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Commentary Education

Opinion: Questions arise about qualifications of candidate to lead Prince George’s school board

The Prince George’s County Public Schools headquarters in Upper Marlboro. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

By Janna Parker

The writer is executive assistant and policy chair of Pg ChangeMakers, an advocacy group.On Dec. 15, an election for the position of chair of the Prince George’s County Board of Education was held between two candidates: Shayla Adams-Stafford and Judy Mickens Murray. Although the results were close, with Shayla Adams-Stafford getting seven votes, just one vote short of the eight-vote threshold needed to win, and Judy Mickens Murray garnering six votes, outgoing board Chair Juanita Miller stopped the vote that night, leaving the Prince George’s County public school system as the only current school board in the state without a board chair.

This election comes after years of controversy and dysfunction on the Prince George’s Board of Education, which has been under the direction of a chair who has now been recommended for removal by the State Board of Education and asked to step down from the school board by Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. With the recent history of the Board of Education, the selection of its next chair should be done with the utmost care and diligence — considering the qualities and backgrounds of each candidate, especially their educational experience and professional background.

As the votes were tallied and the results became clear, many in the county were left wondering why Judy Mickens Murray, who lacks not only a college degree but has no experience in the field of education, received any votes to become chair of the Board of Education of one of the largest school systems in the country when it is clear she is not as qualified in educational matters as her colleague, Shayla Adams-Stafford.

To be clear, it is certainly more than possible for individuals to succeed in leadership roles without a college degree. However, it is widely accepted that higher education provides individuals with valuable knowledge and skills that can be applied to their work, particularly in the field of education. In fact, the leadership of all of our primary educational institutions within Prince George’s County have higher education degrees.

Dr. Monica Goldson, CEO of PGCPS, Dr. Falecia D. Williams, president of Prince George’s County Community College, and Dr. Aminta H. Breaux, president of Bowie State University, all have numerous higher education degrees which have duly prepared them to lead and construct policies, procedures and educational plans and priorities for the young minds of Prince George’s County. Additionally, every other Board of Education chair in the state of Maryland has at least one college degree, which may have provided them an additional foundation in some form of education theory and practice, as well as broader knowledge and critical thinking skills that are necessary to make informed decisions about education policy.To be clear, while having a college degree is not a prerequisite to being a board of education chair, nor does the lack of one directly imply that someone cannot make quality decisions for educational institutions, it has been the standard for all educational leadership within our county. Additionally, if one does not have a degree in higher education, then one should at least have some direct background and experience in the field of education. Judy Mickens Murray has neither experience in the field of education nor does she have any higher education degrees.    In contrast, Shayla Adams-Stafford, the other candidate for PGCPS Board of Education chair,  is highly qualified for the position. She holds an undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and a Masters degree in teaching from Duke University. In addition, Mrs. Adams-Stafford has 10 years of experience as a classroom teacher and administrator, and currently runs a company that works with school systems throughout the country.

This experience, combined with her education, gives her a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing education today, and the skills and knowledge necessary to address them. Mrs. Adams-Stafford is also currently an accomplished member of the PGCPS board, having collaborated with her colleagues to pass policies such as equity learning hubs, more financial resources for underserved schools, and re-establishing the Parent Community Advisory Council.Given the important responsibilities of the chair of the Board of Education, it is essential that the person in this position has the necessary qualifications to carry out their duties effectively. Unfortunately, Judy Mickens Murray’s lack of experience and training in the field of education leaves her less qualified for the role. While she may have other strengths and skills that have helped guide her through her time on the school board, it is hard to see how these alone could compensate for her lack of experience and education in the field of education for the role and position she is seeking as school board chair in relation to Mrs. Shayla Adams-Stafford’s own education and educational experience. It is extremely important that our county prioritize the qualifications of our Board of Education chair, thoroughly considering both candidates’ experience not only in relation to the educational leadership we currently have in the county, but also in regard to having a qualified person at the helm to help lead and support our school system in the direction it needs to go.

Individuals without a college degree or experience in the field can and often do contribute to the educational practices of our county’s students. However in recent years on both the local and national stage, we have seen what step-backs can come with having an under-qualified leader guiding policies and procedures. It is clear that having a qualified chair of the Board of Education with experience working in the field and a college degree is important to continuing to build upon improvements in our county’s public schools. Someone without these qualifications would be ill-prepared and incapable of providing the guidance and oversight for the school system to help improve our county’s unique and multidimensional school system. In conclusion, while the election for Chair of the Prince George’s County Board of Education was close, it is clear that Shayla Adams-Stafford is the more qualified and experienced candidate for the position. Her combination of education and experience make her uniquely suited to lead the board in making informed decisions that will benefit the county’s students and schools. After the county Board of Education’s recent experiences with controversies and distractions under a board chair who many felt did not focus on solely improving education in the county, Prince George’s should be very careful with selecting its next chair and pick a candidate that clearly is qualified for the position — really starting to put the education of our students first.