As an instructor and administrator, Zabrina Epps said she sees students every day who simply aren't prepared for college.
That concern propelled Epps, an academic advisor at the Community College of Baltimore County, to throw her name into the ring for the District 1 seat on thePrince George's County Board of Education.
"A student graduates high school, having done everything they're supposed to have done," said Epps, 40, of Laurel. "They come to CCBC and to their dismay, 65 percent of them place one to four semesters below college level in areas like English, reading and math. When I tell them they cannot register for a full course-load, or have to take developmental education courses, they break down. ... Something needs to be done."
Epps said she came to the decision to run for the board over the course of the last year, based on the situation she was seeing day in and day out at her job, and after an eight-month Educational Policy Fellows Program through the Institution for Educational Leadership in Washington.
"I thought, there has to be something else I can do to advocate for young people, prior to them coming into higher education," she said. "It's time to be an agent for improvement and change. This was the time."
Epps, a former budget analyst for the Maryland General Assembly, cited her budget know-how as an asset she could bring to the table, as well as her relationship with elected officials.
"I've worked with (County Executive Rushern) Baker, I've worked with (Laurel Mayor Craig) Moe, I have people I can call on in the 21st Congressional District who know me and know what I am capable of," she said.
Epps also has the support of Michael McLaughlin, a longtime advocate for students' needs, who until March 8 was also a contender for the District 1 seat.
McLaughlin suspended his campaign for personal reasons and encouraged his supporters to back Epps instead.
"I am so appreciative of his support," Epps said. "The experience I have means I can advocate for the issues he cares about, and I look forward to working with him more closely in the future. The issues that were at the forefront of his campaign have been concerns of mine as well."
Those issues — the needs of students, especially those with special needs — are ones that can be addressed through partnerships with nonprofits, businesses and organizations in the area and across the state, Epps said.
"If we don't have the money, we have to partner," Epps said. "With parents, with the community, with organizations. ... Partner where there are gaps, so programs and partnerships can be made for the benefit of the students."
Another partnership Epps said she would like to see formed is with Casa de Maryland, an organization founded to aid Central American refugees in the region, which would in-turn benefit the growing Spanish-speaking population in county schools.
"In regards to English language learners, we need to help fast-track the acquisition of language skills," Epps said. "All young people are bright, and we want to make sure the curriculum honors where they are and takes them where they need to be."
Ultimately, Epps said, she wants to be the voice of readiness, to ensure they have the basic tools for success and confidences in the education they have received.
"My vision is to make sure our students are ready in a way that honors them and their families," she said, "and to have the community rally around that vision."