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Prince George's County Public Schools opens new school; still fighting staffing challenges

The new school -- Cherokee Lane Elementary -- is the first of 10 new schools set to open in the next four years.

ADELPHI, Md. — Prince George’s County Public Schools is kicking off the year with some familiar challenges but also exciting changes, like a brand new elementary school.

Cherokee Lane Elementary is piloting what PGCPS is the first of its kind in Maryland for schools -- modular construction.

Part of the school was built off-site in Pennsylvania, trucked to Adelphi, and then merged with the part of the building constructed in Maryland.

Senior Project Manager Joseph Howell said that helped to significantly cut down on construction time, which can take 16 to 18 months.

Cherokee Lane is the first of 10 new schools PGCPS plans to open in the next four years.

The focus was on sustainability and safety.

RELATED: Prince George's County Schools return to mandatory mask policy ahead of the school year

“One of the things we utilized during the design of this project was crime prevention through environmental design," Howell said. "We sat down with local authority agencies, law enforcement agencies, and one of the big things is we have enough security cameras outside and inside, as you can see they are everywhere, and we did that to eliminate blind spots.”

PGCPS said they also have hallway doors that can be closed from the office, and staff went through lockdown training.

The district also wanted to modernize learning, so there’s a common area with mobile book shelves and state-of-the-art technology in classrooms, for example.

Cherokee Lane is also sustainably built as part of the district’s Climate Change Action Plan.

But PGCPS is also starting the year with some challenges: Mainly staffing.

In a letter sent to the community last week, CEO Monica Goldson said the district still had 900 open positions out of 10,000.

That comes out to 4.5 openings on average across the more than 200 schools, so they’re reviewing class sizes and combining them where practical.

They also have ongoing hiring efforts that are targeting retired educators and substitute teachers and redeploying central office-based teachers to schools.

She said they also were increasing pay for substitute teachers.

The school system is also experiencing bus driver staffing shortages, so there will likely be delays, they said.

The district is also welcoming 35 new principals, many of whom were promoted from within.

The district is also set to finalize school boundaries this year with the goal of implementing them in 2023-2024.

PGCPS is also expanding mental health and wellness supports for students.

The big educational focus is on improving math achievement and school climate, like addressing behavior issues, attendance, safety, and inclusivity.

Students will also have to bring a familiar accessory to start the year-- masks. 

Masks are still required in all school buildings for at least the next couple of weeks. The CEO said she’ll re-evaluate soon.

If a student tests positive, they have to stay home for 5 days and can come back if they don’t have any more symptoms.

RELATED: COVID-19 school policies across DC, Maryland and Virginia

RELATED: Here are the mask regulations in schools across the DMV

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