- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

Prince George’s County schools opened yesterday to 136,000 returning students — an increase of about 2,000 pupils — while new schools CEO Andre Hornsby toured five schools with a few members of the Board of Education.

As the entourage went in and out of classrooms to meet with teachers and greet students, Mr. Hornsby, 49, said administrators are laying the groundwork for improved test scores and for fixing the system’s $15 million operating budget shortfall.

“One of the most important things probably in any system is understanding why children aren’t performing up to their potential,” said Mr. Hornsby, the schools’ chief executive officer. “We’re trying to get an idea of that here.”

Mr. Hornsby started the school year by making a few changes. He reduced the number of bus schedules from 27 to seven to save $1 million and persuaded County Executive Jack Johnson to provide air conditioning in all schools within two years.

A more surprising and controversial change came last week, when Mr. Hornsby demoted nine principals from their positions because their schools have shown insufficient improvement.

“While we know those questions are difficult, you have to ask yourself a question: Is it getting better?” he said.

Critics said it was unfair to force out principals a week before school started.

“The only thing I can say about that is, it is the timing,” said C. Yvette Willis, the president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, whose principal Mr. Hornsby replaced last week. She was at the school at 4909 Brinkley Road in Temple Hills yesterday afternoon signing up members for the group.

“I just want him to make sure this new principal is not being set up for failure,” she said.

Other area school systems that started up yesterday included Charles, Frederick and Howard counties in Maryland and Loudoun County in Virginia.

Classes in Montgomery County resume today, while D.C. public schools, along with Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax schools, begin next Tuesday.

The Prince George’s County principals were removed from their positions at two middle schools and seven elementary schools. Mr. Hornsby has said the principals will be reassigned to other schools as vice principals.

Carol Kilby, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, declined comment on the move, but said Mr. Hornsby has expressed a willingness to work closely with teachers.

“We’re all working,” she said. “We want to all work together, toward a smooth start.”

The teachers union is negotiating on a contract with Mr. Hornsby, who had a track record of some rough dealings with teachers unions when he was superintendent in Yonkers, N.Y., and as a regional schools chief in Houston. Prince George’s union leaders opposed his hiring this spring.

Judy Mickens-Murray, a Board of Education member who was touring the schools yesterday, said she believes there will be a more harmonious relationship between the CEO and the board than there has been in the past.

“I think the more we demonstrate to the employees of the schools how important we know they are, we will start to see those test scores improve,” Mrs. Mickens-Murray said.

Mr. Hornsby’s predecessor, Iris T. Metts, had numerous run-ins with the school system’s elected Board of Education. State lawmakers replaced the board with a nine-member appointed panel in June 2001.

Mrs. Metts decided in February not to try for another term as CEO, leaving behind a faculty and staff with low morale.

Some parents are looking at this year as a chance to improve performances in the second-largest school system in Maryland, which also ranks second-lowest in the state on most standardized test scores.

“Reading is critical,” Mr. Hornsby said. “Reading in science, history, technology — it’s all part of rounding out student to do well on those tests.” He said he will work to make students better readers by expanding training for teachers.

With some concern in the Washington metro area about increased gang activity, Mr. Hornsby said the school has strong security, but there will be more training for security personnel and a “proactive approach” to reducing threats. Each Prince George’s high school has a minimum of 16 security cameras, and some of the newer ones have more than 90.

The Prince George’s County school system has set up a call center to help parents find out which buses their children will be riding. The number is 301/952-6570, and it operates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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