College students yield strong showing in school board primaries -- Gazette.Net



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Three college students were among the top vote-getters in the primary elections Tuesday for the Prince George’s County school board, and some say it signals the desire for ongoing change in the education system.

“[Voters] really want to go a new direction with our school system,” said David Murray, 19, of Bowie, who netted 55.8 percent of the vote to win District 1, where the incumbent is retiring later this year. “The current board, they’re not getting the job done, and they’re not giving a clear direction for the county.”

Primary elections were held for Districts 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8. The top two finishers in each race will face off again in the general election Nov. 6. The remaining four seats on the school board will be on the ballot in 2014.

Murray will compete again for votes in District 1, the county’s northernmost district, with community college academic adviser Zabrina Epps, 40, of Laurel.

Incumbent Edward Burroughs III, 19, of Camp Springs ran away with 66.8 percent of the vote, topping four challengers in District 8, with Andre Nottingham, 44, of Fort Washington coming in a distant second. College student Raaheela Ahmed, 18, of Bowie garnered nearly 1,000 more votes in District 5 than school board chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs, 44, of Mitchellville, who came in second, according to unofficial election results early Wednesday.

Micah Watson, a 36-year-old Cheverly resident who works as a foreign affairs officer with the U.S. State Department, topped a field of five with 33.8 percent of the vote in District 4. Sandy Vaughns, a 44-year-old citizen services specialist, edged out District 4 incumbent Patricia Eubanks of Chapel Oaks by eight votes to place second in the race, according to unofficial results early Wednesday.

Eubanks said she's not disappointed with the results because her work on the board — and the perspective she offers as a single mother — has encouraged residents to engage with the school system.

"Being out and talking to the community is getting them involved," she said. "I don't regret anything."

For the remainder of her term, Eubanks said she will continue to push community and faith-based organizations and businesses to get involved with the school system.

"No system alone can do it all, but everybody can do something," she said.

Carletta Fellows, 42, a nonprofit program director from Upper Marlboro, earned 33.4 percent of the District 7 vote to best incumbent Henry P. Armwood Jr., 47, of Capitol Heights, who finished with 23.6 percent of the vote, according to the state’s unofficial election results.

Residents will have a "clear choice" by November of who to support in District 5, said Jacobs, adding that she is encouraged to see young people enthusiastic about running for office but noted that when it comes to overseeing a $1.6 billion budget, experience matters.

"The reality is our constituents almost never really know how much work you put into this job," Jacobs said. "It's grueling. It's hard work. … You have to get in the board room. You have to talk about policy, the behind the scenes stuff our citizens never see."

Ahmed said she hopes that between April and November she can show constituents that despite her age, she has the necessary experience to represent students and parents on the school board.

"A big challenge has been the fact that a lot of people have been questioning my age without looking at the other factors that show I have some valuable experience and also maturity and good judgment to make a good school board member," Ahmed said.

Candidates said they’ll continue to discuss more transparent budgets, teacher retention and the school system’s new student-based method of budgeting that gives more flexibility to principals in determining how to allocate their schools’ funds.

“Families want to continue to hear about student-based budgeting ... what effect that’s going to have at their schools,” Watson said. “It may not be effective at all schools.”

The new system allocates schools a base rate of $3,110 per student enrolled, plus additional amounts based on students’ grade levels, academic achievement, and whether they qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

But the budget must be easier to read and understand, so county taxpayers can see how programs are funded and which ones are effective, said Fellows, adding that making the school system more efficient could free up funds to give raises to employees.

“People wanted to see some changes and someone who represented a vision,” she said.

Both Murray and Burroughs have supported the idea of merit pay, increasing the compensation for teachers who lead their students to academic gains. Though introducing the concept would be a gradual process, Murray said this could help the county retain some of its most effective teachers.

“It’s time we started rewarding the best teachers,” he said. “If you’re making great gains, you should be rewarded monetarily.”

Key to improving the quality of Prince George’s County schools are highly qualified teachers and partnerships with local nonprofit organizations, churches, civic associations and businesses to support middle schools, Burroughs said.

Only one, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltsville, met federally mandated achievement goals in 2011, according to data from the state department of education. Six pre-kindergarten or kindergarten through eighth-grade schools also met the achievement targets.

“We have to focus on our middle schools ... and make our middle schools the hubs of our community,” Burroughs said. “For too long, the school system has operated in isolation.”

Looking forward to November, the candidates said they will continue talking about issues with class sizes, budgeting and specialty programs; fundraising; and listening to the concerns of constituents.

“We invested all our time and energy in direct voter contact,” Watson said of his campaign. “It’s important that I continue to reach out directly to folks and ask them for their vote.”

abrownback@gazette.net

Staff Writer Natalie McGill contributed to this report.