Why Closing of Upper Marlboro School is Tragic for Prince George’s

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When the chips were down, county officials ignored the struggling school, educator says.

“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You cant save the people if you don’t serve the people.” – Cornell West

After only one school year, the charter of Possibility Prep STEM Academy for boys (PPSA) has been revoked due to low enrollment, budget problems and non-compliance. The parents of this almost all-black male population will have to find a new school for their children. Teachers will have to find new employment and students will be forced to readjust to an entirely new climate during their formative years.

On the first day of school, our sixth- through eighth-graders lined the halls with pressed gray slacks, crisp white shirts, and black and gold ties. They had smiles on their faces, but I could see determination in their eyes. They were met with fawning optimism from the media, local politicians, and county school board members. These welcomed visitors seized the media attention, posed for photos, then quickly disappeared from our lives forever. That’s when reality set in.

“The school was never ready to open to begin with,” said Nakeisha Yates, a language arts teacher at Possibility Prep. “The school had little to no support from both the Board of Governors and the Prince Georges County Board of Education. I am slightly relieved that the school is closing because it was not fit to serve our students.”

On the first day of school, there were no books to distribute, no intercom system in case of an emergency, no phones in the rooms, no lockers in the hallways and no security cameras. The school was grossly understaffed and we soon realized we were in for a long year.

Our principal Rodney Henderson was calm, yet assertive, working very hard on our behalf to secure the basic necessities. But it was evident that the school’s Board of Governors did not like his management style. Although we never filed a complaint against Henderson, the board transferred him to another school after just three months at Possibility Prep.

If that weren’t bad enough, six teachers were laid off due to decreased student enrollment. For the next three months, assistant principal Debra Martin was the only administrator in the building. She redeveloped student schedules, rearranged classrooms and tried to forge a unified culture.

During these difficult times, local politicians, county school board members and media cameras were nowhere to be found. We were by ourselves, struggling to make due with what we had.

Still, the school settled as the year progressed. New leadership was hired and things began to turn around, although the damage had been done. During the first few months of the academic year, we still had no text books or supplies, and many educators didn’t know how to adjust. Some classrooms were mismanaged, which led to behavior problems. As a result, many parents pulled their children from Possibility Prep and returned them to their neighborhood schools.

Teachers and parents were also concerned with all the power Edison Learning was given to manage the school. They weren’t at all connected to the people they were supposed to serve and their money management was questionable. Little to no outside grants were sought to provide extra financial support for the school.

Charter schools work when key stakeholders have the same mission. That mission is to serve the students. The shareholders never worked together and our youth suffered.

Prince George’s County needed this school to work.

Our black boys needed this school to work.

Single mothers seeking guidance for their child needed this school to work.

If county leaders try this again, we must learn from our mistakes and build a more efficient institution for children.