New Prince George’s schools post aims to bridge gap with Latino community

By Jamie Anfenson-Comeau 

The hiring of Maritza Gonzalez as Prince George’s County schools’ first officer of diversity for Latino affairs is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to bridge the gap between the county’s leadership and its growing Latino population, according to officials.

“I know Dr. Gonzalez and her work, and I am happy and impressed that Dr. Maxwell hired Dr. Gonzalez for this role. It means they are definitely planning to address the issues that I spoke about four months ago,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Dist. 21) of College Park.

In June, Peña-Melnyk took part in a news conference with the Silver Spring-based Latino advocacy group Casa of Maryland, decrying the lack of Latino representation on the county school board, which governs a school system with a 24.4 percent Latino student population, according to demographic information from the Maryland State Department of Education.

Although there are increasingly more Latino students in the classroom, that hasn’t translated to an increase in Latinos in school leadership positions. About 2 percent of county public school teachers are Latino, and five out of the school system’s 461 school administrators are Latino, according to information provided by the school system.

“The work she is doing is going to become increasingly important,” said school board chairman Segun Eubanks. “Our culture is becoming increasingly diverse, and we want to make sure we are serving those communities.”

Gonzalez, 33, of Beltsville said that as the Latino population of the county has increased, there is a pressing need for more role models in county schools.

“I would recommend putting additional systems in place that would attract as well as support the recruitment, and retention, of talented educators of diverse backgrounds and linguistic abilities,” Gonzalez said. “These incentives include, but are not limited to providing competitive salaries and benefits, providing professional development and growth opportunities as well as further supporting a culture of inclusiveness and collaboration.”

Gonzalez said her role is to provide support and a point of contact for Latino families in the county, to get information to Latino communities, and to serve as an intermediary between Latino families and businesses, government, the school system and other agencies.

“I know I am only one person, but I think I can be an asset in the school system’s efforts to support Latino families,” said Gonzalez, who began her new post Sept. 23.

Gonzalez said one of her priorities is reducing the Latino student dropout rate.

Overall, the dropout rate for county students who began high school in 2008 was 19.5 percent in 2012; for county Latino students, the dropout rate was 31.3 percent, according to statistics from the Maryland Report Card.

Gonzalez said she hopes she can be a role model for Latino students.

The El Salvador native moved to Maryland when she was 10 and attended school in Montgomery County. She received her doctorate in education from the University of Maryland, College Park, and was working as a research assistant at the university on literacy projects in local schools prior to her new post.

Gonzalez’s annual salary is $143,458 in addition to benefits, and Gonzalez was the sole person considered for the position, according to information provided by the school system.

Education advocate David Cahn said he believes Gonzalez’s role is needed, but said the salary is too high.

“We need the outreach to the Hispanic community. They need to be drawn into the day-to-day operations of the school, but this is too much,” Cahn said. “I think it’s important work, and I wish her the best, but we should be able to do this for less.”

Originally published in the Gazzette.