Candidate profile: Student achievement, teachers top Murray's goals in school board race

The last time David Murray ran for the District 1 seat on thePrince George's CountyBoard of Education, fewer than 1,000 votes separated him and the incumbent, who won re-election.

This year, that incumbent is not running.

That's the biggest difference between the 2010 board race and this one, Murray said. The current District 1 representative, Rosalind Johnson, announced earlier this year that she's retiring once her term is over in December. In 2010, Murray garnered the second-most votes — 47.3 percent, or 9,263 votes — 998 shy of Johnson.

This time, Murray said, he knows more people and has more support from the get-go. He's also running on a "bigger-picture" platform, he said.

"I want to see the entire school system turned around," he said. "It's going to take some pretty decent changes to turn our school system from one of the lowest-performing in the state to one of the more higher-performing jurisdictions."

Rewarding good work a priority

Murray, 19, of Bowie, is a 2010 graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, in Greenbelt, and previously served as the student member of the Maryland State Board of Education. Currently a student at theUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County, he's majoring in economics and balancing a 17-credit course load with a campaign, door-knocking on the weekends and gearing up for the April 3 primary in which three candidates are running for Johnson's vacant seat.

"The school board needs someone who really understands the school system from a variety of perspectives," Murray said. "I've been in it, recently. ... I think we could use someone who's able to look at the disparities between our county and surrounding counties and figure out what we're going to do to close that gap, provide better opportunities for students here."

If elected, Murray said one of his priorities would be to try to institute some form of merit pay for teachers and principals so educators who are particularly effective can be rewarded for their work.

"There's no reason a second-year teacher can't be more effective than a 30-year teacher," he said. "If that teacher's making bigger gains with their students, I'd like to see them rewarded for it, so we can draw teachers back into the county. We lose a lot of great teachers, great principals, to surrounding jurisdictions because they get paid more. And I'd like to see more things done for principals. They already make a pretty good salary, but they don't really have an incentive to go above and beyond, to take on more tasks. I'd like to see principals who are turning schools around be rewarded as well."

That priority feeds into his main goal, Murray said: increasing student achievement and restoring public trust in the school system. In order to have a great school system, he said, the schools must have great teachers and great principals, but more than that, it's a community effort.

"We have to build together," he said. "If we're bringing in stakeholders — parents, teachers, students, unions — if we're all really working together to build up our school system, we won't be as likely to have such a lack of involvement from some of these groups. Right now, I don't think there's a lot of public buy-in to, or confidence in, what the school board is doing. ... I don't feel the school board is reaching out to the average teacher, the average parent to be involved in the process. ... I don't think a lot of these groups have a sense of involvement in the school system."

It should be exactly the opposite, Murray said — people should be involved in the area schools, even people who don't have children in the system, because public schools are important to the entire community. Murray noted that a local school's performance can affect property values and said that every citizen should have their say.

"I want to see that District 1 is well-represented," Murray said. "We're a county with nine districts, and if the District 1 school board member isn't fighting for Laurel, isn't fighting for Beltsville, nobody's going to. If they're not fighting for new school construction, if they're not fighting for whatever is of concern to this community, no one's going to. I think it's important to stay grounded in the community, go to those meetings, be out in those neighborhoods and understand the concerns of the area."

Murray, who turns 20 on March 23, said that outside of his course-work and campaigning, he doesn't have time for much else. But he's a typical college student, he said, who likes sports, video games and playing basketball at the gym. Murray said that while some may see being so much younger than his opponents as a disadvantage, he sees it as an asset.

"When I'm out campaigning, so many people are excited to see that I'm doing this," he said. "They're excited that they're going to get someone in there who actually understands, from my own experiences, the challenges. I think that's valuable, because sometimes we like to sugar coat the issues, and we've got to accept that we're not high-performing and we have to do something to fix it."

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