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OPINION: A Visionary Blueprint For Education

The Transition Report prepared for Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance contains valuable recommendations for improving our school system.

At the October 9, 2012 meeting of the Baltimore County Board of Education, members received a briefing regarding the Transition Report prepared for Superintendent Dallas Dance. This detailed study contains a series of 42 short-term (2012 - 2013) and 40 long-term (2013 - 2015) recommendations with regard to a total of ten different focus areas.

In reviewing this report, it becomes apparent that the members of the transition team conducted a thoughtful review of the strengths and areas in need of improvement within Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS).  I wanted to highlight what I consider the "top four" recommendations this group put forward. 

"Establish an organization and culture where the primary work of the district takes place in schools and where the central office provides schools with clear expectations, facilitates shared decision making, and supports the work in schools while honoring the overarching goals of the system."

This short-term recommendation relates to "Issue #1:  Organization."  I believe that it correctly recognizes that, in education, the rubber really meets the road within the classrooms, but that teachers also need realistic and constructive support from the central office staff.  To his credit, Dr. Dance has already established a reputation as an administrator who will not hide in his office, but will be on the front-lines with the teaching staff.

"Develop and implement a comprehensive communication plan, with input from all major constituencies, to significantly increase the avenues and flow of information. The plan should detail the process that will be used to communicate decisions that are made, including the rationale for those decisions and the structure for implementation of the decisions.  The plan should also require meaningful stakeholder involvement in the decision-making process."

"Seek new and non-traditional ways to increase the frequency, level, and effectiveness of communication to and among the board, superintendent, staff, students, parents, governmental leaders, and the community. BCPS should utilize e-mail and social networks to provide and gather information. BCPS should continue to develop its Web pages.  BCPS should expand its use of stakeholder meetings and focus groups to both gather and impart information."

Given the challenges that faced BCPS during the tenure of former superintendent Joe Hairston, it should come as no surprise that a number of improvements have been suggested with regard to "Issue #2:  Communications."  The two long-term recommendations I note here, when implemented, would dramatically bolster the openness and collaborative spirit exhibited by BCPS collectively.

"Consider adopting a structure where social studies and English language arts have a Pre K–12 focus, similar to the current structure for science and mathematics. English language arts is a high priority area that needs to be revitalized and well structured so that there is continuity and consistency in leadership, protocols, and programming."

Given my own background, I am keenly interested in our school system's capacity to offer young people a firm foundation in reading and writing, as well as learning of our shared history.  We must provide an equal focus to these language-related disciplines, as learning effective communications is just as important to our youth's future employability as is learning to add and subtract.  This short-term recommendation related to "Issue #3:  Teaching and Learning" would support this dual focus.

While I have focused on just a handful of the recommendations of the transition team within this column, I wouldn't want Patch readers to think that the remainder of the report is not valuable.  On the contrary, I found it quite difficult to select just four ideas brought up within the document for special attention.  Others related to issues like strategic planning, budgeting, and program evaluation/effectiveness were equally innovative. 

I would urge parents of BCPS students and others generally to read this report, and share which ideas you think hold the most promise for ensuring future educational excellence here in Baltimore County.

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