Racism

For many of us, the past few weeks have been very difficult. We observed the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the murder of George Floyd. We observed Amy Cooper use Christian Cooper’s race against him as a threat to his safety while bird watching. We also observed Omar Jimenez get arrested while reporting in Minneapolis. Race and racism are the common denominators.

Although a difficult week for many of us, imagine the lives of individuals who face racism on a daily basis. Imagine the lives of individuals who carry with them the stories of mistreatment passed down from generations. Imagine how much we missed before everyone had cell phones. Imagine how much we still miss when a camera is not around. Imagine how much we miss when a pandemic does not force us to be at home with time to pay attention. Imagine how much we miss that is not as brutal or obvious, but still hurtful and becomes a burning memory to a community of people.

Just as we cannot pretend that these injustices do not exist, we cannot pretend that we fully understand.

So, what are we to do?

  • First: believe and communicate that racism exists and is wrong in any shape or form. 
  • Second: Lean in, listen, and work to understand others, especially those who hold experiences different from ours.
  • Third: learn. Every aspect of our society, both good and bad, is a direct result of our history. How well do we understand the perpetuation of racism throughout our history? How well do we understand the lived experiences of those different from us? What unintentional role might we play in the perpetuation of racism in our country? How skilled are we at talking about racism?

As an institution of learning, we are committed to our own learning to ensure that our system is creating a safe place for each student and adult. Please see the attached equity brochure that highlights some of our work this year in creating an identity-safe learning and working environment. We recognize that this work is never ending and ever changing. We are committed to eliminating bias, racism, and inequities from our system.

We encourage you to make this a learning opportunity for you and your family. Below are some resources to help. 

We ask our community to join us in this important work.

Dan Curry, Superintendent

Sandy Walker, Supervisor of Equity and School Improvement               

April Fools

Last night I felt compelled to send our 2000+ employees a message of support and encouragement. They are great people who care a lot and our off-site instruction was to begin today. This is the message they received around 8pm.

No fooling.  Tomorrow is April 1 and we are all experiencing some things that we wish were merely an April Fools Day prank.  But this is real.

At the risk of missing some people, I want to give some shout outs.  When we were first told to close for 2 weeks, we didn’t know what to expect.   Then it became clear that we better start planning to not be back in school as we know it on March 30.  So our instruction department, under the leadership of Assistant Superintendent Diane Workman and Director Susan Johnson, got to work.  Teams led by content supervisors were formed with content specialists and teachers who volunteered to help.  They planned the next 2 weeks for you.  Our instructional tech specialists stepped up to help us make a plan to deliver more instruction in a digital format.  Thank goodness we are just a few months away from our Future Ready dream of 1:1 technology led by Jackie Jacobs.  Principals and assistant principals started gathering individual family information to see who needed computers and who needed assistance in connecting.  The IT department stepped up and started helping us get computers from schools and distribute them to students and help families get connected.  

That led us to the last 2 days of focused training on Schoology and what we can do with online learning.

And lets not forget the Calvert County Child Nutrition staff who moved quickly to start feeding children as best they could within the guidelines of state and federal regulations.  Daily the rules were changing and daily they worked to add more opportunities for children to access food.  We went, in just 10 days,  from 250 or so children served on day one to more than 850 children served today.  We also partnered with the folks at End Hunger , United Way and Calvert County Sheriff’s office to provide needed supplemental food to children not able to come to the Grab and Go sites – serving as many as 800 additional children in the last couple of days. 

Our administrators, secretaries and building service workers and maintenance staff continued to work to take care of business all while worried about their exposure and exposure to their families.

April 1, 2020 brings us the next phase.  It’s kind of exciting. We will begin to teach again.  Teaching is about connecting more than it is about learning.  Please remember that.  At this time we want to know more about how they’re doing than what they know.   Tomorrow we return to connecting teachers and students so that they know that we are here.  They know that we care.  They know that we want them to grow.  It won’t be the same as school.  We will be making adjustments as we go.  Many children don’t have access and we will get them experiences in paper.  We need to consider every child through our Equity Lens and ask what more they might need to survive this special time.  Special teachers, IAs, counselors and specialists will make personal contacts. 

On behalf of the Calvert County Board of Education I want to thank everyone for what you have done and what you are about to do.  Let’s have some fun with this. Let’s use this time to make Calvert County stronger than any.   It is not about money or resources.  It is about heart.   And I know you have what it takes.  Take time to breathe.  Take time to laugh as you share your experiences.    I know for me, I have learned so much more about using technology to connect with staff in the last few weeks.  Just think, you will be so ready for 2020 -21 school year after this experience.

Have fun, be creative and stay safe.

I love you all.

Dan Curry

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

A long time ago The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, taught us all how to spell respect and she insisted on it from her man. These days, for whatever reason, our students don’t give each other much respect.   They have shared with us some surprising information on this topic and it concerns us. 

For the last two years, we have surveyed students at the end of the school year on a number of items.  Students are asked to respond to statements with Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree of Unsure. The statements focus on school culture, and our goal is to amplify student voice through this survey. They cover a lot of territory. 

There are statements about wellbeing. Here we examine feelings of belonging, feeling safe and things like knowing at least one adult at school who they feel cares about them who they can talk to.

There are statements more related to academics. Here we look into student understand of learning goals, whether classwork is challenging and students are comfortable asking for help.

There are statements about climate. In this section we dig into whether students feel treated fairly, are they recognized for good work, do they know what to do when bullied, do they feel respected? 

Respect.  The responses to questions on respect have moved us to action.

84% of students strongly agree and agree to the statement “My principal is respectful of me.”

80% of the students strongly agree and agree to the statement “My teachers treat me with respect.”

But, in response to the statement “Students at my school treat each other with respect,” only 42% strongly agree and agree.  And in response to the statement, “Students at my school are caring and friendly with each other,” only 45% responded with strongly agree and agree. It appears to be the lowest at the middle school level. 

Some of us have had our own observations that illustrated this. I was recently serving hot dogs at a community event where high school cheerleaders volunteered to do face painting for the little ones.  I couldn’t help but notice how they talked to each other in their down time. Cutting, dissing and teasing their teammates who appeared to be their friends. 

In recent years, there have been efforts to ban the casual name calling and teasing using references to retard or gay. And in the last year we’ve had some incidents of student initiated social media where students used the N-word in casual fashion in all sorts of combinations. White to white. Black to black. Black to white. White to black.

We’ve decided to address this problem with a program from the good folks at Teaching Tolerance called “Speak Up at School.”  We hope that by using this approach, we will give all staff and students the tools they need to respond to everyday stereotypes and bias. It is pretty simple and straight forward. We want all teachers to be able to say, “I am a person who will speak up against bias.”

There are 4 parts:

  • Interrupt – Stop everything for every biased remark – every time and let the speaker know that such words are hurtful and are not acceptable in school.
  • Question – Ask the speaker questions to try to understand why they used such hurtful words.
  • Educate – Explain why that word or phrase is offensive and coach the user to come up with a different expression.
  • Echo – When someone else speaks out against such language, back them up. There is power in numbers.

In the past, our response to these challenges has generally been top-heavy on punishment. As this program points out, “Hate isn’t behind all hateful speech. Sometimes ignorance is at work, or lack of exposure to a diverse population.”

We are appreciative that Teaching Tolerance has such useful, practical materials and look forward to a better result in our end-of-year survey.  We aim for a huge increase in students who can agree that students in their school treat each other with R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Dress Code and Guns – your thoughts?

There is no more difficult set of rules to enforce at school, especially the high school, than dress code.  No matter what might be in writing, there is still much judgement involved and when the principal’s judgement doesn’t match that of the parent, we have conflict.

In light of recent events around the country there is increased attention to our student code of conduct and, more specifically, the depiction of weapons.  Here in Calvert County Schools, we have not permitted the wearing of clothing with graphics that depict weapons.  Exceptions are made for certain versions of our school mascots and NJROTC uniforms.

The relevant language from our Student Code of Conduct:

·         Garments which depict violence, sex, vulgarity or other inappropriate scenes or wording or that advertise tobacco, alcohol or drug-related products are not permitted.
·         Clothing and/or tattoos shall not convey symbols or messages generally accepted to promote intolerance, hate, racial slurs, sexual harassment or gang affiliation. 
No doubt, weapons shown in certain contexts represent violence.  One might argue that a shirt with a picture of an assault rifle represents violence.
But what about popular comic book figures?  Often a T-shirt with an image from a recent animated feature might depict weapons and violence.
What about a shirt with the name and logo of a popular dining establishment? 
  • The Musket Room
  • The Brass Cannon
  • Shotgun Bar and Grill
There are also questions of free speech.  A shirt advocating the right for citizens to keep and bear arms by itself should be no problem, but what if it has a gun or multiple guns in the graphic?
What about an axe, bow and arrow, sword or bowie knife?  A silhouette of a hunter?
Should each and every image with a weapon be banned because it represents violence in one form or another?
Our Students’ Rights, Responsibilities and Code of Conduct is up for review and the Calvert County Board of Education invites your feedback on this and any other issues within it by May 23, 2018.  You can read the whole document here: http://bit.ly/2HWrQex
You may post comments to this blog or email them to the Board’s Assistant, Karen Maxey  maxeyk@calvertcounty.education.

Safety Advocates in Calvert County Schools

Today we have a guest writer for this blog space.  Tracy McGuire, Board of Education President, addresses the issue of arming Safety Advocates in Calvert County Schools. 

         Our community is deeply concerned, as are we, about student safety. In these stressful and uncertain times, Board members have noted some confusion in the community regarding the roles and responsibilities for Safety Advocates and School Resource Officers (SROs), known as Liaison Officers in our school system.

A Safety Advocate is a Calvert County Public Schools (CCPS) employee who provides a

proactive means of meeting the needs of the students, staff, and community. Employing a wealth of professional expertise, the Safety Advocate serves as a student advocate and advisor. Rather than punish or suspend students, the Safety Advocate provides support and counsel to the total school community.  Additionally, the Safety Advocate assists the staff and administration in maintaining a safe and orderly school environment that best facilitates academic achievement.

The Safety Advocate’s role is to help students make good choices and avoid activities that may result in harming themselves or others or criminal activity that might lead to arrest. Typically, Safety Advocates are retired law enforcement officers. Each high school has two full-time safety advocates. The six middle schools are served by three safety advocates.

We continue to work with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office to provide a Liaison Officer to each of our high schools The Liaison Officers are armed deputies employed by the Sheriff’s

Office. These officers also serve the elementary and middle schools in their high school’s feeder
pattern. A supervisor, also employed by the Sheriff’s Office, provides support where needed.

The Board has also been asked what we are doing to keep students safe. The Board is working with the Board of County Commissioners to fund school construction projects to make buildings more difficult to access. We are providing additional training to staff on responding to an active shooter. In consultation with the Sheriff’s Office, we are exploring additional law enforcement supports in schools. CCPS also coordinates with the Health Department to provide mental health services to students in schools. At the State level, the Board, through the Maryland Associations of Boards of Education, is advocating for amendments to improve legislation to provide Maryland State Police resources to schools, as well as other safety measures.

As we, as a community, consider what is the next best thing we can do to keep our children safe in school, the fact is most gun deaths are accidental shootings or suicide. A majority of the Board believes more guns on school property increase those risks and thus do not support arming CCPS employees.

The Board will continue to consider how best to keep children in school safe, unafraid, welcome, and ready to learn.

Tracy McGuire, President, Calvert County Board of Education

Black History in Calvert County

There was a great story in the Calvert Recorder last week about Joyce Freeland, local past President of the NAACP.   It outlines her life growing up poor on a farm in Calvert County, attending segregated schools, seeking treatment in a segregated hospital, leaving for a while, then returning to her home community.  http://bit.ly/2EJ95ra   Joyce Freeland is active in the Closing the Gap Coalition and is also a frequent substitute teacher for us.  We sure appreciate her continued service to the schools. 

The month of February is Black History Month – designated as a time to recognize the contributions of African Americans to American History.   The organization which would became known as the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History inaugurated the first formal acknowledgement of African-Americans’ place in U.S. history by designating the week that included February 12 as “Negro History Week” in 1926.    It was first acknowledged at the national level by President Gerald Ford.  President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan followed suit and in 1986 Congress passed legislation declaring February as Black History month and called for a Presidential Proclamation in support. 

It is also important to note that Canada also celebrates in February.  The United Kingdom and The Netherlands have the similar events in October.

As I stand here in my office in a building that was once the Brooks School – the high school for African American students in Calvert County, I’m reflecting on the stories that have been shared to me by those with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the years.  Especially those that were a part of the transition to integrated schools.  The last segregated class of the William Sampson Brooks High School was 1966.   The community where we live managed to keep children separated and educated by color a full 12 years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.  Why did it take so long?  I need to hear more stories from those who went to school here.

Kevin Howard, Supervisor of Human Resources and a transplant like me, just shared with me a book titled African Americans of Calvert County by William Poe.  I’ve ordered my own copy, but the initial description of the book indicates that Calvert County is home to one of the oldest African American communities in the United States – since back in the 17th Century.  At one time, 60% of the county population was African American.    Seems like it should be required reading for someone like me. 

I look forward to reading more of this planned series in the Calvert Recorder.  All of us as humans are walking story books.  I want to hear their stories.  I want to better understand my adopted home.  

Good Leaders Listen

I try to practice mindful listening.  I am genuinely curious about what people are thinking.  Which is probably a good quality for a superintendent to have since it seems a lot of people want to tell me how to run the school district. 

I wasn’t always an effective listener.  I remember developing the skill of listening with an open mind and heart when, after serving a few years as rural superintendent, I took a one-year job with the state department of education.  As in every state, there are citizens who get ticked-off at something that happened in their school or school district and they decide they are just going to go right to the top – they try to get the State Superintendent on the phone.

Often the state staff will have minimal or very old experience working in a school district.  They hate to take those calls from citizens with complaints.  Being a former superintendent, I had background in a variety of topics, so I ended up being the go-to guy for that individual who was calling the state superintendent to fix things back in his/her county.

Of course, it is easy to listen without bias when the problem really isn’t yours to solve.   Almost all issues were not within the responsibility of the state to decide.  They were a local issue, purely local control, so I would try to give them all the time they needed to run out of wind and words.  Then I would ask a few clarifying questions.  Then I would restate to them what it sounded to me was the big issue.  I might tell them why the principal might take such action or why the school board made such a rule.  Then I would coach them on who to call back in their local district and what questions they should ask. 

I only had that job one year.  I moved to another county to be school superintendent,  but I continued to develop and value the use of listening in leadership. 

Today, I learn so much about the pulse of the district and how our district efforts are having an impact in the classroom by keeping my ear to the ground.  I have monthly advisory groups of staff and students and I’m in the schools a lot.  Dropping into the staff room at lunch time can be very enlightening.  Some folks don’t want to talk shop at the time, others grab me by lapels and tell me what’s on their mind.

I encourage our district leaders to do the same.  When they go to a school, go with a question that would provide useful teacher or student feedback to your efforts.  Ask it several times.  Ask follow ups.

40 years ago it was called MBWA-Management By Wandering Around.   It still works.  Go down to the floor where the work is being done – where the children are taught to read, to prove their answer, to collaborate in solving problems, to create.  That’s the only place you’ll know what really is going on and when you know that, then you can lead them to the next level of success. 

Plan the work. Work the plan.

For the first time in a long time, school will be starting after Labor Day here in Calvert County. 

We’re ready.

New teacher orientation has begun.  We have a lot of new hires, but many of them have significant experience.  They just want to be a part of Calvert County.

Buildings have been cleaned spic and span.  Summer time construction and remodeling is complete.

Good progress has been made on the installation of security cameras in our high schools, and soon we’ll be moving to do the same for our middle schools.

And, following 6 months of good work and public input, our Strategic Plan has been completed and presented to the Board of Education.   Through this process, we have identified 5 priority areas.

Equity – equitable opportunities for students, equitable distribution of resources and culturally responsive workforce.

Student outcomes– growth for all students, close the achievement gaps, enhance opportunity for high ability learners, increase college and/or career ready grads.

Climate and culture– social-emotional learning, safe and respectful school environment, enhance staff wellness and morale.

Workforce – enhance diversity, retain high quality, provide personalized and differentiated opportunities for staff to grow that will increase student success.

Community Engagement– involve families, business and community organizations as allies and partners to increase equity and access for all students.

The details of just how we plan to move forward on these priorities are in the works.  Some existing initiatives will be better supported and some new initiatives will need to find funding. 

Once plans are in place, we’ll require detailed project management from our district leaders to keep these priorities in the forefront.  We’ll be reporting publicly on our progress and holding ourselves accountable. 

Here’s to another great year for Calvert County students. 

Culture Trumps Strategy

We had our 3-day summer retreat for the leadership team last week.  To get it off to a great start we brought in Dr. Bill Daggett, Founder and CEO of the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). www.leadered.com    I had heard him speak before and wanted him to address our principals, directors and supervisors.

One of his key messages is “Culture Trumps Strategy”.    I wrote it down often.

I’ve done a little research to see if he owns this phrase.   As near as I can tell, he does not.  There are some who credit business guru Peter Drucker with saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast” but that appears to be an urban myth.   Still I found that lots of business people have written on the topic.  For them, it suggests that the norms of the work environment – if built on trust, if all are working on the same goal, if creativity and respectful disagreement are encouraged – are more important than the strategy to reach corporate goals. 

During the industrial age the worker fit the company mold.  The bosses in the head shed planned the strategy for increased profit.   Today technology as well as family values  are having a big impact on the work place and businesses are evolving to understand how the worker and the culture in which the worker works, has an impact on the bottom line.

So what does “Culture Trumps Strategy” mean for the schools?

First it means abandoning the industrial age factory model that we all know as school.  Eric Sheninger, a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader at ICLE and author of Uncommon Learning: Creating Schools That Work for Kids, lays out his thoughts on what it takes to personalize the learning experience, make it more relevant to the future.

He calls for using technology in such a way that it is a tool to enhance the culture of learning.  It can provide real world learning experiences that are more in tune with student interests.  It can make the curriculum more real and complement the good work that is already happening in the schools. 

What does that look like in Calvert County Public Schools? 

I think we are well on our way in some aspects of this work.  We have been a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) district for a number of years.  Our libraries have been converting into maker spaces and 1 hour flex lunches at all of our high schools and most of our middle schools have contributed greatly to a culture of independence, empowerment and personalized learning for our students.

We have supported an entrepreneurial culture allowing several of our schools to experiment with 1:1 laptop initiatives, digital curriculum and support, blended learning and project-based learning.

Calvert County Schools have a reputation for innovation and high achievement, but we cannot sit on past practices and expect to sustain that result.   It is the Principal and the teachers at each and every school that will create its culture.  That culture, if based upon a common vision for our children, will support the best instructional practices and opportunities for success and see that each child leaves with a real world skill-set and a plan for success. 

It’s Been an Outstanding Year

We’re winding down the year here in Calvert County.  ‘Tis the season for end-of-year concerts and recognition assemblies.  At yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Education, we recognized our school volunteers, our employees of the month and a new local club for kids – Creative and Striving Hard to Succeed (C.A.S.H.) National Society of Black Engineers. 
Today I managed to stop in on a couple of elementary field days (one where I personally removed a snake from the field), a middle school summit for 8thgrade girls and a planning retreat for our Department of Instruction.  Lots of good stuff.
Our seniors are all gone and we’ll celebrate them through four graduation ceremonies on June 7 and 8.
As I reflect back on School Year 16-17, I can think of so many things to celebrate.  First, we celebrate the accomplishments of our students.
  • Calvert County PARCC scores in 10th and 11th grade English Language Arts were the best in the state of MD.  The best as in “WE ARE NUMBER 1!”
  • We have a graduation rate of 95%.
  • SAT scores went up.
  • Numerous individuals and student academic, fine arts and athletic teams won 1stin Maryland.
Of course, we give our outstanding staff credit for the above as well, but the Calvert County employees shined in other ways.
  • Teacher of the Year Donna Miller was a state finalist.
  • Sunderland Elementary was named a Blue Ribbon School.
  • We successfully negotiated 4-year contracts with our teachers’ union and support staff union. 
  • We successfully negotiated a 2-year contract with our administrators’ union.
  • Our Supervisor of Equity initiated a new priority.
  • We negotiated a new funding formula with our Board of County Commissioners that will assure increasing revenues for the next 4 years.
And then there are some things that are attributable to our district staff and the Board of Education and the even the weather.
  • We had just one snow day and we made it up in February.
  • We broke ground for the new Northern High School.
  • We initiated an outside review of special education and transportation and we anticipate reports that will help us be more effective and efficient in those areas.
  • We initiated a strategic planning process which, when complete this summer, will set the stage for all future planning.
  • We have approved a budget that will give all of our employees a step increase and assures another step for most. 
And, thanks to all, our maintenance department announced that we have reduced its overall consumption of electricity by 17.14% since 2008 by installing energy-efficient equipment and encouraging people to change behaviors to conserve energy.
Yes, it’s been a good year.  I feel very lucky to be a part of such a good district.