When Juanita Miller married and settled into a house in Prince George’s County in 1973, she said, “It’s like I died and went to heaven.”

Miller, a retired special education teacher, instructor and administrator with 40 years of experience in the Prince George’s and D.C. public school systems, now settles into a new position: county school board chair.

Miller, who received a doctorate in leadership and policy management from George Washington University, will lead her first county school board meeting Thursday to help craft policies for Maryland’s second-largest school system.

County Executive Angela Alsobrooks appointed Miller after former Chair Alvin Thornton served his last day Friday.

“I prayed on it. I asked God, ‘is this is where you need me to be?’” she said in an interview Wednesday. “It was never my desire to be on the board, but if I’m asked by the county executive to serve and enhance our county with school and resources, I am OK. I have the energy and time and passion to help in education, but it’s a team effort.”

Miller comes on the board as the school system faces a possible $110 million deficit as the county continues to battle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

A $2.3 billion fiscal 2022 budget proposal focuses on mental health programs, increase technology services and enhanced cleaning and maintenance of buildings.

As of Tuesday, the county’s number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic now exceeds 61,000, the highest figure in the state.

With the coronavirus vaccine rollout underway, Miller said she hopes the county’s 136,000 students can return to the classrooms next school year.

“I think we will still be in virtual or distance learning this academic school year,” she said.

As a former state delegate from 1987-90, she also understands that politics is a factor. Two Prince George’s state lawmakers have proposed bills to phase out the four appointed members whose terms expire in 2022 and 2023. The bills would refer to the chief executive officer of the school system to a more commonly used title of “superintendent.”

Del. Julian Ivey (D-District 47A) of Cheverly seeks to keep each board member representing nine districts.

Del. Ron Watson (D-District 23B) of Upper Marlboro proposes to make all nine members serve at-large.

Currently, state law allows the county executive to appoint the chair, vice chair and another board member. The county council appoints one other member.

When Alsobrooks announced Miller’s appointment last week, she also appointed Sonya Williams to serve as vice chair. Board member Edward Burroughs III served in that capacity for two years.

Burroughs and six other board members asked Alsobrooks to reconsider and keep Burroughs as vice chair, according to a Jan. 7 letter.

It highlighted some of the accomplishments under Burroughs’ leadership, such as making financial literacy a requirement a graduation requirement, establishing a community workforce pilot program and creating a work group to address the school-to-prison pipeline.

“At the end of the day, the vice chair appointment should be a decision rooted in fostering a team environment that uplifts our children and system,” according to the letter. “Vice Chair Burroughs has the strongest track record of doing just that.”

During a press briefing Wednesday outlining the county’s legislative priorities for this year’s Maryland General Assembly, Alsobrooks said education focus rests with student achievement.

“My priority has to be with children, their parents and their teachers first,” she said. “To introduce legislation that deals with adult power is inappropriate to me. I don’t support anything right now that takes the intention away from students and their education and what they need.”

Click here for The Informer’s Q&A with Miller.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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