March 1, 2012

InsideEd moves to new platform

Hello Inside Ed Family,

As many of you may have noticed, there are some changes to InsideEd. We have moved to a new platform, that can be reached here. Over the past year, all of our blogs have converted to this new system, and last week, it was our turn.

We're still figuring a lot of it out, but some changes that you will see are: a.) the blog looks different; b.) the blog entries look just like our daily content, but I think we will begin identifying them as blogs in our headlines; c.)We no longer approve comments; they are automatically posted, like they are on stories featured in our general content.

We were able to have our web staff transfer some of our previous posts, but not all of them. Very unfortunate, we know. But, we're continuing to monitor this site for comments, etc. and will continue blogging away on the new InsideEd platform as The Sun continues to convert and work out kinks on our new blog.

The web address is:

Posted by Erica Green at 12:07 PM | | Comments (0)

February 14, 2012

Mayor, Alonso do agree on one part of school construction plan

In a story today about Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake's State of the City address, our City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper touched a lot on how the mayor has essentially rejected city schools CEO Andres Alonso's plan to rapidly rebuild the city's dilapidated school buildings with more debt, and instead champions a plan based on a slower, but arguably steadier, stream of revenue.

But, I believe a sleeping giant is where the mayor and Alonso are of the same mind: schools, possibly some pretty historic anchors in communities, will have to close in order for any facilities overhaul plan will work.

If you remember, I wrote in October about Alonso's plan to close schools that are underutilized or beyond repair--which he warned would be a large-scale, but painful process.

The school system commissioned an inventory of sorts on the school system's facilities, which will guide the decisions about what schools will close. That report is expected this month, or next. 

The mayor also touched on this part of Alonso's plan in her speech on Monday, telling city residents that, in order to begin fixing schools,"we need to look at the current inventory and how we are using the resources that we have."

"Some schools will expand, some schools will merge, and some schools that we may have fond memories of will need to close," the mayor said. "Nostalgia has the power to make the past a priority over the present. And we might not always like what is proposed, but all of us should support the work of the School Board on this mission—it’s what’s best for our kids, our future, and it will help get Baltimore growing again."

Posted by Erica Green at 12:50 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 10, 2012

HCC Part of Student Advocacy Day

By Joe Burris

Three years ago, Ben Fischer suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car accident that left him with slow cognitive skills. The Howard Community College student said that at the time doctors were uncertain whether he would to return to a traditional learning environment.

But Fischer battled back from the accident, and now advocates for students with disabilities. Earlier this week, he joined hundreds of community college students across the state to petition state lawmakers to boost funding to two-year schools.

The event is part of the annual Student Advocacy Day, which features speeches from student leaders, state lawmakers and community college presidents. Students also meet with their respective state delegates and senators.

Continue reading "HCC Part of Student Advocacy Day" »

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 6:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

February 9, 2012

Ten states to get NCLB waivers

The Associated Press is reporting that the White House will soon announce that 10 states have gotten waivers to No Child Left Behind, essentially lifting the strictest requirements of the accountability law in return for state assurances that new goals will be set for student achievement and teacher evaluations.

In states that are given a waiver, schools will no longer be labeled failing if they don't meet certain testing goals.

The announcement would seem to bode well for Maryland which is expected to apply for the waive in the next several weeks. Only one state, New Mexico, that applied by the first deadline last year did not get a waiver. At least another dozen states have signaled their intention to apply in the second round.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:56 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

Updated: After Alonso PIP letter went out, teachers' PIP stories rolled in

Just before our story about the rise in PIPs among city teachers posted last night, Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso sent out a letter to teachers explaining the district's new approach to evaluating teachers, which many are decrying as a way to cut down on union contract costs the district can't afford. And we've also learned that city principals are also experiencing a surge in PIPs, which their union leader believes is a strategy for the city to more easily fire principals. 

 Updated: February 9 at 8:19 a.m.

After this letter went out, the PIP stories began rolling in. I thought I'd share some since, despite my best efforts to include as many teacher voices as possible, many couldn't speak on the record for fear of retribution. Though rare, The Sun granted teachers anonymity for this story, given the position many were in. So, I thought I'd share some feedback to my story.

One teacher wrote and said that they discovered Wednesday they had retroactively received unsatisfactory ratings--having never been observed or gone through the mid-year evaluation process.
The teacher never sat or signed anything, they said, and the evaluation was submitted after the due date. Consequently, they was placed on a PIP without anyone ever even informing them.

"Generally improvement plans tend to only work if we know [we] are on them," the teacher wrote.

Another, a veteran teacher, said they were informed from the city's benchmark MSA scores, that their 'interventions' weren't working for 34 percent of their students, half of which had never shown up to school.

"They just said my data shows my interventions aren't working," the veteran teacher said. "I thought: How do you know? And if they haven't been working since October, why are you just telling me in January?"

One veteran teacher, who said "the system doesn't need us anymore," wrote in and put the interventions in perspective: 

"Just imagine, a 14 or 15 year who walks out of you class cursing you," she wrote. "This same student makes no effort to complete any class work. Part of your interventions is to communicate with a student's home. Some parents may curse you out or call the principal and make a false report about you nagging them."

Another wrote in and said that she tried to present evidence to challenge her unsatisfactory ratings, and was told that 'it wasn't necessary,' because it was going to be in place anyway.

"A lot of us showed up to a meeting, and my principal broke the meeting, telling us there was no point," she said.

A parent also wrote in yesterday, asking if I had any school-by-school percentages, because she was interested in knowing if her student's school was experiencing the PIPs. When I couldn't provide it--the school system declined to provide data, calling it a "shifting number,"--she had one response: "Disturbing."

Below, I've posted the letter sent by the system explaining its take on the angst the PIP situation has caused.

Continue reading "Updated: After Alonso PIP letter went out, teachers' PIP stories rolled in" »

Posted by Erica Green at 8:27 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 8, 2012

Baltimore County school board passes budget

Baltimore County school board members voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt a $1.23 billion budget with an amendment that would add two more auditors at a cost of $190,000. Board members said they believed the existing auditors had been burdened recently with additional duties that involved checking out tips from the public. The school system recently out-sourced a hotline for tipsters to call to report problems with the school system. The new system has created a higher volume of reports to be checked out, according to school board members. School board president Larry Schmidt said legislators had asked that an internal auditor to report to the board. The board already has several auditors.

The budget amendments were passed shortly after Dulaney High School parents came forward to protest the increase in class sizes this year as a result of cuts to teaching positions at the high school. The board cut nearly 200 teaching positions in the middle and high schools last year, but did not cut administrators. The 2013 budget will add teaching positions in schools where enrollment is expected to increase and cuts about 45 non-classroom jobs. The budget does not restore any teaching positions in the high schools, however.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Twenty apply for Baltimore County school superintendent job - so far

On Tuesday, the search firm hired to help find Baltimore County a new superintendent reported it has 20 applications that are either in hand or started, and discussions are underway with other applicants as well. While that number may be low so far, it is still higher than the applicant pool for Orange County, Florida, a much larger district than Baltimore County.

 The question that wasn't answered is how experienced and qualified the people who have applied are so far. No hints came on that score at the school board meeting. A report from the search firm said that members of the public want a new leader who is a good communicator, is ethical and can bring people from diverse backgrounds together. People with a wide range of perspectives - from students to administrators, business people, legislators and teaachers - emphasized the need for the new superintendent to be able to handle the diversity in schools from Dundalk to Towson.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Union Leader: City principals also seeing PIP surge

On Wednesday, we ran a story about the stark increase in the number of Baltimore city teachers who received unsatisfactory ratings on their mid-year evaluations, and were consequently placed on Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs).

The plans have caused angst among educators, having historically been used as a precursor for dismissal, and many city educators said they believe the surge reflects that the district has signed onto a union contract it can't afford. 

While the story focused on teachers, I've also learned that this isn't just taking place among city teachers.

Jimmy Gittings, president of the administrators union, said that a large number of principals have also been placed on PIPs.  He said he believes this is part of district strategy to make up for past missteps, and this is a strategy to more easily fire administrators.

“The only reason people are on these PIPs is because since Alonso came, they’ve violated our contract and were firing people without them,” Gittings said. “So what they have done to cover their tracks is put everybody on a damn PIP.”

Gittings said he didn't believe that the rise in the plans reflect the number of principals who need to improve their performance. “It's that now," he said, "if they come across someone they want to fire, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Continue reading "Union Leader: City principals also seeing PIP surge " »

Posted by Erica Green at 10:30 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 7, 2012

City schools boxing champion wins second national title

What a breath of fresh air I received today in a phone call from the mother of Lorenzo "Truck" Simpson, the City Springs Elementary/Middle school student I wrote about last year after he won the 2011 National Silver Gloves Tournament of Champions in his weight class and age group.

According to his mother, Danica Carroll, Lorenzo took the title again last week at the 2012 championships in Kansas City, Mo.  Lorenzo, now a sixth grader, won the title for the 10-11age group, 100 lbs. She also reported that he is still doing extremely well in school, academically and in his behavior.

Congrats, Lorenzo! 

Posted by Erica Green at 2:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Phasing in new testing for Common Core

In a story today, I look at the ramifications of moving to the Common Core standards and a new set of tests.  When the state school board discussed the issue last month, it sounded an alarm about online testing. They don't believe that school districts have enough technology to mandate the tests be done online. In addition, there's a concern that children will get too much testing the year that the old tests and new tests overlap.      
Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

February 3, 2012

City principal pay below average

Today, I wrote a story about principal pay in the city, which I was surprised to find was below the average for the state, and that of the other large, surrounding districts. The story accompanied a database The Sun has published of all school system employees, which we've also done for every state, city, and Baltimore County school system employees.

The jist of the story is that in the last four years, principals' pay have not caught up to their ever-expanding responsibilities in the city school system. While the story didn't appear to get nearly as much attention as the database, principals have written in that they are surprised by the disparity.

But school system and union leaders have acknowledged that principals--who under immense pressure in the city--are underpaid, and point to the new administrators union contract as a remedy to reward and retain the best leaders, who arguably have one of the hardest jobs in the state.

Posted by Erica Green at 10:04 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 2, 2012

Why we still don't know the real story about Baltimore City school system salaries

Today, The Sun published a database with the salary and overtime for every school system employee--by name and job title--dating back to 2008.  It's part of a series of databases that we will be compiling on public employee pay in the city. So far, we have published the same information for employees who work for the state, the  Baltimore City government, and the Baltimore County School System.More school districts will join the bunch in the coming months.

However, the Baltimore City school system salaries that you see only tell part of the story about how much system employees make--particularly administrators at North Avenue, whose salaries can shift more than school-based personnel. While teachers and principals' pay are reflected in a scale that is published on the Maryland State Department of Education website with every other district, administrative positions are more arbitrary.

I feel compelled to offer a glimpse into a rather tortured journey to transparency in obtaining this information--and why the public still doesn't really know what they're paying the stewards of the city's public education system, and the $1.3 billion budget it takes to run it.

The journey began when The Sun requested the school system's salaries--normally, the most basic public information request you can make, and the most readily available--on Nov. 16. 

Continue reading "Why we still don't know the real story about Baltimore City school system salaries " »

Posted by Erica Green at 12:39 PM | | Comments (90)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 1, 2012

Updated: Local attorney hopes to bring international perspective to city school board

Updated on February 1: 

A new member has been appointed to the Baltimore city school board, after two searches have taken place in the last year to find someone to replace Anirban Basu, the renowned economist who served as the business-minded board member since 2005.

Marnell Cooper, a Baltimore attorney, will be sworn in Feb. 14. According to his Charles Street law firm's website, Cooper specializes in representing small businesses locally and internationally. 

Updated: I caught up with Cooper on Tuesday, who said that it "is a tremendous honor to be able to serve in this capacity." 

"What I hope to bring to the board is my experience as a person who has been a part of, and a graduate of the school system, and matriculated through two universities to go on to do business around the world. Hopefully I can bring that insight into how to help the students of Baltimore.”

Cooper, who doesn't have children in the city school system, said that he hopes to build on the efforts of the system. He said that he has, however, received feedback from the community about the state of city schools, which he described as, "extremely positive in terms of what they see as growth over the course of years."

As an international attorney, said that he takes particularly interest in strengthening and expanding International Baccalaureate programs, an elite and globally recognized college preparatory program, currently offered at City College and Mount Washington Elementary.

When asked to identify some school system challenges he hopes to help tackle, Cooper said, "I haven't started serving yet, but I know there are some challenges coming up.”

Continue reading "Updated: Local attorney hopes to bring international perspective to city school board" »

Posted by Erica Green at 11:48 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City

Updated: Alonso's chief of staff withdraws name from superintendent search

Updated: Tisha Edwards, Alonso's chief of staff who traveled to East Baton Rouge last week to interview as a finalist for the parish's superintendent seat, withdrew her name from the running, according to a story published this week in Baton Rouge's newspaper, The Advocate.

Edwards, the mother of a city school graduate and a current student, said Wednesday that she chose to withdraw her name so that her son can finish his middle school education in Baltimore.

Edwards was one of six semi-finalists for the seat, and took part in a public interview before the East Baton Rouge school board on Jan. 23. The EBR parish has held an unusually public search for a new superintendent, devoting an entire website to the search, and posting interviews on You Tube.

You can watch Edwards' interview, during which she is questioned for two hours, and discusses everything from her leadership style, to her efforts and accomplishments in the city, and the reforms she was hoping to bring to the struggling school system.

Continue reading "Updated: Alonso's chief of staff withdraws name from superintendent search" »

Posted by Erica Green at 10:11 AM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 30, 2012

Hiding cell phones in Uggs?

Here's a great story on the decision by one Pennsylvania school to ban the wearing of Uggs, or high top boots, that aren't snug. Students were coming to school with their cell phones hidden in their boots. Cell phones weren't allowed in this school. How many schools out there still don't allow students to bring cell phones to school, or discipline students who bring them to class? Would teachers like to tell stories about inventive teens who manage to hide cell phones so they can text during class?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:56 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

City school, political leaders endorse Obama dropout plan

Baltimore city is used to some radical ideas when it comes to keeping kids in school--a trademark of city schools CEO Andres Alonso--but there is one that I wanted to put out there for debate's sake.

In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama said that his administration would encourage states to raise the compulsory age of attendance to prevent kids from dropping out of school. Under the proposal, children would be require to attend school until the age of 18.

In Maryland, there's been a longstanding attempt to address truancy and dropout rates by raising the compulsory age of attendance, a measure that seems to have always failed due to its financial cost (because the human one is priceless, many would argue).

Still, the issue makes the city school system's legislative wish-list every year, and schools chief Alonso said Monday that he still maintains that, "it makes no sense to tell a kid they can't vote or drive a car but we let them drop out of school."

Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who has repeatedly sponsored legislation to raise the state's compulsory age, a cause she plans to continue championing, said Monday she was "really pleased to see the President call on states to take care of our children. We ought to be doing everything we can to keep our students in school."

Continue reading "City school, political leaders endorse Obama dropout plan " »

Posted by Erica Green at 11:48 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 26, 2012

Comptroller Franchot launches petition for air-conditioning in Baltimore County schools

Comptroller Peter Franchot is launching a petition drive to try to help Baltimore County parents protest the failure of the county govenrment to fund air-conditioning for its schools. Franchot, who is believed to be interested in being the next governor, has taken on the cause of air-conditioning in the county schools, a particularly hot button issue for parents and teachers in the county and city. Baltimore County has the second highest percentage of its schools without air-conditioning. Garrett is number one. Here's the report filed by Sun reporter Michael Dresser. The petition drive is here.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

January 25, 2012

State board wants major reduction in suspensions

The state board took the first steps yesterday to propose a significant change in the way school districts discipline students. They want schools to stop suspending students for non-violent offenses. So the student who comes to school with alcohol or talks back or cheats would not be suspended. One administrator suggested that if a student painted a swastika on the classroom window of a Jewish teacher, that teacher might see it as violence. But Jane Sundius of the Open Socity Institute noted that perhaps that was a great example of why out of school suspensions don't work. If the student is sent home for a day, he learns nothing about the Holocaust, and nothing about why that teacher might be angry or hurt. But if the student has to spend a Saturday at the Holocaust museum, perhaps he learns just how offensive his behavior really is. Many school teachers and administrators will disagree with the new suspension proposals. Some of them have already been expressing their views at the bottom of the story on the website. I would like to hear a debate on the blog about the pros and cons of this proposal. In particular, I would like to hear from teachers who were in the classroom before Columbine and before zero tolerance policies. How often were students sent home for more than a day and what were the most serious non-violent infractions? Did assistant principals and principals find other ways to discipline students? Did students write letters to their teacher when they were disrespectful? Did they stay after school? I would also like to hear from private school teachers. Are 8 percent of students in private schools suspended every year?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:52 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

Updated: Alonso's billion-dollar borrowing pitch

Updated on Monday, Jan. 30: One of the biggest questions that emerged from Alonso's recent pitch to allow the school system to borrow billions for school construction, was whether or not Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was on board.

I thought I'd share this story from Friday, when Alonso and the mayor went to talk budgetary matters in Annapolis, where our State House Reporter Michael Dresser asked whether she was on board with the plan.

The mayor, who rolled out a proposal in November that would see a 140% increase in what the City is currently contributing to school construction and renovation, said Friday that the city and the school system were still "ironing out details," on how to fund the massive overhaul of the school system's infrastructure. She added, however, that, "we have the same mutual goal in mind."

According to the story, the mayor remained noncommittal to Alonso's plan to borrow $1.3 billion--six times more the district's borrowing authority-- for the needed improvements. And it's not surprising, since it's a plan that relies on paying off debt with more debt.

And according to the story, the mayor, who has outlined a more limited plan to float $300 million in bonds backed by new city revenues, would not say how close the city and school system are to reaching common ground on an approach.

"It depends on the day of the week it is. Some days we're closer than others," Rawlings-Blake said.

Asked whether Alonso had gone public with his plan too soon when he outlined it Tuesday for the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, the mayor sidestepped the question.

"Dr. Alonso is aggressive when it comes to reforming the school system," she said. "I am not going to second-guess his strategy.

You can read our editorial board's take on Alonso's strategy by clicking here. 

Continue reading "Updated: Alonso's billion-dollar borrowing pitch " »

Posted by Erica Green at 11:45 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 24, 2012

Howard school board outlines possible redistricting plans

From Howard schools reporter Joe Burris:

The Howard County board of education on Tuesday briefed the County Council on possible redistricting plans for the 2013-2014 school year, which include forming a 12-member attendance area committee to advise the superintendent.

The school system outlined the plans at its quarterly meeting with the County Council.

Continue reading "Howard school board outlines possible redistricting plans" »

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Bright Minds Foundation Awards Grants

Howard County public schools faculty were among several educators awarded funding to launch projects through the county’s nonprofit Bright Minds education foundation, school officials have announced.

Award recipients included Jamie Proctor of Wilde Lake High School, who won $2,000 for the project “STEM for Inquiry Based Learning,” and Ann Strozyk of the Howard County Conservancy, who won $2,000 for the project “Next Steps with GPS.”

Continue reading "Bright Minds Foundation Awards Grants" »

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

January 20, 2012

Spelling errors in state education presentation

From our colleague Michael Dresser on the Maryland Politics blog:

When interim Maryland State School Superintendent Bernard J. Sadusky made a presentation before two House of Delegates committee Friday, he spelled out certain principles for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Alas, the folks at the Maryland State Department of Education showed a certain flexibility in spelling  "principle" as well. Time for a trip to the principal's office?

See the photo of the presentation here

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 8:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

January 17, 2012

Public forum for new superintendent search

Tonight, Baltimore County held the first of three open forums to allow the public to comment on the characteristics they would like to see in the next superintendent. Joe A. Hairston is retiring in June after 12 years as superintendent. Consultants from the search firm were there to listen, but no education officials were there. The public comments were allowed to be confidential, although no one seemed to mind being quoted. Only a dozen or so people showed up, but they represented many different groups. In general, they said they believed there were many great teachers in the system, but that they wanted changes. Several individuals said they wanted an open minded, compassionate, ethical superintendent who was a "people person" and who would have courage to try new things and stand up to elected officials.

A number of parents, including Julie Sugar, the president of the PTA at Loch Raven High School, and parent Laurie Taylor Mitchell, said they wanted a superintendent who would address the lack of air-conditioning and other facilities issues that have plagued the system for decades because of its aging buildings. They said they want a superintendent who will stand up for what schools need during budget time rather than submitting a budget that is acceptable to the county executive.

Continue reading "Public forum for new superintendent search " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Baltimore County's Renee Foose superintendent candidate

Renee Foose, the deputy superintendent for Baltimore County Schools, has applied for the superintendent's job in Orange County, Florida, the tenth largest district in the nation. Foose's name is one of 21 applicants the Orange County Public Schools have made public. The list will be narrowed to semi-finalists by the end of the month. A county school spokeswoman said the interviews with finalists would be conducted in February.

Foose is a former Montgomery County school official who was hired by Baltimore County last April at a salary of $214,000.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 13, 2012

Edgewater elementary parents say building needs improvements

From schools reporter Joe Burris:

A group of parents, teachers, staff and students from Edgewater Elementary School on Thursday night implored Anne Arundel school officials to prioritize improvements to the school’s aging structure, which they say is wrought with health concerns.

The school board held the second of two public hearings on Thursday night for Superintendent Kevin Maxwell’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget. But public testimony was dominated by the group of about 50 people from the Edgewater community, whose school – which was first occupied in 1953 and has had renovations in 1964 and 1985 – isn’t up for a feasibility study and design for renovations until Fiscal Year 2016.

Most members of the group stood and held signs that read, “Got Bad Air?” and “Got Mold,” as other members took turns telling board members about how children at the school have suffered from respiratory-related ailments.

“Edgewater has continually remained silent on these issues, and we decided that it was time to band together and see if we can make a difference,” said Jenny Corkill, president of the Edgewater Elementary PTA.

Continue reading "Edgewater elementary parents say building needs improvements" »

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 5:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Anne Arundel
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