A seasoned, experienced school board veteran or a 19-year-old college student with fresh ideas?
That’s what things boiled down to in the Prince George’s County Public School (PGPS) Board of Education candidate forum on Sept. 13, and that’s what some Upper Marlboro voters will have to decide in November.
Current school board chair Verjeana Jacobs faced off against newcomer and top primary vote-getter Bowie resident Raaheela Ahmed in a forum hosted by the Greater Bowie Democratic Club. Both women answered some tough questions about the future of the school system and illuminated some of the differences between themselves as candidates.
The candidates answered a variety of questions from both the club and audience members on topics ranging from their qualifications to the PGPS superintendent search to a new high school for Bowie.
Most of the questions seemed to come back to one central issue: Who is more qualified for the position-school board incumbent Jacobs or her challenger, 19-year-old University of Maryland student Ahmed?
Jacobs touted her 23 years of work experience in the department of corrections, her 15 years as a lawyer and the six years she has spent on the school board, during which PCPS schools have seen a marked improvement in standardized test scores.
“I have experience on the board and experience in life,” said Jacobs. “I have been serving since day one.”
While Ahmed has not served on the board of education, she is not without leadership experience. She is a community activist, an entrepreneur and a mentor to PGCPS students. Ahmed is also a recent graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
“I am a student and I understand the value of education,” said Ahmed.
If elected, Ahmed would focus on student financial literacy; growing relationships with local businesses, unions and universities to create internship opportunities for students and compensation reform for teachers.
Jacobs also sees compensation reform for teachers as a priority, and proving that teacher outcomes are directly related to student outcomes. She also thinks it’s important to rebrand the system so that the real data on student achievement is more clear.
In their closing statements, it really came down to one thing—do voters want the school board and life experience of Jacobs representing them, or do they want the perspectives of someone new?
“Our students are doing great things, and now is not the time to make the kinds of changes I’m hearing in this election,” said Jacobs.
“Ms. Jacobs has had six years. If you think things are great, vote for Ms. Jacobs,” said Ahmed. “If you want something new, I’m your candidate."
Upper Marlboro residents have until November to make their decision.