Prince George’s County schools work to address achievement gaps

There’s a renewed focus on educational equity and access for all students in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and it was the topic of discussion during a forum Tuesday night among local leaders and schools CEO Monica Goldson.

Goldson began the forum by making clear Prince George’s County Public Schools’ commitment to fostering conditions that encourage achievement among students and employee performance.

“While this is no easy lift, it’s one that we must do, and the pandemic has shown an additional light on all the work that we must do to create opportunities for educational equity,” Goldson said.

School Board member K. Alexander Wallace, an alum of the district, pointed out some of the main concerns they face as one of the largest school systems in the nation with over 131,000 students.

“Our student population is 95% students of color,” Wallace said. “More than 11% of our students are enrolled in some form of special education, and 1 out of 5 are identified as English language learners.”

Wallace stressed tremendous gaps these students face, though the educational equity policy is one tool he said that should be seen as part of the district’s DNA to uplift these students.

Lupi Grady, former board member and CEO of the Latin American Youth Center, said gains have been made under Goldson’s leadership, but added that it’s crucial that leaders focus on how the achievement gap and other layers of needs can become conversations focused on creating spaces where all students are able to learn equally.

“Now that we are in a pandemic, the challenges that are ahead of us are exacerbated because of existing inequalities,” Grady said, pointing out the need for social, emotional and academic support. “Our families are not going to be focused on learning if they don’t have some of these needs met.”

Now the focus is on not only policy, but the political will to fund it.

As for what’s being done, David Reese, the director of the Office of Equity and Excellence, said access to mental health, implicit bias education and restorative approaches are part of the solution.

Reese emphasized his support for Prince George’s County Public Schools’ policy and the bright future ahead through an approach that involves implicit bias training for all employees.

“No matter how much you have or don’t have … we have the responsibility to acknowledge your presence and allow you to live your truth out loud and value you. Our system is doing a lot of key things to make sure that happens,” Reese said.

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