In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session with reporters, Millard House II spoke about the good things he’s coming into, the challenges he’ll face and some of the differences that will be noticeable when schools open again in the fall.
One big difference will be apparent the minute high schoolers and some middle schoolers walk into their schools on Aug. 28: Students will have to pass through a screening system that will detect any weapons being brought into the building.
“We know that this has been a major concern, a major conversation, not only here in Maryland, not only here in Prince George’s County, but quite frankly, across the country,” said House.
“There is no tolerance for weapons inside of our schools, or on our school grounds and on our school buses. We don’t want to tolerate weapons anywhere. Quite frankly, we are introducing new tools this year to ensure the highest priority of what this should look like.”
He’s calling it a pilot program, but the screening equipment will be in every high school in the county and a handful of middle schools. While it’s being implemented under House’s watch this fall, planning for the new safety enhancements predates his arrival from Texas.
“These type of security enhancements are nationwide,” he said, pointing out how they’re also used at sporting events. “I think they make sense. We’re going to follow suit here to make sure that we have the kind of safety that we want to see.”
He admitted some parents may not be thrilled by that. But it’s a debate he’s had before in previous stops.
When similar equipment was introduced in Charlotte, North Carolina, “there was a group in the community who said ‘we don’t want our schools institutionalized. We don’t want them to look like institutions,'” said House.
“There was another group that said, ‘if this is what it is to make us a safer community, let’s do it,’ so there will always be that conversation,” he added.
“There will always be that disagreement. But I think what reigned supreme is what happens when it’s all said and done in terms of those instances. I think technology has come a long way, so that we don’t have to make our schools look institutionalized. The equipment that’s out there now, is not so blatantly obvious.”
In addition, all middle and high school students will be required to use clear, see-through backpacks beginning this fall.
“We’ll be working with local affiliates, like your Target, Walmart and Amazon, to recommend to our parents where they can go get these backpacks,” he said. “Of course, on an annual basis, we provide thousands of backpacks to students as well. Those will be clear this year.
“As you look at the security enhancement equipment, that will cover kind of what’s under the clothing,” he added. “The backpacks will help us with, you know, the obvious.”
House said the county is also looking to hire about a thousand new employees by the time school starts this fall. Job fairs are set to be held Wednesday at Wise High School in Upper Marlboro, and at Tanglewood Elementary in Clinton one week later. The county is looking to hire new teachers, especially those who can teach special education, ESO and elementary math and science.
“It feels like this is déjà vu. I’ve seen this in three different states,” said House. “As we look at public education as a whole, these are the needs. It’s not something that we can wait on as a school district, I think we have to put plans in place. There are some strong plans in place.”
About 150 more bus drivers and 60 more school nurse positions also need to be filled. He said the number of teachers who left the school system at the end of the most recent school year declined by nearly 60 compared to the year before.
When it comes to hiring, House didn’t waste much time in bringing some trusted colleagues with him from Houston. During Tuesday’s event, House announced that Tejal Patel was coming to be his chief of communications, while Quincy Boyd will serve as his new chief of staff.
“As you think about what’s called the theory of action, that theory of action starts with leadership,” said House. “Having the right people in place, in my opinion, is one of the major pieces around what it is to move the dial. So I’m starting there to ensure that I have the right people in place. And then I think if you have the right people in place, they will do the same thing in their work streams to make sure the right people in place so that we can move the dial for students.”
Later this summer, House vows to unveil his 90-day plan in time for the start of the school year.
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