BY KIT SLACK
When Millard House II started work as superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) this summer, he put more than 500 miles on his car in about two weeks, getting to know the different neighborhoods where the county’s 130,000 students live.
“There are major equity issues in the community,” he said at a July 11 press conference, held in Upper Marlboro. “We all know students come to school bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to learn, but they can’t help their zip code. … They can’t help what experiences they are coming with — or without.”
House, 51, began his 27-year career in education as a PE teacher in Tulsa, Okla. A local principal recruited him from a barbershop after she noticed that students seemed drawn to him, according to the Houston Chronicle.
At the July press conference, House emphasized the importance of students “having a loving adult who wants them at school, needs them at school, and wants to see them succeed.”
House said he became interested in the job at an event in the District this past spring, after a huddle with two former heads of the county school system: Monica Goldson (2018-23) and William Hite (2008-12).
This will be House’s third time addressing pandemic learning loss as the head of a school system: He was the superintendent of the Clarksville-Montgomery County School system in Tennessee for four years ending in 2021, and of the Houston school system for the past two years.
“Now is too late,” he said of the need to intervene quickly to improve student achievement in Prince George’s County.
House said he plans to deliver, by mid-August, a 90-day plan showing what he will focus on during his first three months.
While he declined to give details on the plan, House referred reporters to a similar plan he used for his first three months in Houston.
“I’m not going to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
Goals of the Houston plan included improved academic achievement for third graders, improved college and career readiness, and improvements in reading for children receiving special education services.
During House’s tenure in Houston, the number of schools failing to meet state standards dropped from 40 to nine, according to Houston Public Media. House left Houston this spring after a court approved a state takeover of Houston Public Schools — that takeover was being litigated when House accepted the Houston job.
When asked, during a June 7 event, what attracted him to the county, House mentioned personal family ties, a lack of partisan political conflict, and the county’s focus on innovation.
Prior to holding the top role at school districts in Tennessee and Texas, House rose through the ranks in Tulsa, Okla., schools, serving first as a public school principal, then as the founder and leader of a middle school that was part of the KIPP charter school network, and eventually as a deputy superintendent.
House’s father was a history teacher who helped lead desegregation in the Tulsa school district, and his mother was a first grade teacher who became a school counselor.
In Tulsa, House has a reputation as “firm, fair, and unflappable,” according to an extensive 2021 profile by Jacob Carpenter of the Houston Chronicle.
Pamela Boozer-Strother, the elected county school board representative for District 3, which includes Hyattsville, referred to House as a middle school specialist. She said that House was enthusiastic about the new Hyattsville Middle School set to open this fall, and that he’d join her there for the opening celebration event Aug. 12.
Boozer-Strother’s work on the school board has focused on school construction and the PGCPS climate change action plan passed last year, which she said House supports and embraces.
When asked in press conferences about his plan to address longstanding school board infighting, House has said he intends to spend time with school board members outside of public meetings to build relationships and establish shared expectations. “Students don’t move forward until adults are working toward a common goal,” he emphasized.
House‘s administration in Houston was popular with teachers’ unions: He negotiated an 11% raise for teachers. He said in an early June press conference that 95% of Houston teachers were staying in their jobs for the coming year.
In Prince George’s County, as of early July, 10% of teacher positions remained unfilled, about the same as in 2022.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced House’s appointment on June 7. Following a process laid out in state law, Alsobrooks chose House from three finalists selected by a three-person committee appointed by the governor. That committee included former Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, state board of education member Warner Sumpter, and retired PGCPS teacher Oretha Bridgwater-Simms.