LANGLEY PARK – Residents who came out to the community listening session hosted by County Councilwoman Deni Taveras and Board of Education Members Dinora Hernandez and Mary Kingston Roche wanted to know if building a new middle school at the Mary Harris “Mother” Jones school site was a done deal.
They didn’t get the answer they wanted.
Last week, the three community leaders met with approximately 35 residents from in and around Langley Park at Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School to field residents’ concerns about the school system, student issues and future school construction.
While parents from across the area came to the meeting to advocate for their schools and ask questions about the quality of education their children receive, a group of community members from around Adelphi Road dominated the conversation with their concerns about building a new middle school near their homes.
Bob Butler, a resident who lives near Adelphi, said he wanted to know if it is a “done deal” for the middle school to go on the area of land near Mary Harris “Mother” Jones.
“The first question is, is the middle school there a done deal?” he asked.
The answer was a resounding yes, not only from the three community leaders, but the various Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) employees also in attendance.
The dozen or so residents who attended the meeting to voice their concerns about the school being built were visibly aghast at that answer, but Butler continued asking questions.
“When and how was the community able to be notified that this might possibly be happing? Because this really came as a surprise to all of us,” he said. “Suddenly we were told there was going to be a school here.”’
Lucian Coleman, the capital fiscal analyst for PGCPS, said Butler’s question was fair, and it was a question asked by many of the residents gathered at the meeting. Coleman, who took his position in March, said he didn’t have all the answers, but told those gathered that there had been a series of meetings for the public providing the options for middle school locations.
However, he said, now is the perfect time for the public to voice their concerns about the schools, because they are still in the designing stages.
“We’re still in the early stages of planning and it’s not too late for us to hear your concerns,” he said.
Several community members lodged complaints about the new middle school location, bringing up issues that arose from the construction and placement of the Mary Harris school. Residents pointed to issues with large rats patrolling the neighborhoods after being pushed out of the school location; they complained of traffic and gridlock in and around the neighborhood during drop off and pick up hours; and one resident complained of criminal activity around the school at night.
One resident even asked the community leaders to consider the area wildlife before building the school.
Despite the sway of some of those in the room, Taveras said she has seen this amount of pushback about school construction from several communities and it still doesn’t change the fact that the northern area of the county needs more schools and needs to address overcrowding.
“We assessed 18 different sites in the area and there really isn’t any other location. There is about three or four other locations and we need them all,” Taveras said.
However, the residents gathered from the Adelphi neighborhood were not fully convinced and said they want more time and more communication from the school system regarding the construction and the timeline for the project.
Taveras said she does plan on holding another meeting at the current school site to engage the surrounding community in the planning discussion. Roche and Hernandez said they would also take the conversation back to the school system to see if PGCPS can work on its outreach to residents who don’t have children in the school system.
“The point is well taken that this information clearly didn’t get to, perhaps, people who don’t have children in the system, so we’re taking that back, that it needs to reach the whole community. The whole community is affected by school construction – that’s a really good point,” Roche said.
Other concerns raised at the community meeting included transportation issues. Some parents complained of having to use taxis to get their children to school, others complained their children were not getting breakfast because the busses are late, and one mother claimed she was receiving letters concerning truancy violations due to late busses.
Another concern raised was about the perception of PGCPS and the quality of education students in the system are getting.
Lacy McDowell is a parent of a child at Hyattsville Elementary School, which he said he loves, but he is concerned about the quality of schools beyond elementary.
“He’s going to be going to high school in six years and that worries me,” he said. “I’m always concerned about perception of PG County schools. There’s so many people that I talk to and I tell them I have son in PG County schools and their immediate response is ‘oh my gosh, seriously?’”
McDowell said he wants to know his son is receiving an education where he is going to be prepared for high school, prepared for college and prepared for life.
Roche said the school system does have a problem trying to break through the perception about it, but she said that perception is not the reality.
“We are serving our students well. We are making progress, but we’re fighting a reputation that has been around for a long time,” Roche said.