The importance of building partnerships was the centerpiece of Prince George’s Community College President Charlene M. Dukes’ presentation to attendees of the Council of Urban Boards of Education’s winter Issues Forum at NSBA’s Leadership Conference on Saturday. And small wonder– strong alliances between the Maryland community college and its feeder school district have been the key to delivering innovative programs and opportunities to the students they both serve.
“The idea of partnering is nothing new. You partner with neighbors, churches, and communities to get things done,” Dukes said. But building partnerships to support education, upward mobility, and improved quality of life are what drives the work and shared goals of Prince George’s educators as well as those in the state.
“For the fourth year in a row, Education Week has named Maryland as number one for education,” Dukes said, referring to the annual Quality Counts report the publication produces that examines the current education landscape and where various states fall. “That doesn’t happen by chance.”
Dukes said every three weeks she has breakfast with Prince George’s County Public Schools Superintendent William Hite to vent, celebrate, and strategize.
“Dr. Hite and I want our students to see beyond the walls of school, beyond the boundaries of neighborhoods,” Dukes said. “We want them to see themselves as part of the world.”
One of the ways the two school systems are working to achieve that is through the Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College, which opened in the fall of 2011 with 100 high school freshmen as the state’s first middle college.
As the name suggests, students who enroll in this program, which will eventually serve 400 low-income high school students, will graduate with a diploma and up to two years of college or an associate’s degree in the health sciences field.
“And it’s all free of charge to the students and their families because we were able to work in partnership as a school system and community college,” said Dukes. She explained to an audience eager to know how it was funded that some of the money comes from per-pupil expenditures the district gets from the state, but much of it comes from the college in the way of waived fees and free use of space.
Dukes said the program received 978 applications for the first class of freshmen. This time around, it received 4,000 applications for the freshman class.
“That tells you how hungry people are for something different in public education,” Dukes said. But it doesn’t stop there.
“In America, we’ve done a great job with access, with providing opportunities, but we have to do more to make sure that people make it out on the other end, that they reach their goals and walk across the stage with those academic credentials,” she said. “We have much work to do and we think we can do it together as boards of education.”