Baltimore City Public Schools is rolling out a new initiative aimed at improving learning outcomes and literacy among students.
City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises described the vision for the system’s new “Blueprint” program to a crowd of about 60 business leaders at a forum hosted by Greater Baltimore Committee on Wednesday.
Santelises, in the job for a year, said the overall goal of the new initiative is to nurture “the future leaders of Baltimore.” There is a lot of room for improvement in Baltimore, she said, in terms of educating students so they can graduate and be successful in college or, in many cases, in jobs right out of school.
Santelises said she is also looking for support from the GBC and others in the business community for the initiative, which will be introduced during the upcoming academic year. She wants to see business partners figuring out which aspects of Blueprint best align with their company goals and values and supporting the school system in those efforts.
The three core tenets of the Blueprint plan are creating an engaging, supportive environment, improving literacy among students, and fostering leadership skills among faculty and staff.
Santelises described the first tenet as “student wholeness,” or the idea of meeting all students’ academic, emotional, social and physical needs by creating a safe, engaging school environment. This includes helping students develop self-management and positive decision-making skills, connecting students and their families with local resources like wellness centers or government services as needed, and educating staff and faculty about social and emotional factors that can affect students’ learning.
Each school will also set up a new “Planning Center,” which will be dedicated to helping students learn and develop problem-solving skills and appropriate classroom behaviors, to reduce cases of classroom disruption or removal.
Santelises said the second Blueprint component — literacy — is critical.
“Young people graduate from our system and many of them can’t even pass an exam to get into a work training program that’s at an eighth grade reading level,” she said. “Quite frankly, it’s a travesty and an indictment on our system and our city.”
To improve literacy, Blueprint calls on schools to implement a rigorous curriculum for pre-K through 12th grade language arts that focuses on literacy skills and a standards-based assessments system to guide instruction.
Lastly, ensuring a successful school environment is not just about ensuring the well-being of the students, but of the staff and teachers as well, Santelises said.
The leadership tenet of the Blueprint focuses on professional development and leadership training for teachers, including support and guidance from other school and system staff and ongoing discussions of progress and goals. The plan also calls for instructional leadership teams at schools to be in charge of creating and implementing schoolwide learning plans.
City students and teachers in deal with some tough conditions, Santelises said. Students can struggle with untreated mental health conditions, deal with drug and violence problems in their neighborhoods or have families who live in poverty, all of which make the learning process more difficult. She hopes this Blueprint can help foster effective school environments in spite of all that.
“We want to make sure our schools are giving our students, our teachers, every opportunity to be successful,” Santelises said.