Saturday, April 7, 2012

CNN Reports on the Desire for Change in Prince George's County Public Schools

Young politicos run for school board seats in Maryland

by Athena Jones and Stacey Samuel, CNN
Upper Marlboro, MD (CNN) – Edward Burroughs is only 19 years old, but he isn't new to the political scene. He's held elected office for more than a year.
Burroughs won his seat on the Prince George's County, MD school board back in 2010, at just 17. By the time his term began, he was old enough to serve.
Now the college sophomore is hoping voters will give him a chance to do so again. The tall, lanky teen, who wears his hair in twists, donned khakis, a coat and a backpack to spend primary day greeting voters and handing out literature outside the polls. By that night, he had won his district's primary, pulling in 67 percent of the vote. Burroughs' chief concerns are teacher quality and shielding students in the classroom from the effects of deep budget cuts.
"At the end of the day, it's about student success, so I think that's really my role as a member of the school board," said Burroughs, who is studying Education Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and hopes to become a teacher. "My number one priority is going to be hiring and retaining highly-qualified teachers, and the ones that we have, we need to pay them more, and the ones that are struggling we need to provide them professional development.  If they're not able to be successful after that, they have to exit our system."
Burroughs is one of three young candidates running for seats on the school board in one of the state's lowest-performing counties. All three won their primaries and are gearing up for the November election. They believe their youth is a plus, arguing that they were students in these schools not long ago and know what is needed to improve them.
David Murray, who is 20, is running again after being narrowly defeated in 2010. He beat his nearest opponent by more than 20 points in Tuesday's primary. He says the county's schools can do a better job of preparing graduates for the future.
"Our county is lagging behind our peers. We're persistently at the bottom, in terms of student achievement and I want students to have the same opportunity to go to college and to be successful in the workforce," said Murray, who is also a college sophomore. "Young people have to get involved not just in voting, not just in politics, but in their education. We're the ones that can really make a difference, because we've been there and we understand what's working and what's not."
Raaheela Ahmed graduated from high school last year. At 18, she's the youngest candidate. On primary day, she campaigned outside her former school, High Bridge Elementary, telling voters that while she loved the school, there were many improvements that needed to be made. She has also been out canvassing neighborhoods and using social media to reach voters.
"I've actually gone door to door to many hundreds of houses," she explained. "I have my own website. I'm also on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, so I'm really trying to make myself as reachable as possible to my constituency and because communication to me is very important."
Ahmed, who attended the country's schools for 13 years, said that if she wins a seat on the board, she'll do a better job of talking with the county's teachers about their concerns.
"I bring a knowledge of the schools," she said. "I bring a knowledge of the system and what goes on in the schools and I think that is something that could be a very good asset to the board."
Not everyone agrees that youth can be an asset. Andre Nottingham is running against Burroughs. He commended the teen for his civic engagement, but said helping to manage the school system's $1.6 billion budget requires more experience than his opponent can offer.
"That's a $1.6 billion business enterprise," Nottingham said. "We need folks with experience in management. I have that management experience and that's why I'm stepping forward."
Still, Burroughs and the others say they are forging ahead, determined to inject a bit of young energy and fresh ideas to the board.
"We've got to be willing to look at things differently," said Murray. "We've got to be willing to put in new people who have new ideas and different experiences. It doesn't help to have a room of 10 people if they all have the same background and the same set of ideas."

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