Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) announced Wednesday that Millard House II will lead the county’s school system, the second-largest in Maryland and one of the 20 largest in the nation.
House, 51, comes from the Houston Independent School District. With a student population of nearly 190,000, it is the biggest in the state of Texas and eighth-largest in the country.
“To walk into this position is something that I do not take lightly,” he said at a news conference at the Wayne K. Curry Administration building in Largo.
House will take the job as school systems across the state continue to implement the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform plan. Some of the those reforms include recruiting and retaining high-quality and diverse teachers, upgrading college and career readiness standards and providing additional resources for students.
Locally, the county school board remains influx as the state Board of Education must decide whether to allow one of the board members, Juanita Miller, to stay.
Alsobrooks said she chose House from the three top candidates because of his experience managing a $2 billion budget in Houston with more than 270 schools and closing the achievement gap during his two years in Texas. House first became a superintendent at age 26 in his native Tulsa, Oklahoma.
During the 2021-22 school year in Houston, the school district received a “B” average to show “how much students are learning in each grade and whether or not they are ready for the next grade.” Also during his tenure, 40 out of 50 schools that were once rated a “D” or “F” earned a new “B” or “C” grade.
Before House held the top spot in Houston, the state of Texas moved to take over the school system, succeeding in a court battle only years later. House and the district’s school board members were ousted earlier this year once the state had the legal authority to appoint new leaders for the school system.
Alsobrooks urged the Prince George’s community to support House, whose position title in the county will change from CEO to county superintendent July 1.
“The profound obligation we have to our children means that we will not politicize the education of our children and we will not weaponize our school system,” she said. “But instead, we will be on one accord. We will trust this leader to move us forward and keep our children’s education as our sole priority.”
The county’s school board president, Judy Mickens-Murray, said the board is in the process of negotiating House’s salary. But she said he’s a “great fit” for the county.
“He’s not predisposed to what he thinks we are, or who he thinks we are. He is open to finding out who we are,” she said. “The mere fact he’s willing to go around and have listening sessions [and] engage parents, as well as the administration, that’s commendable. I like his humility. He’s not arrogant.”
Based on state law, the top three candidates Alsobrooks interviewed came from a three-person committee who reviewed more than 30 applicants from a nationwide search. The three members of the committee were Warner I. Sumpter, a member of the state Board of Education; former Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth; and Oretha Bridgwaters-Simms, a retired educator from the county’s public schools.
“I was impressed with the caliber of candidates who came through,” Bridgwaters-Simms, who attended the news conference, said in a brief interview Wednesday. “The community wanted someone strong and someone who is inclusive. Someone who has knowledge to work with the kids on various levels.”
House will replace current public schools CEO Monica Goldson, who announced her plans to retire in January. However, she will remain for at least 90 days to help House transition into his new position leading the school system of slightly more than 131,000 students.
Some of the county’s immediate goals for House include security enhancements. Goldson said an announcement on that plan will be made soon.
Another assist from Goldson will be to help oversee the opening of five new schools in the fall.
“It’s important that we make sure that the transition was seamless and smooth because students are going to want to walk into those school buildings with everything in place,” she said. “I want to make sure that he’s successful in doing that.”
Goldson has known House for at least a year through a superintendents group called “Chiefs for Changes.” She said she had not discussed with him the political climate in Maryland versus Texas.
But she “talked about all the great things we have here in Maryland, in the support of a county government and a governor who focus on and understand the importance of education,” Goldson said.
Education is also entrenched in House, as both his parents worked as educators in Tulsa.
His work experience includes 18 years as a teacher and principal in Tulsa, and five years as chief operating officer for the public schools in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Prior to Houston, he worked about four years as superintendent of the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Clarksville, Tennessee.
House is familiar with Prince George’s because of family members who reside in the Washington, D.C., area.
His daughter recently graduated high school and will attend the University of Texas in Austin. His son will enroll in the public schools in the sixth grade.
One of the main draws for House to Prince George’s was that 62%, or nearly $2.8 billion, of the county’s $4.5 billion general fund spending accounts for education.
House summarized what will be a few of his priorities when he takes the helm in slightly more than three weeks.
“Any priority as a leader is ensuring that you have a healthy educational institution to educate our students in,” he said. “It’s about seeing the progress in our students.”
Some challenges ahead
Besides awaiting a state school board decision on whether Miller will remain, a few other challenges will come before House.
Transportation will be a key concern, especially after a police said a 15-year-old boy boarded a school bus and tried to shoot a student.
Martin Diggs, a school bus driver for 20 years in the county, said Wednesday he would like to address that and other safety concerns with House.
While each school bus has a radio with a “call button” for drivers to push for emergency situations, “it’s not even active,” Diggs said.
“So if [someone] presses it, no one gets notified,” added Diggs, who also serves as president of Association of Classified Employees-American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (ACE-AFSCME) Local 2250. “That button needs to be compatible with all of the police departments across Prince George’s County.”
Although drivers receive some annual safety training, Diggs said the emergency radio call for drivers isn’t a part of it.
In addition, reporting problems such as lack of radio communication remain a concern because some employees fear retaliation.
“I hope [House] will prioritize their well being [and] having a culture that cares for our educators,” said Donna Christy, president of the county’s Educators’ Association. “When he’s having those listening sessions, I hope that some of those listening sessions are…where people can be made to feel like they can speak freely and that they won’t be retaliated against or in any way chastised for saying what they really feel and what they’re really experiencing. I hope he gives them that opportunity.”