4:47 PM EDT, June 28, 2013
After years of frustration with a public school system whose performance stubbornly lagged behind others in the region, parents and students in Prince George's County may be seeing a glimmer of hope. The source of that hope is County Executive Rushern Baker III's appointment last week of Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell as CEO for Prince George's schools.
The optimism the parents and students feel comes with several contingencies, the main one being that Maxwell sticks around.
For stakeholders in the county school system, Maxwell has one big advantage — he's a native son. He graduated from Bladensburg High School and the University of Maryland, and spent 22 years in Prince George's as a principal and the county's chief educational administrator. Two of his children are graduates of Bowie High School.
Trailing Maxwell is a promising track record from Anne Arundel. He grew that county's magnet program, promoted environmental literacy and raised the importance of social media such as Facebook and Twitter as a means of communicating with parents and teachers.
Maxwell's appointment is the culmination of a struggle by Baker to gain greater control over Prince George's schools in an effort to reverse troubling trends such as declining enrollment and a growing percentage of students from low-income families. These trends are not only troublesome to parents and teachers, but they are a drag on economic growth as wary businesses choose to locate — and pay their taxes — elsewhere.
Baker initially wanted a complete takeover of county schools, but, in a deal with state lawmakers, accepted a compromise that gives him power to select a new CEO, choose three members of the Board of Education and pick the board's chair and vice chair.
This was a major tipping of the balance of power within the county. It remains to be seen how the newly empowered Maxwell will deal with a school board that must, for the first time, serve in a lesser role. It will be a test of fire for the new CEO's skills in diplomacy.
But for all the promise in these watershed developments, stakeholders should remain concerned about one thing foremost — Maxwell's longevity in office. If he's going to accomplish anything, he's got to stay in office long enough to get it done. Prince George's has had eight superintendents in the past 14 years — a disgraceful revolving door.
The children of Prince George's deserve the best schools we can give them. We are pinning our hopes on Maxwell as the man who can accomplish that.
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