From the Editor: School CEO off to good start

January 10, 2014

Rosanna Landis Weaver

BY ROSANNA LANDIS WEAVER — Earlier this month it was announced that Prince George’s County Public School CEO Kevin Maxwell has been named one of four finalists for the 2014 National Superintendent of the Year.

It is sad and cynical fact that long-time residents of Prince George’s County may respond with  concern to news of an educator winning an award, because often it seems that such recognition leads to a better job outside the county. After all, our record for administrators is not good: the county school system has had eight superintendents in 14 years.  Many left for better paying jobs.

John Deasy (May 2006 to September 2008) left for the Gates Foundation and then Los Angeles Unified School District, and William Hite, Jr., who replaced him first on an interim and then a permanent basis, left in 2012 to head the Philadelphia school system. Following Hite’s departure, Alvin Crawley ably served as interim superintendent until Maxwell’s appointment last August. Crawley was lauded for his stewardship and dedication, but “interim” by definition does not put one in the position of making bold changes and the system needs more than stewardship.

Yet Maxwell’s most recent accolade — he already had won the State level award — did not alarm me. There’s good reason not to worry that the award will be used as leverage for a better-paying position elsewhere.

This is Maxwell’s first academic year heading PGCPS, so the nomination is essentially for his work as  Superintendent for Anne Arundel County Public Schools from July 2006 through July 2013.  At that time he left and signed a contract with PGCPS that runs through August 2017.

There’s no reason to think he will not honor that.  For one thing, his roots are here.  His family moved to Prince George’s County when he was in second grade. He graduated from Bladensburg High School and later taught there. From 1992 to 2000 he was principal at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville.  Even when he took jobs outside the county he continued to live in Bowie.

In addition, he doesn’t seem to be that sort of guy. His response to his nomination was to note how many people are involved in making a school system work.

Maxwell was selected for his CEO position position by County Executive Rushern Baker, after a shake-up, viewed by some as a power grab, that changed the rules so that the hiring the head of the school system fell under the purview of his office rather than the elected school board.

Early indications are good that whatever one feels about that change, the selection of Maxwell was an excellent choice.  The teachers I’ve spoken to at Northwestern who served while he was there speak very highly of him.

It is too early to speak to what he has accomplished thus far. Good news accumulates slowly and often doesn’t have a news angle.  Quiet decisions, like the fact that sports were reinstated at middle schools, may or may not be traced back to him. His proposed budget for the upcoming school year seems a positive step, and local residents are excited about both the arts elementary school and the possibility of a nearby Spanish immersion elementary. (See page xx.)

Running the school system of a county that encompasses 495 square miles is no easy job, and keeping superintendents is a problem for many large school systems.  At the December meeting one of the rationales for moving sixth graders to middle school was that  there are “positive performance differences for students that change schools less frequently.” I would postulate that there are likewise positive performance differences for school systems that change superintendents less frequently.

Let us hope that Maxwell will stay long enough to help the many good individuals working in the system to create a functional bureaucracy that focuses on educating children, rather than the next job down the line.

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