Monday, July 25, 2011

Meet Mike Robinson -- An Advocate for Prince George's County Students

Robinson, who was laid off by the school system last summer, writes a blog to keep county parents in the loop

By Khadijah Ali-Coleman

“While the economic outlook remains bleak, [the Prince George’s County Public Schools] budget will maintain the core instructional programs and services needed to support teaching and learning ...,” county Schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. wrote to school board Chairwoman Verjeana M. Jacobs in a letter of proposed budget cuts for the 2011-2012 school year.

The letter, sent last year as the new school board members were sworn in and local residents were winding down for the holidays, was given minimal attention -- aside from a few local media outlets and bloggers.

Yet, Laurel resident Mike Robinson, a self-appointed advocate for county parents and students, immediately picked up the story.

“This is big news,” he recalled.

Robinson not only posted the letter on his Parental Engagement with PGCPS blog, he began researching and posting the strides that parents in other states are taking to make schools better for their children.

In California, for instance, there's the controversial "Parent Trigger" Law instated last year. Under the state law, school districts must take drastic actions to overhaul schools if parents petition for the change. The changes could include firing school staffers, hiring new administrators or reopening as a charter school.

“Parents in [the Prince George’s County school] system have lost avenues to become engaged,” Robinson wrote on his blog. “Parents have seen doors closed in their faces. Attempts to silence their voices have reached epic proportions ranging from the loss of Parent Liaisons to the elimination of parental engagement programs and services.”

Robinson, father of two daughters in the school system, is the former Coordinating Supervisor for Parental Engagement and Community Outreach for Prince George’s County Public Schools. Although he was laid off last summer due to budget cuts, Robinson wanted an active network among parents with children in county schools.

The school system has not refilled Robinson's position or developed a similar position.

“There is absolutely no one at my daughter’s school who makes dealing with parents a priority,” said Lisa, a Fort Washington resident who declined to give her last name.

Lisa's daughter attends Avalon Elementary School in Temple Hills. “I enjoy Mike Robinson’s blog because he gives you tips on navigating the system and answers questions that even the staff at my daughter’s school either don’t have or don’t want to give," Lisa said.

Robinson hosts a weekly radio show podcast and maintains an active community of more than 400 parents. As he puts it, he wants to bridge a widening communication gap between parents and school system administrators.

“I just want to see that we are helping to build high-performance schools," Robinson said. "I work with an organization that works in the foster care system. I find the energy and find the time. It’s my passion."

For Robinson and his wife, the first priority is to provide a "better life" for their two daughters -- aged 5 and 15.

And, after learning that Prince George’s County schools are some of the lowest performing in Maryland, Robinson is clear that parental advocacy is key in helping students excel academically.

“For too long, parents get information spoon fed or at the last minute,” Robinson said. “I try to approach my role from the perspective of a parent. What would I want to know? Even if it’s not germane to me, it may be something that may relate to a neighbor."

And the information Robinson shares is of interest to most parents. He profiles on his blog interviews with parents actively engaged in the schools — such as Eileen Collins, president of the Laurel Elementary School PTA, and area activist Nakia Troi Ngwala, a local advocate for universal Pre-K, who became invested in county schools when she was barred from enrolling her young son in pre-K because of income restrictions.

Robinson informs parents of news that they may not know unless visiting the county’s website, as well as commentary from national education leaders who speak on trends in education ranging from technology to school choice.

“I had an opportunity recently to interview Dr. Mavis Sanders, author of Principals Matter: A Guide to School, Family, and Community Partnerships,” Robinson said. "And, she said that when you have school systems who want parental engagement, they will have it. When a school system doesn’t have it, then they don’t want it. You don’t make it difficult for contact. You don’t make it difficult for your consumers to find you. We just have lip service here in PG County schools.”

To learn more about Mike Robinson’s efforts to support parent advocacy in Prince George’s County, visit him at Parental Engagement with PGCPS.

US Labor Dep't bans hiring of Pinoy teachers in Maryland county

by Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

OXON HILL, Maryland - Hundreds of Filipinos teachers trooped to the Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS) in a desperate bid to hold on to their jobs by carrying letters of appeal, following the decision of the US Department of Labor to bar it from hiring Filipino and other foreign teachers for 2 years.

The DOL reaffirmed a decision last April that concluded the PGCPS willfully violated H-1B visa rules by requiring an estimated 800 Filipino teachers to pay visa and other fees that should have been shouldered by the school system. The PGCPS has already agreed to pay back $4.2 million in back wages to the teachers.

Both the PGCPS and Filipino teachers appealed the DOL's findings, many of the mentors saying they paid the fees voluntarily and were more concerned about keeping their jobs.

A majority of them have been working in the Prince George's public schools for the past 4-5 years, with a smaller number who arrived last year and presumably, were still working off the expenses of resettling in Maryland.

"Under the statute governing the H-1B program," the DOL statement read, "willful wage violations are subject to a debarment period of at least two years. Violations are willful when an employer knew or acted in reckless disregard for whether its actions were impermissible."

"Due to the willful nature of some of the violations, PGCPS also has agreed to pay $100,000 in civil money penalties and to be debarred for two years from filing new petitions, requests for extensions or requests for permanent residency for foreign workers under any employment-based visa program," the statement read further.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis stressed that "the Labor Department has the responsibility for ensuring that employers who use the H-1B program follow the law and do not place U.S. workers at a disadvantage to H-1B workers."

The Filipino teachers vowed to challenge what they saw a "unjust labor practices", pointing out that they are being penalized for a wrong committed by their school employer.

"They will be performing a series of actions geared towards ultimately attaining what is most precious to them, which is keeping their jobs," declared Maricris Urbano in a statement given to ABS-CBN News.

She said this afternoon's "silent walk-through" at the PGCPS Board of Education office in Upper Marlboro, Maryland was just the beginning. They are blaming the school system for "unfair terminations as they capriciously allowed working visas to expire."

Urbano feared these developments would eventually lead to an exodus of Filipino teachers back to the Philippines.

The Filipino teachers have also hastily organized a town hall meeting with visiting Philippine Congressman Erin Tanada at the Philippine Multicultural Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland this evening. They will be asking for help from the Philippine government.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, in his Independence Day address at the Philippine Embassy here last month, cited the struggle of the Filipino teachers in Prince George's county. They were able to convince PGCPS officials to reverse their decision not to renew work visas for Filipino teachers in "non-critical" subjects; but that victory has been erased by the DOL decision.

If the DOL decision is upheld – it still has to be approved by an administrative law judge – only a handful of Filipino teachers will survive the cut. They belong mostly to the first batch of mentors recruited in the Philippines in 2003-2004 and who've gained legal permanent residency status or the so-called "green card". But they are very few.

Maryland schools sought teachers from the Philippines to fill vacancies and help meet federally-mandated "No Child Left Behind" standards imposed by former President George W. Bush.

The DOL order does not cover about 600 Filipino teachers in Baltimore, Maryland public schools, who were subjected to the same hiring practices that got the Prince George's public school system in hot water. The Baltimore Public School System (BPSS) is trying to avoid a similar fate by reportedly quietly paying back the fees that were illegally collected from their Filipino teachers.

The collection of fees from the Filipino teachers brought about a disparity in wages between foreign and local teachers doing the same job. "The H-1B program allows employers to hire foreign professionals in certain specialty occupations to work temporarily in the U.S," the DOL explained.

"Workers hired under the H-1B program must be paid at least the same wage rates and benefits as those paid to U.S. workers doing the same job in the same area, so that the wages of similarly employed U.S. workers are not adversely affected."

2011 Educational Bills and Acts in Maryland

Bill Number: SB 0776

Issue Code: Education


Synopsis: Authorizing specified parents and legal guardians of students attending public schools that are subject to corrective action and are not making adequate yearly progress to petition county boards of education to implement specified interventions based on improving academic achievement or student safety; requiring county boards to notify the State Superintendent of Schools and the State Board of Education of the receipt and disposition of specified petitions; etc. Preliminary analysis: local government mandate EFFECTIVE: OCTOBER 1, 2011

Staff Assigned: Leslie Knapp Jr. (

Bill Number: HB 1081

Issue Code: Education

Title: EDUCATION – PUBLIC SCHOOLS – PETITIONS FOR INTERVENTION Synopsis: Authorizing specified parents and legal guardians of students attending public schools that are subject to corrective action and are not making adequate yearly progress to petition county boards of education to implement specified interventions; requiring county boards to notify the State Superintendent of Schools and the State Board of Education on receipt and of final disposition of specified petitions; requiring county boards to make specified determinations in a specified manner in a specified time frame; etc. Preliminary analysis: local government mandate.


Staff Assigned: Leslie Knapp Jr. (

Bill Number: HB 1208

Issue Code: Education


Synopsis: Altering from 21 to 25 the age before which foster care recipients must be enrolled at public institutions of higher education to be exempt from paying specified tuition; and altering from 21 to 25 the age before which foster care recipients must be enrolled as candidates for specified degrees to not be required to pay the difference between the amount of specified scholarships or grants and the amount of specified tuition.


Staff Assigned: Leslie Knapp Jr. (

Bill Number: HB 1228 crossfiled with SB 882

Issue Code: Employee Benefits and Relations


Synopsis: Specifying that, for specified weeks of unemployment, a State “on” indicator for extended unemployment benefits exists under specified circumstances; specifying that a State “off” indicator exists for specified extended unemployment benefits under specified circumstances; prohibiting specified extended benefits from being payable for any week of unemployment beginning before a specified date; specifying the total amount of specified extended benefits that are payable to an eligible individual; etc.


Testimony: Testimony

Staff Assigned: Andrea Mansfield (

MACo Position: Support with Amendment Revised Position: Support Bill Status: PASSED Comment: Bill was amended to reimburse local governments for a portion of the costs associated with providing the extended benefits.

Bill Number: SB 0262 crossfiled with HB 127

Issue Code: Education


Synopsis: Requiring the State Board of Education to develop curriculum content for a course in financial literacy; requiring each county board of education to implement the financial literacy curriculum content developed by the State Board in every high school in the county; and requiring students to complete a course in financial literacy in order to graduate from high school.


Staff Assigned: Leslie Knapp Jr. (

Bill Number: SB 0474 crossfiled with HB 191

Issue Code: Education


Synopsis: Requiring public schools to maintain a record of the daily attendance of students in kindergarten through 12th grade using a specified identifier, calculate and maintain a record of specified attendance information, and submit a report to the county board of education that includes specified student attendance information for each grading period each year; requiring each county board to calculate and maintain a specified record of countywide student attendance information; etc.


Staff Assigned:

Leslie Knapp Jr. (

Bill Number :SB 0676

Issue Code: Education


Synopsis: Requiring each county board of education, on or before March 1 of each year, to make a good faith effort to provide the governing body of the county with the total number of students enrolled in the public school system of the county whose presence in the United States cannot be reasonably documented; and prohibiting a county board from associating a student’s race, appearance, language, or name with citizenship or immigration status.


Staff Assigned: Leslie Knapp Jr. (

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mrs. Kimberly K. Parker, Discusses Summer Time Fun


There are exactly six weeks left before school begins again. Wow! Where has the summer gone? Holding on to all the joys of summer for as long as they can, children everywhere are still looking forward to spending countless hours in the pool and attending a variety of summer camps specializing in culinary arts, horseback riding, and academic enrichment. After all the work they have done during the 2010-2011 school year, they really deserve a break.

As you may very well know and may even have experienced, the state of the economy has forced many households to forego tuition based activities. Realistically, the luxury is one many parents simply cannot afford. Yet, the need to actively engage children still remains.
Determined not to plant them in front of the television for hours on end, one question remains: What am I going to do to ensure my child has fun while learning for the remainder of the summer and not break the bank in the process?

I am so glad you asked! Here are a few suggestions to help you not only enrich your child’s summer academically, but socially as well…all while having a very cost effective great time:
1. Start with a schedule. Just like teachers during the school year, parents need to plan every moment of a child’s day. Be sure to incorporate a little rest and relaxation as well.

2. Visit your local museum. Here in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, the Smithsonian museums are plentiful. Also, the Newseum is offering free admission for children with a paid adult. Visit and for more information.

3. Incorporate curriculum enrichment. Before you know it, science fair projects will be due. Why not get a jump start on them now? Since your child will more than likely read at least 30 minutes a day anyway (I hope), may I suggest you have them read a book centered around their upcoming science fair project? What a way to accomplish two goals with one task, huh?

4. Hang out at the local library. Story time, games and activities on the computer, and events are always funs to enjoy. Most importantly, it’s free! Visit to find a library near you.

5. Spend a cool evening at The National Harbor in Fort Washington, MD (if you’re in the area). They have a free movie night on Friday and Sunday. Visit

6. Make the Community News section of your local newspaper the “go to” resource for other free events. You’d really be surprised at what you will find.

There you have it! I sure hope these will help you to enjoy the last few weeks of the summer with your children!

Kimberly K. Parker is the President and CEO of Writing Momma Publishing, LLC ( On July 23, 2011, she is hosting "The BEST Young Writer’s Workshop EVER” in Clinton, MD for youth between the ages of nine and 18. Additionally, she is hosting “Write On!” an eight week summer writing program for youth. Visit for more information. Kimberly is a ghostwriter, author and blogger living in Maryland with her husband and three children.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Living Education eMagazine

Hello Engaged Parents, Dedicated Educators, and Business Leaders,

You are receiving this exciting press release because we value your contributions to expanding the conversation about the importance of education.

Forest Of The Rain Productions' mission is to serve as a conduit by which conversations regarding challenges confronting education today are presented unfiltered. Forest Of The Rain Productions prides itself on introducing leading researchers, scholars, engaged parents, dedicated educators, and involved civic leaders to those who are as equally passionate about education.

In an effort to bolster and expand the dialogue about the role education plays in the lives of all Americans we created Living Education eMagazine. It is our goal, our purpose to introduce our readers to the multiplicity of roles education has in our everyday lives. Through our exploration and examination of all educational issues germane to parents, students, educators, and political leaders we hope to play a role in redefining the economic benefits to an educated society.

In our inaugural edition, we examine a variety of educational topics we believe important to Americans and global educators alike. Staff at Living Education eMagazine was sent on a mission to find unique views and perspectives on education as a means to re-establish the importance of education in our everyday lives. We believe the staff of Living Education eMagazine has done just that! Educators and civic leaders from all over America have provided their voice to our discussion. We welcome you to join the conversation and to make Living Education eMagazine a part of your educational conversation.

Thanks for all you have done to expand the discussion about the value of education in our everyday lives. Below you will find the link to Living Education eMagazine. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at

Also, please review our video discussion on bullying at


Forest Of The Rain Productions
P.O. Box 326
Savage, Maryland 20763

African American Male Teachers


What is the Value of African American Male Teachers in the Classroom?

Dr. Chance Lewis
Associate Professor
Urban Education
College of Education
Texas A&M University

Having an African American male in the classroom breaks the stereotype that classroom teaching is only for females. It presents an image that African American males and males in general are able to be classroom teachers. This is important because many students really aspire to be like those they see. So, they [students] may never see an African American male in the classroom and these results in a ripple effect of students’ aspirations to become a teacher. I am pushing through my research to have more African American male quality teachers in the classroom, as a means to present a strong image for all students, particularly African American males. This is very important for students. It really breaks the stereotype that teaching is only for females

Photos of the 2010 Parental Engagement Conference

Your pictures and fotos in a slideshow on MySpace, eBay, Facebook or your website!view all pictures of this slideshow

The Middle School Years

Visits From Engaged Parents and Dedicated Educators