believe that we’re not responsive,” she said. When a constituent requests help or clarification of a matter, Jacobs said she forwards it to the appropriate staff member or handles it herself. ‘‘I’m not sure there is anything we can do to please some people. I think that’s just the reality.”

The string of criticism at the meeting was offset by compliments from other school system stakeholders, including many parents pleased with rising MSA scores, Jacobs said.

‘‘Some people support us and understand the magnitude of the job we have to do ... but it’s always easier to sit back and criticize,” she said.

E-mail Dennis Carter at dcarter@gazette.net.