Promoting literacy and creating a safer school climate are the main goals of Baltimore County Public Schools, said Interim Superintendent Verletta White at a stop at Chesapeake High School on Tuesday, October 16 during her Listening and Learning tour throughout the County.
On literacy, White explained that BCPS is focusing on what they’re calling “gift with purchase” meaning that graduating students have both a diploma and a resume. This can be anything from college credits earned in high schools to vocational and workforce training, White said.
“We’re really expanding our magnet opportunities, our CTE opportunities for students so they have that something extra when they cross the stage,” she said.
The morning after the Chesapeake High visit, White attended an advisory council meeting held by the Baltimore County’s Department of Economic & Workforce Development where business leaders shared with BCPS officials what they look for in a potential employee and how the schools can better prepare them for a career.
“Soft skills to be successful” such as showing up to appointments on time, completing projects, and solving problems creatively are also being taught across the disciplines, she explained.
“But that’s not going to matter to a student that’s in crisis, one who doesn’t feel physically or socially or emotionally safe,” she added.
During her listening tour last year, White said she heard various complaints and concerns surrounding school safety and a lack of discipline and how this is negatively impacting the classroom environment and being inconducive to learning.
She said BCPS learned that they need to put the basic social and emotional needs before academics by tamping down bullying and other negative behaviors that can affect learning.
In August, White proposed the creation of a new Division of School Climate and Safety which was approved by the Board of Education and took effect at the beginning of the 2018 – 2019 school year. The division is led by a chief of school climate and safety, whose position was reclassified from a community superintendent position.
She explained this department is working on preventing problematic behaviors by engaging in effective instruction and teaching students how to handle conflict properly. She added that there will be “logical consequences” when children consistently act out.
“This year we have more School Resource Officers, particularly at the elementary level, who rotate through, who park in our parking lots, where they have a physical presence at our schools,” said White.
Del. Bob Long, who attended the meeting, said that the more frequent presence of SROs have had a positive impact on the schools’ climates and hopes that other school systems will follow BCPS’s lead.
“Nowadays, kids are scared of the police. I believe this is going to be one way to teach the kids that the police aren’t bad and they’re here to help you,” he said.
This summer, over 300 administrators, law enforcement officers, central office staff, and teachers participated in a two-day instructor certification course on ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) Training. White said this initiative prepared these individuals on how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event in the classroom.
White added that behavioral issues stemming from opioid addiction and use in the home have trickled into even elementary school students.
“We’re seeing some of the effects of that even in our youngest learners.”
As a result of these various concerns, White said that in the next school year and within the next school budget, BCPS will continue advocating for “people for our people” meaning funds to hire more people, including social workers to work with families and college and career counselors. More teachers, she said, are also at the top of the priority list as BCPS is working on creating smaller class sizes.
This year’s budget has allowed for the hiring of several more ESOL and special education teachers and pupil personnel worker (PPW) through a “phased plan”, but White said this is still not enough.
Other issues to be discussed include potentially extending the school day by 15 minutes and starting classes at a later time. She said a task force has been created to analyze these options.
The Listening and Learning tours are held to garner feedback from staff members, students, and parents on how to move the school system forward and determine what initiatives and plans are working and which ones need improvement. White will be hosting her final meeting at Perry Hall High School on Tuesday, October 30.