Viewing Education In 3D
PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell Discusses The State of the School System, The Recent Audit And the 3D Program With Prince George’s Roundtable President M.H. Jim Estepp
Dr. Kevin Maxwell knew that the job came with dozens of challenges when he stepped into the position of CEO of the Prince George’s County Public School System in 2013. Prior to taking the job, the CEO seat rotated leadership more than a freshly oiled turnstile on steroids: he is the eighth leader of the system in 18 years.
The Prince George’s county public schools’ top executive took part in the “State of the Education System” event in a fireside chat format with M.H. Jim Estepp, President and CEO of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable November 28.
Highlights of the conversation included the development of the 3D Scholarship Program which allows county students to achieve three degrees over the course of an academic career from high school through community college and on to a bachelor’s degree—all affordably offered in total at $10,000. The program begins with the public school system and includes Prince George’s Community College and the University of Maryland University College. With the rising costs of higher education, the groundbreaking program is likely to become a national model.
Maxwell promises to triple the number of students in the 3D program in years to come. “All we need is the support to make sure this happens and then our kids are on a level playing field with every other child across the state and around this great country,” he said.
Maxwell also discussed a $25 million Department of Education grant for teacher leadership and special programs for needy students and arts integration. He plugged the Second Annual Prince George’s 2018 Arts Gala as an extraordinary must-see event showcasing the performance and visual art talent of county students.
Innovative programming wasn’t the only topic of discussion. The schools CEO addressed the elephant in the room almost immediately as the conversation with Estepp began.
About The Audit
“We knew there were issues in the schools,” Maxwell responded. “We knew that when I started. You can’t just flip a switch. The real, hard work takes time. The audit first refuted [concerns] about corruption and fraud at the highest levels of our organization. The audit absolutely said that there was no fraud, no systemic intimidation of that sort. It did say there are issues within our system. I don’t disagree with that.”
The chief schools executive noted that policies and procedures need updating, training and certifications and better record keeping are all areas where attention and correction are needed.
“In this system, we still use paper and pencil for some of those things, keeping track of graduation credits that other systems are using technology for,” Maxwell acknowledged.
But the bottom line remains that an audit is designed to point out strengths and weaknesses in any system. And Maxwell says with adequate time, the weaknesses will be addressed.
“That’s the process of an audit,” Maxwell said. “We have an amount of time to respond to that audit and we will submit a response to the state within that time and make the corrections in response to the state.”
The Way Forward
“In education circles [at national conferences], Prince George’s County is well regarded outside of Prince George’s County,” Maxwell said amid friendly smiles and chuckles from the audience of nearly 250 business leaders. “We have a lot of things working really well. If the only thing you know about our school system is what you see on the television or read in the newspaper, you don’t know anything about Prince George’s County. If you visit schools and you spend time watching our kids learn and cafeteria workers serve and bus drivers drive and building service support staff – you would know that we have a lot of things going very well.”
It is this that causes Maxwell to hunker down and stick to the plan.
“I don’t think you make strong advancement in an organization by changing direction,” he says.
“We need to refocus our efforts on our strategic plan. We want to make sure that we continue to rebuild.”
The plan came about as a result of the work of a transition team that studied the schools system when Maxwell came on board and then a strategic planning process that framed the step by step process to long term improvement.
Making The Investment, Staying The Course
Already, Dr. Maxwell has accomplished something no other in his position has done in nearly two decades: get signed to a second contract.
Amid challenges and controversy surrounding the system, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III also believes in making the investment and staying true to the plan once set.
Opening remarks were brought by Baker who recalled the comments of a business leader who inspired him to delve into improvement of the public schools system as a priority if he were to choose to lead Prince George’s.
“‘Before I can expand and put millions of dollars of my business into an area I need to know that the place where I’m investing is going to be vibrant for years to come,’” Baker said paraphrasing the conversation he had with the businessman nearly a decade ago. “‘The best way to judge that is the public education system.’ That stuck with me. If Prince George’s County was to live up to its true potential, the first place we had to start was a quality public education. That’s what made me run for County Executive. I wanted to be a part of decision making at that level to bring about an education revolution in the county.”
Indeed, it was an education revolution. Baker put the weight of his office and reputation in 2013 behind an effort to have a more direct hand in leading the public schools system and put him in charge of the school superintendent and its then $1.7 billion budget.