Can the new Prince George’s Co. schools boss get kids back in class?

New Prince George’s County Public Schools Superintendent Millard House II has been on the job for about two weeks. At this point, he’ll admit he doesn’t know all the challenges, nor does he have all the solutions to the challenges he does know about. But he knows there are challenges at hand.

High on the list is truancy. Since the pandemic, county leaders have said too many kids are struggling to consistently make it to class every day, and leaders in the criminal justice system have said it’s no coincidence the rise in youth crime has accompanied the truancy trend.

Asked about it during a news conference, House conceded some of the solutions may have to come from state lawmakers in Annapolis, but he said some may not have to.

House acknowledged that Maryland tends to be a little less heavy-handed than other states are when it comes to truancy, but he also cautioned against thinking that kind of approach is needed.

“It’s not just about penalizing,” House said. “It’s about supporting social and emotional needs of what that family needs and ensuring that that student is on a campus and getting what they need in terms of education.”

Truancy in some cases may be rooted in safety concerns, with students worried that neighborhood disputes might follow them into the classroom. Other times, impediments at home may be the reason kids aren’t going to school. But he believes those can be worked through.

“It’s also about support. It’s understanding where the problems are with those specific students with that particular family,” House said. “So, we will be working with our Student Services Department to ensure that the connections are made, so that we find out where those supports are needed.”

He also admitted those connections might have to be made outside school and in the child’s home.

“One of the things that I instituted in my last school district was what was called a wraparound specialist at each one of our schools,” House said. “This wraparound specialist was really responsible for understanding the needs of each community, because our communities are different.

“We want to make certain that every student believes that the environment, the education environment that they’re in, is an environment that wants them there, that sees them being successful, and wants to ensure that they have everything that they need to be successful as well,” House said.

But he said he still has to learn and understand what is already in place.

“I don’t want to duplicate efforts. There are some wonderful things that are in place already — some wonderful actions that have been in motion for a while.”

For now, he’ll be working on what he calls his “90-Day Plan,” which he hopes to unveil in time for the start of the school year, and which hopes to address some of these issues.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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