TEMPLE HILLS, Md. - They expected, perhaps, a few dozen people to show up for a school meeting on a muggy summer night in Prince George's County.
Instead, they got hundreds.
School officials in Prince George's County held the first of several "meet and greet" sessions with Kevin Maxwell, the school system's new chief executive officer.
The meeting at Crossland High School in Temple Hills started at 6 p.m. and by 6:15 p.m. the parking lot was overflowing and school security was directing late comers to park on some of the grassy open space in front of the school.
Inside the school, hundreds of parents, educators and business people waited in the receiving line for a chance to talk to Maxwell, a product of the Prince George's County Public Schools and a former principal in the county. Maxwell estimated he shook nearly 400 hands at the meeting.
Many attendees were enthusiastic. Montes Anderson, a local businessman, explained he doesn't have children of his own, but says a strong business climate requires a strong school system. And he believes the shake-up at the school board, and the appointment of a new chief executive officer for Prince George's County Public Schools, is a solid start.
"There's only one place to go, and that's up. I'm excited," said Anderson.
Not everyone was as optimistic. One skeptical parent of a student in special education said she wasn't impressed by Maxwell's deep roots in Prince George's County.
"He knows how he can wheel and deal and get around certain issues. We need someone who can get their hands dirty and work with everybody else and with these children," she said.
Given the chance to speak to the audience, Maxwell pledged to visit each and every school in his first year, and challenged the audience.
"If you come tonight, and it's the last time I see you, or the last time your school sees you, or your association sees you, then that's a tragedy," Maxwell said.
Maxwell says he can't make the improvements he wants to without a buy-in from the community.
New homeowners Taj and Tamara Wilson have two young children, 7 and 3, and another on the way. They had serious reservations about whether to stay in the county, given the dismal academic record of the schools, which have been ranked near the bottom statewide.
After meeting Maxwell, and hearing what he had to say, Taj Wilson said, "This was impressive. I'm very happy."
His wife, Tamara, beamed.
"He's given me a positive outlook. We're new homeowners, and we're planning on staying here in P.G. County."
While Prince George's County Public Schools have seen some improvement on test scores in recent years, County Executive Rushern Baker has a much more ambitious plan, and believes Maxwell is the person who can help him achieve it.
"We're going to make this the best school system - the best school system - not just in the state, but in the nation. And I believe that," Baker said.
Maxwell is currently the superintendent of schools in Anne Arundel County. His first day in Prince George's is expected to be Aug. 1. Schools open on Aug. 19.
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