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County Executive Pittman's Comments on Kindergarten Readiness Goal, Joint Commission on the Opportunity Gap

Annapolis, MD (August 31, 2021) - County Executive Steuart Pittman issued the following statement regarding the announcement of the members of the Joint Commission on the Opportunity Gap and the proposed kindergarten readiness goal.

“In 2005, Anne Arundel County Public Schools signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Anne Arundel NAACP setting forth a plan to close the achievement gap in our schools.

On September 23, 2019, Our Schools Superintendent, Dr. George Arlotto and I hosted an event to assess where we stand on that effort and to launch a new initiative to close the gap. Over 200 parents, teachers, students, and community residents showed up and shared their ideas.

On November 6, 2020 the Joint Initiative to Eliminate the Opportunity Gap presented its 43 pages of recommendations. Recommendation #1 was this- Establish and empower an independent coalition of stakeholders, including those with lived experience of the issues, to provide ongoing review and oversight of structural and systemic racism that contributes to the opportunity gap in AACPS and the County, and to recommend changes to address equity issues in academics and discipline.

On May 18 of this year I signed Executive Order #47 establishing the purpose and structure of what was envisioned in that recommendation.

Today, we will announce the membership of the new Joint Commission on the Opportunity Gap, a group that will meet for the first time at 6pm tonight.

But before I announce the names and before we hear from Dr. Arlotto and some of our leaders who will drive this effort, I must acknowledge how difficult and how important this work is.

It can’t be done by our school system, by our county government, or by our community leaders alone. It takes all three working together. That’s what makes this effort different from what was done in the past.

But to me, that’s not enough. We need specific goals, and strategies to achieve them. And today I will announce the one that I think is the most important. The one that enables all the others. A goal that is achievable, and a goal that inspires us.

By the 2026 school year, the last year that I intend to hold this office, Anne Arundel County will reduce by half the percentage of children who enter our kindergarten class not demonstrating what we call readiness.

According to the Maryland 2019-2020 Kindergarten Readiness Assessment Report, only 46% of our children are assessed as ready. That number is 55% of white children, 34% of African American Children, and 28% of Hispanic or Latinx children.

We can get that number up to 76%, and we can do it by the time the kids being born today are entering kindergarten, the year 2026.

You see, we know why kids aren’t ready, and we’re already implementing the programs to make them ready. 

They’re not ready because their families don’t make livable wages, can’t afford quality child care, don’t have access to good pre-k programs, don’t live in decent housing, don’t have good health care, don’t get nutritious meals, don’t have internet access, are plagued by addiction, or experience the trauma of violence. 

They aren’t ready because we as a country, a state, and a county have failed to address what we in our county have called Poverty Amidst Plenty. As the most wealthy among us have prospered, the ALICE population (Asset Limited Income Constrained, Employed) has grown, even before COVID. 

The disparities accelerated during the pandemic, and our kindergarten readiness scores may go down before they go up. But you know what? We are finally waking up. We are finally confronting our failures. 

With help from the federal and state government, Anne Arundel County is mending the holes in our safety net and rebuilding our economy from the foundation up, from the lowest wage workers and the most vulnerable families. The ones who cut our grass, bag our groceries, and even the ones who’ve temporarily dropped out of the workforce due to mental health challenges, addiction, or physical illness.

The federal child tax credit program that passed Congress as part of the American Rescue Plan in March is expected to reduce childhood poverty by half. 

Maryland’s Blueprint for Education makes pre-K available to every Maryland child, and establishes community schools to support local families in lower income neighborhoods. 

Maryland’s minimum wage is on its way to $15, and employers are raising entry level wages in advance of the mandated increase because there are more jobs than qualified applicants. 

Anne Arundel County is investing like never before in mental health services, nutrition assistance, affordable housing, public safety, and public transportation. And we are doing it in partnership with non-profits, faith-based organizations, and every agency of county government. We are all in.

Combined, these efforts offer hope, hope for families that deserve opportunity and hope that our county’s children will enter our school system ready to thrive.

76 by 26. 76% kindergarten ready by 2026. That’s my commitment and it’s my challenge to this commission. 

The members are as follows.

Appointed by me are:

  • Karen Murphy, Anne Arundel County Office of Personnel 

  • Conor Curran, Anne Arundel Community College student

  • Thornell Jones, Anne Arundel County NAACP 

  • Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, First Presbyterian Church - Annapolis 

  • Monica Lindsey, Connecting the Dots 

  • Tatiana Klein, Marshall and Hope Corporation - Allen Apartments Project 

Appointed by Superintendent Arlotto are:

  • Indu Bodala, Glen Burnie High School student 

  • Patricia Saynuk, AACPS Coordinator of Early Childhood Education and School Readiness 

  • Stephanie Jones, AACPS Pupil Personnel Worker 

  • Peggy Cruz, Department of Health school nurse 

  • Richard Rogers, Principal, Walter S. Mills-Parole Elementary School 

  • Dr. Julie Ann Halick, AACPS Citizen Advisory Committee 

This extraordinary group will guide us and they will drive us to meet this goal and each of the performance metrics that they establish through their work. 

My promise is to listen, to respond, and to deliver. ”

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