Political Knives Come Out as Prince George's Schools Chief Bows to the Inevitable

 In announcing his decision to depart at the end of the school year, Prince George’s County Schools CEO Kevin M. Maxwell acknowledged a cold political reality. Come the fall, he would lack the support necessary to remain on the job.  His fate was effectively sealed late last month when Angela D. Alsobrooks, the county’s top prosecutor and a leading candidate for county executive, called for Maxwell to step down.  By signaling that she — like Democratic primary rivals Donna F. Edwards and state Sen. C. Anthony Muse — had lost faith in Maxwell’s ability to lead the 132,000-student system, Alsobrooks made it clear that he would be gone by early December, when current County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s successor is sworn in, regardless of the outcome of the race to succeed him.  And rather than have a transition atop the state’s largest school system occur in the middle of a school year, Maxwell, a career educator, decided to orchestrate a smoother transfer of power. “I want to thank Dr. Maxwell, a native Prince Georgian, for his service here as a teacher, administrator and CEO,” Baker said in a statement. “Under his leadership, we have expanded all day Pre-Kindergarten, provided more language arts and other specialty programs, steadily increased enrollment and won national acclaim for our programs and students.”   Kevin M. Maxwell “This announcement allows the focus to return to our students and their families as they celebrate graduation and decide where to go to college or start a career.” Maxwell’s decision to depart in June, first reported by NBC4, triggered an outpouring of criticism of Baker, who had (stubbornly, some say) resisted repeated calls to bounce his handpicked superintendent. “Kevin Maxwell’s departure is long overdue and should’ve happened sooner if only Rushern Baker had had the courage to fire him,” former NAACP head Benjamin T. Jealous, a Baker rival in the Democratic race for governor, said.  “Maxwell’s departure does not resolve legitimate questions about Baker’s lack of leadership in responding to scandals that have eroded trust in the county’s school system. Parents, students, and teachers deserve better than what they have gotten from Maxwell and Baker.”  Theresa Mitchell Dudley, the head of the county teachers’ union, like Jealous a frequent critic of Baker, used the occasion to urge a return to an elected school board. “We hope this means we are moving in a different direction,” she said.  In 2012, Baker convinced the state legislature to change the leadership structure of the county school system, so that the superintendent, renamed CEO, would report to the executive. In doing so, he was following the lead of a new generation of local leaders, like Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who believed that if voters were going to hold them accountable for school system performance, they should be more than bystanders. (In Prince George’s County, as in many political subdivisions, the schools account for more than half the county budget.) The legislature’s move, approved by then-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D), while praised by some, also meant, inevitably, that Baker would get drawn into conversations around the school system’s missteps, and of late there have been many. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), a persistent critic who called on Baker to fire Maxwell in March, said through a spokeswoman Tuesday: “The governor believes a leadership change in Prince George’s County Schools is long overdue, a view he shares with parents, teachers, school board members, the Prince George’s County NAACP, and local officials. Now it’s time for the county to put a leader in place who will restore citizens’ broken trust in the administration of the school system.” “Our administration remains committed to ensuring all Maryland children have access to a world-class education, and parents and students receive the accountability from their school systems they expect and deserve.” Edwards called on Baker to hire an “interim, placeholder” CEO and to leave the job of hiring a permanent successor to the new executive. “For far too long, our children have had to endure the taint of scandal overshadowing their achievements,” she said. “We need visionary leadership informed by the perspectives of educators, parents and students.” In announcing Maxwell’s departure, a school district spokesman said “he has significantly increased student enrollment and expanded access to full-day prekindergarten, dual enrollment programs, specialty offerings and opportunities in higher education and the workplace.” Said Maxwell: “With your support and collaboration, we celebrated many achievements, expanded program offerings and drew many families back to our schools. I remain proud of the great teaching and learning that happens every day in our classrooms. I am excited about the opportunities that await our students when they leave our schools.” “However, I have decided to focus on my transition from Prince George’s County Public Schools. The numerous distractions that have occurred over the course of this school year are unlike anything I’ve experienced in four decades of working in public education. Without question, they have taken a toll on students, families and staff.”  He added: “It is clear that whoever becomes the next County Executive plans to make a leadership change and I want to ensure a smooth transition for the 2018-2019 academic year.” Maxwell is in the first year of a four-year contract that paid him just under $300,000 annually. It could not be determined on Tuesday night what the financial terms of his departure will be. [email protected]

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent more than two decades on local television, including 14 years as host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the D.C. metro region. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County, as well as a reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. Bruce also is the host of the weekly The Bruce DePuyt Podcast.

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