Oxon Hill PTA president wins state award for service
Fort Foote Elementary parent praised for advocating for school
Raphael Talisman/The Star
An Oxon Hill woman has been named one of two "honorary lifetime members" of the Maryland Parent Teacher Association.
Alexandria Briggs-Blake, the PTA president for Fort Foote Elementary in Fort Washington, said she won the award at a Nov. 14 Maryland PTA convention for doing the same thing during the last 15 years as most PTA members—things like leading PTA meetings and helping to organize school events. But she says she has set her sights higher—on rebuilding her school and a defunct county branch of the state PTA.
"She's a positive voice," said Darlene Kindred, the parent liaison at Fort Foote Elementary. "She takes the initiative, doesn't mind speaking up for what she believes is right… She's a very strong presence."
The title comes with a $500 award that will be added to a state PTA scholarship fund, according to Debbie Ritchie, the state PTA president.
When Briggs-Blake enrolled her children at Fort Foote in 2006, the school had no PTA, she said. Neither she nor Kindred know why the group had disbanded, but Kindred said the absence of a PTA was hurting the school.
"The PTA is instrumental in bringing things to the school that the faculty and staff might not be able to do," she said.
Briggs-Blake said she started working with the state PTA, helped draft the new PTA's by-laws and successfully restarted the group in August 2007.
"She pulled the PTA together," said Principal Sonia Beckford.
In the year that followed, Briggs-Blake said she helped Fort Foote where she could—she got her company, Amalgamated Bank, to donate desks to the school, got Home Depot to contribute to the school's Gorgeous Prince George's Day beautification activities in 2007 and helped the school's teachers conduct classes as part of a county program, Kindred said. She also found a program to teach English to parents and students who do not speak the language.
"We have parents coming in here, and they absolutely don't speak English," Kindred said. "That's not good."
Kindred said Briggs-Blake also played a key role in getting Sen. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington, Del. Jay Walker (D-Dist. 26) of Oxon Hill and Del. Kriselda Valderrama (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington to visit Fort Foote in March in an effort to convince state lawmakers that the school's faculty and students need a new building. Briggs-Blake keeps in regular contact with the lawmakers, Kindred said.
"She's the one. She follows up [with lawmakers]," Kindred said. "I don't want to say she's in your face, but she makes things happen."
Walker said he admires Briggs-Blake's tenacity.
"She's the model of what you wish you had in a PTA president," said Walker, who praised Briggs-Blake for keeping him informed of Fort Foote's needs and advocating for the school.
"The condition of Fort Foote is not up to the condition of the other schools [in my district]," Walker said. "Fort Foote stands out."
Walker said he plans to bring the condition of Fort Foote to the attention of state lawmakers, but offered no concrete proposals for rebuilding the school.
Briggs-Blake said the 60-year-old school is dilapidated and increasingly overcrowded, but she does not expect it to be rebuilt in the near future.
"I'm an optimist, but the realism of it is that it's just not happening now," she said.
Briggs-Blake's term as PTA president ends in June, she said, after which she will remain a PTA member. She said her highest priority—now and after her presidency ends—is to re-establish the Council of Prince George's County PTAs, which disbanded in June 2007 over violations of its bylaws, Ritchie said.
Briggs-Blake said she is excited by the state tribute. But she said she is more excited about what that means for her school.
"It's an honor," she said. "I'll try to use it as much as I can to encourage other parents to go for it."