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June 30, 2009

State school board member Blair Ewing dies

Anyone who was a frequent visitor to state school board meetings over the past year knew that when Blair Ewing raised his hand to ask a question, it was time to perk up and listen because you knew he was likely to get straight to the heart of the issue. He was always a gentleman, polite and respectful, but he could also boil down all the education jargon to ask simple questions that exposed the core of a problem. He didn't mind putting the staff of the state department on the spot and more than once asked for more information or suggested a different course of action. Lately, he had taken a great interest in finding a way for students in Maryland to take an international test that would expose how well they compared to those in other countries. 

Ewing, who lived in Montgomery County and served on the school board there for many years, died today. He had been active on the state board through May. I asked the chair of the board for his thoughts. Here is what James DeGraffenreidt said: "Personally, I enjoyed the fact that he exhibited such a consistent, positive tone even when there were substantive disagreements over major policy issues. The fact that he always prepared well and listened to everyone's point of view made the state board more effective. We certainly will miss him and express our deepest sympathy to his family."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

June 26, 2009

End-of-year message from Dr. Alonso

Here is the text of the end-of-year-message Andres Alonso sent out today. What do you think about what he says?

June 26, 2009

Dear City Schools Colleagues, Staff, Partners and Friends,

Next week we begin the 2009-10 fiscal year, and I want to thank you again for your part
in making this past year a tremendous one for our students and schools.

This time a year ago I wrote to you about changes we were implementing throughout
Baltimore City Public Schools to allow us, together, to build a system of great schools. It
was a time marked by uncertainty, but also by hope and imagining what could be.

Then, throughout the 2008-09 year, we saw those possibilities take root and begin to
become reality. We saw record and historic student achievement gains; the first
enrollment growth in four decades; a brand-new level of family and community
engagement in our schools; and elected officials, partners and friends rallying around our
students like never before. We saw what can happen when the work of a city and its
school system is all about what is best for kids, staying true to that focus and being
accountable for our students’ success. We saw not only that great things can happen in
City Schools, but that great things are happening in City Schools.

The transformation of City Schools is under way. And I’d like to share with you a few
things about the past year that give me cause for such confidence.

The foundation we began building last year to transform City Schools is largely in place.
We have put schools at the center of the City Schools universe by giving them resources
and decision-making authority and holding them accountable for student achievement.
We have right-sized and reorganized our central office to support schools, and on July 1
we will launch school networks, a new central office system for delivering service to
schools. We are expanding school options for students and families by reviewing our
existing school programs and expanding those that are working well for students and
closing those that are not.

But this foundation, this strategy for transforming our school system, only matters to the
extent that our kids are in school and learning and achieving.

I am extremely happy to report that in the last two years, more of our kids came to school
and more stayed to learn. Overall, nearly 40 percent of all of our students across all
grades had perfect or excellent attendance in 2008-09; the number of high school students
who dropped out during the year is down; and we know from the number of students who
graduated this spring that when students stay in school, they succeed. We do not yet have
the final graduation and dropout data for the year, but so far we know that we had about
500 fewer dropouts in 2008-09 than in 2007-08, and 1,000 fewer than two years ago. We
also know that, so far, 94 percent of all members of the Class of 2009 have met the state
High School Assessment (HSA) requirement for graduation. I will be writing you in the
weeks ahead with these final results—as well as our Maryland School Assessment
(MSA) results for 2008-09.

Finally, in the last year, we saw student progress at every level. Standardized test results
and state reports show that, more than ever, our students, from kindergarten to high
school, are ready to reach, learn and advance. Our kindergartners came to school this year
more prepared than in years past to learn. Our 1st- and 2nd-graders exceeded the national
average on standardized tests for the first time. Our 3rd- through 8th-graders registered
their best scores ever on the MSA. And our high schoolers faced and met the challenge of
the new High School Assessment (HSA) requirement for graduation. We now have
growth at every level of Pre-K-12 education in City Schools, which suggests that the hard
work of our students, teachers, families and schools will continue to pay off.
But with 2009-10 comes perhaps the hardest work yet. We must now build on our
foundation and maintain our kids’ momentum in the most challenging funding
environment in years. We must continue to provide better support for schools with a
central office that is 33 percent smaller than two years ago. We will do that by
maintaining our focus on and commitment to our kids, and by holding ourselves—and
everybody around us—accountable for their success.

For me, a second year as CEO of City Schools has ended. For so many of you, it is
another year on the heels of many years, even decades, of hard work. And for that hard
work, for your enduring commitment to our 82,500 great kids, and for the continuing
improvement we are seeing among our students and in our schools, I truly thank you.
May your summer be enjoyable and restful, and here’s to an even better 2009-10.

Andrés A. Alonso, Ed.D.
Baltimore City Public Schools

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 3:00 PM | | Comments (33)
Categories: Baltimore City

The final day of Space Camp

Thursday was the final day of the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program, which 33 middle school math and science teachers from the Baltimore area took part in in Huntsville, Ala. Here are the final reports from some of the teachers who have been blogging about their experiences this week.

From City College math teacher Luis Lima:

Thursday was the last day of Space Camp. For Team Destiny, it was an emotional roller coaster. We started with an update on the status of NASA’s Ares program (the next manned mission to the moon). We were all very excited because after the update we were going to complete out mission on the Endeavour. Emotions were also running high because we knew we were hours away from saying goodbye to the amazing group of people who made up Team Destiny. But that is another story.

Mission Endeavour was a complete success. We had the most anomalies (things that can go wrong during any mission) thrown at us. At one point in time we were hit by a tornado and had to evacuate mission control while two of our crew members were space walking in order to repair the tiles on the orbiter. As I described in my previous blog, this is a very realistic environment and it was interesting to see how we all worked together to complete the mission and also have some fun. Today’s simulation brought home to me a statement I heard during my five days here: that NASA trains the fear out of its astronauts. Not that we were in danger at any time. But the mission simulation is pretty realistic and I had insight.

I guess we were on the right path today, since we were visited by a star trooper. After the mission, we were on the war path to complete all of our other chores: creating memorabilia to share with the team and to present to our counselors. Leigh and Lindsey, the multi-talented pair of educators who were our camp leaders, made our experience even more memorable through their competent, effective and meaningful leadership. But I digress ...

So, this is after lunch and we are all in the auditorium to attend Story Musgrave’s lecture. It was one of the most memorable presentations I have attended so far. Story’s amazing life story is an inspiration. He is brilliant and funny and, at his age, is still going strong. You may be asking, Story, who? Story Musgrave is the astronaut who has flown six shuttle missions. He was also responsible for the design of the tools and repair procedures for the maintenance of the Hubble telescope. Check him out. He was more than accommodating with our picture requirements, he signed anything you could have asked him to, and was really nice to all of us. I am in awe of the brilliant simplicity and technical excellence of his design.

Our next adventure was to explore the Lunar Stations with a set of problem-solving activities related to living and working on the moon. There were lots of great and easy-to-use activities to help students cooperate in the solution of complex problems. Very cool.

Let me give you a quick tip. If you ever come here, take the time to go on the Space Shoot. Now, you want to face the Apollo 11 rocket.

As soon as Story left, we were able to finally have Leigh and Lindsey to settle down and the tears flowed ... it was preparation for graduation.

I was glad that Honeywell was represented, so we all had a chance to thank its employees for their generosity. None of us would have been at camp today otherwise. Another cool moment had to do with space camp for the visually impaired. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, this special camp provides visually impaired kids with the environment to have the same experiences we went through. It was amazing to see them succeed at the same anomalies we did in the morning.

As the program moved along, our team patches were officially unveiled and we were presented with our certificates and wings. Leigh and Lindsey went over the brag sheet, and Team Destiny was happy and proud to have succeeded together. Tears and cheers!

I am very glad I was selected to attend Space Camp. I hope I am able to do justice to all that I learned here when I attempt to translate these experiences and the enthusiasm for space exploration to my classes and my colleagues. I will be back for Advanced Camp in two years with my team. Team Destiny Rules! Roger and Out!

From Sabourah Abdunafi of ConneXions Community Leadership Academy in Baltimore:

It is amazing how fond you can grow of people in such a short period of time. I was grouped with 17 other people and two team leaders. On the first day, that team-building activity was priceless because we became more than a team - we became a family. We broke our necks to make sure that everyone was considered, on time, enjoying themselves and learning. It was so difficult trying to figure out what to say to each other on our last night. The one thing that we all could agree on was that we would work diligently with the things that we learned over the week, collect data for the next year and a half - and all apply for advanced space camp in two years. We have already put into place an action plan to assist our students and other students from our district in learning about math, science, engineering and technology (STEM) through space.

I expected to enjoy myself as I learned, but this experience was more than I could ever imagine. I continue to reflect on how I felt in the classroom during each lesson, activity and lecture to assist me in becoming more considerate of my students’ learning styles.

From Amy Wood of the Maryland Science Center:

My final day of Honeywell Educators at Space Academy was the perfect ending to a weeklong camp that was enlightening, challenging and fun. In one week, I managed to build two rockets, and a lunar and Mars lander, be flight director at mission control, and perform an EVA to repair heat tiles on the side of the shuttle. My designs were not always successful, but sometimes failing is more fun!

My favorite moment happened while landing in the space shuttle. I was a mission specialist, sitting behind the pilot and commander. We were preparing for landing and all of a sudden every caution and warning light went off. After much screaming and panicking we all managed to pull ourselves together and fix everything.

I also met teachers from four countries and many different states. I learned that although we were all different, we all share a common goal of education and outreach. I also realized how complex and diverse NASA’s work force truly is and that they share our goals of educating and outreach.

I will take this experience with me everywhere I go and always look back and smile.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 1:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

June 24, 2009

Math teacher's Space Camp report

From Hereford Middle School math teacher Rachel Murphy, one of the 33 area teachers participating in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program in Huntsville, Ala., this week:


Wow, where do I start? I will try my best to fill you in on all the amazing things we have been doing while at Space Camp. First let me say that I did not realize that Honeywell employees actually pay with their own money for our scholarships, so thank you to those employees who provided me with this experience. So far, this has been the greatest professional development that I have ever participated in. Saturday when we arrived, there were no scheduled activities planned, but a bus was provided to go to a local “mall” (I would compare it to the avenues at White Marsh and Hunt Valley back home). It was very upscale, and beautiful, and included a canal with gondola rides. I ate dinner with five others from Maryland and two other teachers, one from Delaware and one from Tampa. It was fun getting to know the other teachers in a laid-back and social setting.

Sunday morning we were up and running early in the morning (7:30). I met my teammates - Team Destiny. I’m not sure what the other bloggers have been saying, but I have to say that we are the best team! There are 18 of us, six from Maryland. Other states and countries represented include England, Canada, Delaware, Texas, Utah, Pennsylvania and California. We bonded quickly through a few team-building activities. Throughout the day we took a tour of the museum, learned the ins and outs of how NASA builds and launches their shuttle missions, as well as more about the Honeywell Corp. My favorite part of the day was building a bottle rocket. I have never seen a 2-liter bottle of soda go that high before! We ended the “scheduled” activities around 8 p.m., but hung out with each other for a few more hours before we called it a night. They were not kidding when they said they send us home tired! 

Monday, again we were up bright and early. We completed our first shuttle mission. I was an EVA on the International Space Station and got to build a tower “in space.” That was awesome! Once I return, you will be able to see some pics and video of my mission. In addition to our first mission, we participated in another rocket-building event (they were launched today - super cool!), and listened to a presentation from Ed Buckbee, who was selected by rocket scientist Wernher von Braun to start the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum and started space camps. He had many fun and inside stories to tell about the “good old days” of NASA.

Tuesday morning, we were wakened by a great surprise: a fire alarm going off at 6:15! We all filed out of the dorms in our PJs - some were in the shower when it went off. Some of the activities we did today included making toys in space, and learning how to incorporate space and flight into middle school math. This was exciting to me, since this is what I teach! So my little lovelies - if you are reading this, you have something to look forward to when you return to school in the fall. I can’t wait to  use some of the ideas I learned.

The final activity we completed today was something I have been waiting to do since I applied to Space Camp, which were the mission apparatus. We got to “walk on the moon” and go in the MAT, which is that contraption you see people spinning around in all directions. It was so fun! Better than any roller coaster ride!

As I wrap up this blog, I have to say that on top of the overall experience of being here, I think it is just so refreshing to be in a professional setting where everyone wants to be here, learn how they can motivate their kids to be more interested in STEM subjects, and learn new ways to implement lessons in the classroom. Everyone is so willing to share their ideas. I am so grateful for this experience. 

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 6:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Another Space Camp Dispatch

Luis LimaFrom City College math teacher Luis Lima, one of the 33 area teachers participating in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program in Huntsville, Ala., this week:

I can’t tell you how much fun this has been. Just to give you a short run, I played with toys in space, landed an egg on Mars, launched an engine rocket, helped air traffic control teach math, trained for a space shuttle mission to the International Space Station, walked on the moon, and spun around out of control.

My team, Team Destiny, is awesome! There are educators from all over the U.S., and Canada, the Philippines and, yours truly, Brazil. We had a full day of activities, beginning with the Toys in Space Workshop. Not only were there lots of neat ideas on how to use regular toys to represent laws of physics and gravity, but we also got to make our own. It’s super interesting to watch Team Destiny work together to complete the assignments, document the whole experience and have fun.

After a quick break, we all went to Mars - or had a quick fly by some interesting activities and projects we can use. I learned a lot about Mars and again worked in a small group to design and build a spacecraft to safely land a chicken egg on the Red Planet. To land an egg traveling at about 250 mph whole  was a lot of work. I believe all the eggs used during this project landed safely. It was not the landing of the eagle, but the next best thing.

Engine Rocket Launch followed our lunch break. Fifteen model rockets flew off into the summer skies of Alabama, where the weather is a lot like my hometown of Rio de Janeiro than I thought possible. My engine did not fly - lots of smoke but no take-off! I was told it happens. I was happy to see that the parachute assembly worked as designed, but the whole thing remained attached to the launching pad. It was a little frustrating until I remembered that at least the engine was not devoured by the rocket-eating trees around the launching field. I watched 15 successful launches. And I had a few ideas on how to use rockets in my math classes this fall. 

Another workshop today was on how to use aeronautics to teach math ... airplanes and flights. It must have been my lucky day: how to use the math behind air travel and some cool Web sites to bring it all together. It was quite cool to me.

After dinner we went to the simulator to train for our second mission. I was assigned the role of mission control scientist. If all the anomalies work, I’ll have a good time helping the astronauts on the space station overcome some difficulties and complete some experiments along the way. I hope theirs are as cool as the ones I did on the previous mission. The simulator, if you are not familiar with it, is a pretty sophisticated piece of equipment that allows us to experience a complete mission on the space shuttle from Earth to the International Space Station and back. Think about a 20-player LAN party with lots of action and multiple rooms connected by live audio and video. Pretty cool! There is nothing on game consoles that comes close to it yet. Two hours is not enough to explore it all. Our mission takes off tomorrow ... wish me luck! We may have problems landing on the runway.

It was way past 7 p.m. when we walked into the Astronaut Sim room. The Moon Walk was very cool and I wish I could have done it again. Bouncing around the surface of the moon like Neil Armstrong was very interesting. The best part was going for a spin on the chair. Awesome!

This has been a great experience and I am more than happy to be here. I’m learning a lot, having lots of fun, and meeting an awesome group of smart people who love to teach. I hope more teachers and students can take advantage of this program. Many thanks. Over and out.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

State Board of Education update

While the state Board of Education is still mulling over possible changes to the vetting process for city school board candidates, several other things came out of their meeting yesterday.

The board approved the restructuring plan for Baltimore's Moravia Park Elementary/Middle School, which will require all school employees to reapply for their jobs.  All the staff positions at Moravia have been posted and interviews and selections are already taking place, city schools CEO Andres Alonso said.

Alonso told members that he was happy to be there "for only one school,” noting six schools were brought before them the previous year, and more the year before that. Alonso said he saw that as a sign of the progress that's been made.

For those who've been asking about the MSAs: State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said during yesterday's meeting that the results have been sent to each district, and the appeals process has begun, as adequate yearly progress is being determined. Grasmick said the results should be reported at the board's meeting in July.

And finally, the "voluntary state curriculum" may officially become "voluntary" no more: Grasmick said the board will be asked to remove the word from all references to the VSC.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, NCLB

June 23, 2009

Supreme Court rules on special ed

Dear Inside Ed folk,

We're working on an editorial for tomorrow's paper about recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including one dealing with special ed. The court decided 6-3 that federal law allows parents of special ed students to seek government reimbursement for tuition at a private school that can meet their children's needs, even if they've never gotten special ed services in public school. We have an entry about it over on the Second Opinion blog. Swing by and let us know what you think. We'll print some of the comments in the paper.


Posted by Andy Green at 2:26 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Around the Nation

Honeywell director talks about Space Academy


Dave Wickersham, Honeywell's director of environmental projects, talks about the company's sponsorship of the Educators @ Space Academy program, which 33 Baltimore-area middle school math and science teachers are attending this week at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 11:11 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

Tackling school dropouts

In my story today, I take a look at dropouts – and, more specifically, dropout prevention and intervention – the focus of a day-long summit at Randallstown High School yesterday.  Hundreds of state educators, believed to represent all 24 school systems, attended the event, said to be a first for Maryland.  It was sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, an organization tied to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife and current chair, Alma.

One of the noteworthy moments during the summit involved a theatrical performance put on by a troupe from Garrett County, who portrayed seven characters – six students and a parent – explaining why they chose to drop out.  The writer of the play, called The Goodbye Kids, explained to the audience that the concept emerged from more than 20 interviews she did with dropouts.  The characters were composites of what she gleaned from those talks, she said.

The characters, all students at “Run of the Mill High School,” ranged from a boy who bellowed about how much his teachers bored him to a girl whose family never set a high priority on finishing school to a poor student who was sick of being mocked for his appearance – and stench.  Other highlights included a student who’d always gotten by – until that one teacher noticed his inability to read – and the mother of another who had been regularly mocked for being gay.

Interestingly, the profiles foreshadowed a later presentation from Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University


According to Balfanz, there are four main types of dropouts:

  • life events (pregnancy, work, etc.)
  • fade-outs, who just stop seeing a reason for being in school
  • push outs, who get a "gentle push out the door" because they've long been troublemakers
  • those failing in school/ schools and community failing to enable them to succeed

The latter group is the biggest among the thousands of students in every graduating class who need help, Balfanz said.

During the summit’s afternoon session, individual school districts met to begin discussing how to address their specific challenges and needs in combating the dropout issue.  It was interesting to listen in on the discussions that emerged yesterday as school officials and community stakeholders – representatives from MSTA, PTA and local agencies – exchanged ideas on how to tackle this problem.  Each district is to have an action team that develops a dropout prevention plan for the 2009-2010 school year. 

And now I turn it over to you…what’s been your experience with regard to dropouts in your school system? There was some discussion of just how angry the theater troupe profiles were, some downright venomous when it came to describing their teachers; what have you seen among your own students?  And what needs to happen to help these students stay and finish school? 

Finally…what do you think of the state’s goal to have every high school in Maryland report a dropout rate of 3 percent or less for all students in all subgroups?

June 22, 2009

Teachers' first day at Space Camp

This week, 33 middle school math and science teachers from the Baltimore area are in Huntsville, Ala., to participate in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program. They will be blogging about their experiences all week. Here are the reports from two teachers about their first day.


From Sabourah Abdunafi of ConneXions Community Leadership Academy in Baltimore:

The first day of camp was filled with excitement. We started with a wonderful breakfast. I met so many people from Maryland. That was one of the best feelings in the world: We always hear people speak of Maryland’s educational system being so low and we have over 30 teachers here. Every activity we had, the leaders would ask where you are from, and someone would say Maryland. I could hear a few people saying — here we go, or another one? We are really representing here!

The team-building activity was my favorite part of the day. This is something that we do in advisory at my school and it really works. We got into a circle and went around, saying our name, I’m going to space camp, and I’m bringing some item or person. Then each person would repeat until we got to the end of the circle saying each name and what they are bringing. At the end of the activity, I knew everyone’s name. At no time during the day did I have to say  what’s your name?

Then we did a second activity that I’ve also done with my advisory, where everyone is in a circle and each person grabs the hands of a person across the circle to make a human knot. We were doing well with this from the beginning. Everyone communicated and we were getting loose. Then a group member, Luis, had to let go because he was afraid he would throw out his back. I was worried about him because it happened to me once before. Another group member recommended that we start over and try again — and we did. It was nice to see that Luis didn’t want to quit. The second time I was stuck, tangled, under the group and Luis threw his back out. A few people let go and the remainder of the group continued. The activity was all about communication and teamwork and my group, DESTINY, is all about both.

We then toured the Davidson Center Museum. It was amazing. When you see rockets launch on TV or watch movies about space shuttle missions, you really have no idea the size of these machines. We were taking pictures and we couldn’t get the entire rocket into the photo from any angle. We learned about all of the women who have been in space, saw the patches that represent each space shuttle mission, discussed the issues with each of the missions and how they learned from them and improved for the next one. Thinking back as I write, it reminds me of all of the things that you do in a classroom to get your students thinking.

We were in and out of buildings, going from heat to A/C to heat again, then we went to lunch. The food was like school lunch — sandwiches, chips, salad, soda and water. Nothing to really write home about. But what came after lunch was the beginning of why we are here.

We had shuttle orientation. We learned some of the acronyms used in shuttle missions. I was so beat during this from the heat that I found myself nodding. I guess that’s what my students feel like after a morning of classes, lunch and recess. The difference I found was that regardless of how exhausted I was beginning to feel, I wouldn’t fall asleep because I knew that there was something I really wanted to learn. I may need to rethink the way I present my information sometimes when I return to school in the fall so no matter how tired my students are, they will find a way to see it through the lesson to the end and own their education.

We had a mission overview where we learned about the functions of personnel on the mission and applied for positions. Then we created a bottle rocket and launched it outside of the classroom. It is amazing what you can do with the basics from around the house. We broke into groups of three and four, and using a soda bottle, cardboard, tape, clay and water, we made bottle rockets. Simple yet amazing.

To end the day, we had a run-through of the discovery mission, going into space to repair a satellite. The walk-through was so difficult and confusing. Again, that’s how our students feel when they come into our classes. I was required to be in two places, learning two positions at once. Then during the mission I had to communicate between two groups of people, and monitor what was going on in both places for safety. It was scary to think that this is what people have done, then it was amazing to know that it has been done and I can do it too!  That is the feeling that I am excited to come home and instill in my students. No matter how difficult things are, you can do it if you set your mind to it.

My night ended with me hanging out with a few team members for about an hour and passing out with my clothes on. This is what learning is all about. It’s great to be a student again.


From Susan Allen of Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology in Baltimore County:

It is now the morning of the second day of Space Camp. I was supposed to blog last night after returning to the dorm and before going to sleep. I was absolutely unable to do that. Not only was a computer not available, but my brain was also not available.

Our first day started at 7:15 with a bus ride to the Rocket Center for breakfast. From that time until 9 p.m., we were busy with no downtime at all. After breakfast, we met our fellow team members. There are 18 of us on Team Inspiration. We come from several U.S. states (including Maryland, Texas and Florida) and several other countries (England, Romania, India and the Philippines). We range in age from the 20s to the 60s.

After breakfast, we did some team building and then went on a tour of the Davidson Center Museum. Let me tell you how excited everyone is, how connected we are already. We were going up a curved stairway when someone had the brilliant idea to have us line up along the railing and have our picture taken from the first floor. Everyone suddenly was putting their cameras on the floor near the designated photographer to have the picture on their own camera. Another team was passing by and they all helped to take our pictures so it did not take long for all of the cameras to be used and then it was our turn to take pictures of the other group lined up on the stairs. What a great group of people to just jump to help each other.

The museum was wonderful. We really could appreciate the size of the rockets that are needed to send a space capsule to the moon. When you see the rockets standing upright, you know that they are large. When they are lying on the side and you walk under them, you really know how enormous they are. We were given so much information; it was hard to digest all of it. I did take notes so I can refer to my notes later. Also, now I am hoping to have time to go to one of the gift shops so that I can buy a book or two. The information will mean so much more to me now that I have actually seen the rockets, etc. in person.

After the museum, we had lunch. Lunch is scheduled for 30 minutes. By the time we walked there, we had about 20 minutes before we had to leave to walk to our next activity.

We had our shuttle orientation, where we were introduced to many acronyms and saw a PowerPoint about shuttle missions. Then we were told about the positions that we could be assigned for our own mission and were asked to write down the positions that we would like to be assigned. Our counselors then assigned us our positions. There will be two missions that we will participate in. Everyone got their first choice for one of the missions. I was assigned my first choice for our first mission. I am the COMMANDER.

We then went to train for our mission. Astronauts train for several years. Teachers are so wonderful that we train for 90 minutes! (Today we will complete our mission.) As the commander I will have to prepare the spacecraft for liftoff and then land the craft. I got to practice the pre-takeoff procedures one and a half times and the landing about three times. I had much trouble landing the orbiter. We may crash upon landing today and they said that there are no do-overs for the “actual” mission.

After dinner, we worked on our team’s mission patch. Our team came up with no final decision and we were told that we had to meet as a team back at the dorm. We need a patch design by Wednesday evening. As we were waiting around for our turns at the Astronaut Simulations, some of us discussed our patch and one lady had a wonderful idea. I sent our team members over to her and everyone who heard her idea thought it was good. Maybe we won’t have to spend much time meeting.

Astronaut Simulations was absolutely great. The moon gravity walk was much fun. The machine that spins you around as though you were in a downspin was unbelievable. My husband was sure that I would not do that activity. He was wrong! It is indescribable. The simulations took a long time so we were late getting back to the dorm. I was totally exhausted.

Well, that was the first day at space camp. It is now 6:30 a.m.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 10:44 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

June 19, 2009

Coming next week: Baltimore-area teachers to share their Space Academy experiences

During the week of June 22, InsideEd will feature reports for some very special correspondents.  Thirty-three elementary and middle school math and science teachers from the Baltimore area will be in Huntsville, Al. to participate in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program.

These teachers applied for and were awarded scholarships for this week-long program, during which they'll take part in astronaut-style training and simulations, and work together on educational activities.  They will carry back what they learn from these experiences to their classrooms to help students gain a better appreciation for math and science.

Throughout their week at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, 8 of these educators will serve as "teacher/reporters" for InsideEd, sending us daily updates about what they're doing and what they're learning. 

Some of the teacher/reporters are also shooting video and taking photographs during the week.  After they get back, we'll collect these visuals and edit them into a presentation about the Space Academy that will be published on before the next school year begins.  That presentation will also include more information about the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program that these teachers and others can use in the classroom. 

Our teacher/reporters for the week will be:

Sabourah Abdunafi of ConneXions Community Leadership Academy

Susan Allen of Urbana Middle School

Sarah Clark of Franklin Middle School

Mary Horner of Notre Dame Preparatory School

Luis Lima of Baltimore City College

Rachel Murphy of Hereford Middle School

Adren Thompson of Rising Stars Academy

Amy Wood of the Maryland Science Center

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:15 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Teaching

June 18, 2009

Including more males in the classroom

In my story today, I wrote about efforts to increase the number of males in schools.

For whatever reason, males have been noticeably absent from the school setting. Recently there have been initiatives to reverse that. The program that I found at one Howard County elementary school encourages fathers at the school to spend the day helping out teachers, and serving as an addition set of adult eyes in the hallways.

What do you think about increasing the number of males in the school? Is it necessary? What other creative ways might work to accomplish this?


June 17, 2009

Who should vet Baltimore school board candidates?

In today's story on the vetting of candidates for the city school board we talk about what process has been used in the past and what is happening today to choose the next school board member.

I wonder what readers think about who should be responsible for the vetting of candidates. The state board chair says the state board is just beginning the process. Should the state board decide to advertise? Who should be out there trying to convince Baltjmore citizens to apply for the school board, for an unpaid job that can consume many hours a week and doesn't get the person a lot of thanks from the public?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:45 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Region

June 16, 2009

Alonso says he 'made a real mistake'

Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso released a statement today regarding the appointment of Brian Morris, former school board chairman, to an unadvertised, $175,000-a-year job as deputy CEO of operations. Morris withdrew his acceptance to the post Saturday, after questions arose about the hiring process and his own financial troubles. In the statement, Alonso says he “made a real mistake” and takes “responsibility for rebuilding ... trust.” Here is the full statement:

June 16, 2009

Dear City Schools Partners and Friends,

Last Tuesday, I sent you an email about several appointments that were aimed to solidify the school system’s senior leadership team as we prepare for the next school year. One of these, the appointment of Brian D. Morris as Deputy CEO for Operations, has been the topic of many questions over the past week. Saturday morning, the Board of School Commissioners and I accepted Mr. Morris’ withdrawal of his acceptance of the post.

Every decision I have made since I arrived in Baltimore City has been about the kids and has been informed by an incredible sense of urgency about moving the work forward. The offer of a position to Mr. Morris last week and the acceptance of his withdrawal Saturday were based on these same fundamental convictions. With a central office that is more than 30% smaller than two years ago, there is a critical need for a position to integrate operations in the central office -- human resources, technology, facilities, and finance—in order to support schools. To fill that need, we created a position as a deputy in charge of operations and offered Mr. Morris that position. Mr. Morris’ service on the Board for six years was exemplary: he had shown an extraordinary capacity to understand the workings of the organization, and, as a result of his leadership of several Board committees (including those dealing with finances, facilities and labor relations), he had extensive knowledge of a broad range of school operations. The offer was based on his capacity and knowledge, the urgent need to realign the way a drastically smaller central office does business, and his understanding of the vision of our school reform. I felt strongly that, given that depth of experience and the passion for students he had demonstrated in his leadership of the board, he would be the right person for the position. I own the decision.

I thought that there would be questions about the offer given the fact that the position had not been advertised and because of Mr. Morris’ previous position on the Board.  I expected to address these questions by pointing out the urgency of the work, the need for the position and the fact that Mr. Morris could immediately begin to add value. In putting a leadership team in place for the reforms now under way, it has been my practice to move quickly once I have found the right person for the role. In retrospect, considering the nature of the allegations that surfaced, I made a real mistake. Outcomes matter above everything, and here the outcome has been to erode some of the public trust in our school system that is essential to our success on behalf of kids. I take responsibility for rebuilding that trust.

Allegations in news reports about Mr. Morris’ personal business life immediately made it clear to Mr. Morris that his appointment was distracting attention away from where it needs to be – on our kids and schools.  He rescinded his acceptance.  The allegations that surfaced concerned matters beyond the scope of our normal vetting process for senior positions, which are similar to those of other school systems: in the hiring process we check references, we ask about conflicts of interest, and, once an offer of employment is made, we require that new hires complete a criminal background check. All senior level employees also file an annual personal financial disclosure statement. None of these usual checks would have unearthed the allegations, and we are reviewing these processes to see how they may be strengthened. Meanwhile, the position will be posted and another candidate will be sought.

I regret deeply that the focus has shifted away from our kids and schools, even if for a few days. One of the critical components of the remarkable progress our children and schools have been making is that we have kept the conversation about what’s best for kids, not about the adults. The Board, I, elected officials, and --perhaps most importantly—you, our partners and friends, have played a critical role in keeping that steady focus.

That focus has resulted in exceptional results by our kids and schools, which I will be detailing in an end of year email later this week and of which I am very proud. Enrollment increased for the first time in four decades. Our 1st and 2nd graders passed the national average in reading and math. Our 3rd through 8th graders made record gains in achievement. And our high school students stepped up their performance dramatically on state assessments preparing for graduation.

I have been consistent in my leadership style. Let me say it simply: I cannot possibly slow down and cannot possibly make decisions other than for the good of kids. Given the ground that we still need to travel, the force of the reform now under way is and must remain undiminished.  No superintendent is infallible.   I will make other mistakes, but I learn from my mistakes.

The bottom line is outcomes for kids. As we prepare for the next school year which begins in just a few months, on August 31, the work needs our full concentration. Thank you for your ongoing dedication to our schools and kids.


Andrés A. Alonso, Ed.D.
CEO, Baltimore City Public Schools

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 2:36 PM | | Comments (50)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 15, 2009

Administrative promotions and transfers in Howard County

A slew of administrative promotions and transfers were announced and approved at Thursday night's school board meeting in Howard County. The changes are effective July 1.

The board approved the following administrative promotions:

--Molly Ketterer, from Assistant Principal at Longfellow ES to Principal at Swansfield ES

--David Adelman from Assistant Principal at Deep Run ES to Principal at Ilchester ES

--Vicky Sarro from Assistant Principal at St. John’s Lane ES to Principal at St. John’s Lane ES

--Carol Hahn from Assistant Principal at Manor Woods ES to Principal at West Friendship

--Laurel Marsh from Math Support Teacher at Swansfield ES to Assistant Principal at Longfellow ES

--Nancy Richardson from Leadership Intern at Bellows Spring ES to Assistant Principal at Manor Woods ES

--Anthony Esposito from Grade Three Team Leader at Longfellow ES to Assistant Principal at Elkridge ES

--Julie Moraz from Grade Two Team Leader at Rockburn ES to Assistant Principal at Deep Run ES

--Gina Stokes from Assistant Principal at Elkridge Landing MS to Principal at Elkridge Landing MS

--Melissa Shindel from Assistant Principal at Patuxent Valley MS to Principal at Clarksville MS

--Carol Ketterman from Special Education Teacher at Patapsco MS to Assistant Principal at Patapsco MS

--Josh Wasilewski from Health Teacher at Mayfield Woods MS to Assistant Principal at Patuxent Valley MS

--Lisa Smith from Leadership Intern at Dunloggin MS to Assistant Principal at Dunloggin MS

Deputy Superintendent Sandra Erickson announced the following administrative transfers:

--Debbie Jagoda from Principal at St. John’s Lane ES to Principal at Bushy Park ES

--Corita Oduyoye from Principal at West Friendship ES to Principal at Gorman Crossing ES

--Becky Straw from Principal at Bushy Park ES to Principal at Northfield ES

--Jonathan Davis from Principal at Swansfield ES to Principal at Bollman Bridge ES

--Cheryl Logan from Principal at Gorman Crossing ES to Assistant Principal at River Hill HS

--Connie Stahler from Assistant Principal at Waverly ES to Assistant Principal at Guilford ES

--Anne Swartz from Assistant Principal at Guilford ES to Assistant Principal at St. John’s Lane ES

--Denise Lancaster from Assistant Principal at Waterloo ES to Assistant Principal at Waverly ES

--Tom Saunders from Principal at Elkridge Landing MS to Principal at Wilde Lake MS

--Scott Conroy from Principal at Wilde Lake MS to Principal at Lime Kiln MS

--Sue Brown from Principal at Mayfield Woods MS to Principal at Harpers Choice MS

--JoAnn Hutchens from Principal at Clarksville MS to Principal at Mayfield Woods MS

--Lori Willoughby from Assistant Principal Dunloggin MS to Assistant Principal at Burleigh Manor MS

--Julie Rout from Assistant Principal at Folly Quarter MS to Assistant Principal at Elkridge Landing MS

--Tammy Goldeisen from Assistant Principal at Ellicott Mills MS to Assistant Principal at Folly Quarter MS

--Nancy Eisenhuth from Assistant Principal at Patapsco MS to Assistant Principal at Ellicott Mills MS

--Bill Neugebauer from Assistant Principal at Oakland Mills HS to Assistant Principal at Mount Hebron HS

--Dale Castro from Assistant Principal at Atholton HS to Assistant Principal at Oakland Mills HS

--Adrienne Nasir from Assistant Principal at River Hill HS to Assistant Principal at Atholton HS

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Howard County

School's out

Thanks to all the teachers, principals and parents who helped us find subjects to profile on the last day of school in Baltimore City and Baltimore County last week. From a student spending the summer visiting her grandmother in Greece to the closing of Harriet Tubman Elementary, we think they captured the excitement -- and sometimes sadness -- that the last day of school can bring.
Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:19 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

June 12, 2009

No students to teach this week

From our first guest poster, a Baltimore City high school teacher:

Why are we here right now?

My co-workers and I have been asking ourselves that question all week.

The last day of school for Baltimore City students and teachers is today. However, many, if not all, high schools administered final exams last week, on Monday 6/1, Tuesday 6/2 and Wednesday 6/3. That leaves seven days – count 'em: Thursday 6/4, Friday 6/5, Monday 6/8, Tuesday 6/9, Wednesday 6/10, Thursday 6/11 and Friday 6/12 – of school without any significant purpose. My students know that they took their exams and that grades were turned in. They’re also smart enough to figure out that once grades are turned in, none of the work they do will count for anything. So why keep school open for seven more days?

We have been told that these are "regular” school days – which is not true since virtually no students are present. I am not exaggerating when I say that I saw about 10-15 students in our school Thursday. I stood at one entrance to our building Thursday morning and exactly six students arrived. Six. This is a total waste of everyone's time (not to mention money – think about all those bus tickets!), and it sends a terrible message to our kids.

Why wasn’t the exam schedule pushed back to coincide with the end of school? From what I understand, that is what will be done next year, but in the meantime, this week has been an absolute joke. Furthermore, my understanding is that schools have been receiving complaints from parents and Dr. Alonso, who all are concerned that instruction is not taking place. I think the parents have every right to be outraged that their students are not getting an education this week, but I find it laughable that Dr. Alonso is also demanding that these be treated as regular school days. Did he really think that keeping exams at the beginning of June was a good idea, and that instruction would actually happen after final exams? Did he think that attendance would be normal? Did he think that this was the best utilization of time, money and resources?

I am curious to know the thoughts and opinions of other teachers, parents and students in Baltimore City. Have you had the same experience this week? Additionally, does anyone know what the end-of-year calendars look like in other districts?

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 10:34 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Baltimore City

Brian Morris has history of financial problems

In a story in today's paper, we detail some of the financial problems that have plagued Brian Morris in the past decade. The chairman of the city school board, who resigned this week to take a $175,000 job as deputy chief executive officer of the schools, has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits and bad debt claims. Morris has many supporters who say that he has done a remarkably good job of guiding the board over the past three years.

His new job has already generated a lively discussion on a previous post on this blog. What do readers think about his background? Does it matter if top officials in the government, in this case the school system, have had financial troubles?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:30 AM | | Comments (93)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 10, 2009

Brian Morris has a new job

I know there must be a lot of regular readers of the blog who would like to comment on my story in this morning's paper about Brian Morris. The city school board chair resigned Monday and was then appointed last night by the city school board to a top level job in the city schools. He will be deputy chief executive officer for operations.

Update, 6/12: In a story in Friday's paper, we detail some of the financial problems that have plagued Brian Morris in the past decade. The chairman of the city school board, who resigned this week to take a $175,000 job as deputy chief executive officer of the schools, has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits and bad debt claims. Check out the related blog post and comments here.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:09 AM | | Comments (127)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 9, 2009

Graduation rate and Maryland schools

Education Week has put out its annual ranking of school system graduation rates today and the news is both good and bad for school systems around the region.  Of the top 50 largest school districts throughout the country, Baltimore City is the sixth from the bottom with a graduation rate of 44.6 percent in 2006. Baltimore County, which has a graduation rate of 78.6 percent, is ranked fifth and Anne Arundel is eighth with a rate of 70.2 percent.

This might be rather depressing news for the city except for the fact that the way in which Education Week has calculated its rate is believed to be somewhat flawed, even by its own admission.

Ed Week does its best using the only data available for school systems across the nation, but it cannot actually track students. Rather, the graduation rate is an estimate based on the numbers of students who are in each grade that year in the district. So the rate does not take into account the students who graduate in five years nor does it try to compensate for what is known as the ninth-grade bulge. Many ninth-graders in the city don't pass all their classes and spend an extra half-year classified as a ninth-grader although they technically have nearly enough credits to be a 10th-grader.

In other words, the ninth grade looks larger than it really is and the number who eventually graduate is smaller than it should be.

So the Education Week researchers acknowledge that there may be a 14-point discrepancy in the true graduation rate and what they report.

In fact, the city schools say they graduated 62.6 percent of students.

We won't really have a true accounting of graduation rates for several years until a process is fully in place to track students.

But if Baltimore County's rate is actually as shown, that is good news for county residents. And Montgomery County tied for first place in the rankings.

The state as a whole had a graduation rate of about 73 percent, only slightly above the national average. 



Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:22 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

Last day of school profiles

With the last day of school in Baltimore City and Baltimore County rapidly approaching, we’re looking for some interesting stories to tell about students as they look to the summer. Do you know of any kids who have a great summer planned and are just itching for school to be over – maybe a student who’s going to space camp, or Europe with their parents? Or maybe a child who’s taking the class pet home for the summer? Or a middle-schooler who is nervous about going to high school next year? If you know of any students whom we could profile, please send an e-mail to or by Wednesday or post a comment on the blog.

UPDATE: Thanks to all the teachers, principals and parents who helped us find subjects to profile on the last day of school in Baltimore City and Baltimore County last week. You can read the profiles here.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 11:48 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region

June 4, 2009

Harford County schools appoint superintendent

Baltimore County school administrator, Robert Tomback, is going north to head the Harford County school system. In Mary Gail Hare's story, she says the 58-year-old Timonium resident will take over the school system seat on July 1. Tomback was expected to sign a four year contract. The position came open after the sudden death of Jacqueline C. Haas in December.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:59 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

Giving readers a chance to post on the blog

The Sun has undergone a lot of change in the past month, including a reduction in staff and shifting of reporters covering certain beats. That change has forced us to think about how we might best serve our readers and keep the blog as vibrant as ever.

First, we would like to give some of our readers the opportunity to write a guest post once a week. We are happy to have some help.

We would like to have a range of people involved in education write for the blog: from teachers, principals, parents, nonprofit advocates, administrators, school board members to anyone else who has an opinion. We would also like to see some geographic diversity. So if you are in Baltimore County or Talbot County, we want you to feel like you're part of the conversation on education we are trying promote here.

And here is a special plea to students, who I often find are the best informed of all. We would like to make your voices heard as well. So please think about writing for the blog. I know there are many smart, thoughtful students who have some good ideas about their education. Let us hear from you.

We will start by posting a guest item once a week and see how it goes. If you are interested in writing a piece, please send an e-mail with the topic to; or our new education editor, Jennifer Badie. Her e-mail is

We'd like to discuss the post with you before you write it. We will give you a deadline and then publish the post a couple days later.

And second, our new higher education reporter, Childs Walker, will soon begin posting on the blog as well. So the blog will try to extend its range into the world of colleges and universities around the state.

We look forward to hearing from you.




Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

June 3, 2009

Who will replace Brian Morris on the city school board?

The city school board will soon be getting at least one new board member when the longtime president of the board, Brian Morris, leaves in July.

Who will replace Morris is a critical question because he has been one of Andres Alonso's strongest backers and has helped to persuade other board members to give the chief executive officer a lot of leeway to carry out his plans.

According to Bill Reinhard, a spokesman at the Maryland State Department of Education, the state decided not to advertise for the position this time around because it received enough volunteers who want to serve on the board. This is unusual for the process, in my memory at least, but Reinhard said that there is no requirement to advertise in the law.

The next step will be for the board to approve a list of candidates that will be sent to the governor and the mayor. They have to agree on the appointment.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:13 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Baltimore City

Judge denies request to stop West Towson Elementary lawsuit

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Michael J. Finifter said the Towson residents failed to prove they would suffer irreparable harm while waiting to have their case against the Board of Education heard.
Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:41 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 2, 2009

Teacher retention, and satisfaction, in Baltimore County

My story today takes a look at the debate about teacher retention in Baltimore County – and whether it is, in fact, a problem.

The subject caught my attention during the last county board meeting, when school officials presented a preliminary analysis of the TELL Maryland survey, the anonymous state questionnaire that teachers and other certified, school-based employees were invited to take earlier this year.

Both Tom Rhoades, the district’s executive director for research, accountability and assessment, and the superintendent emphasized that the survey’s results clearly show that teachers are staying in the county – and are happy to be working there, contrary to claims that they are fleeing to other districts for higher pay and better support.  It was clear those comments were aimed at Cheryl Bost, the president of TABCO, who has often said compensation is a factor in losing teachers.

For those interested in a bit of reading, here are the state reports on the teacher shortage and staffing, which Bost cites as evidence of a retention problem.

The discussion will probably continue next week, as a presentation on staffing trends is expected at the school board’s meeting.  And I suspect Bost may have a thing or two to say when she gets a chance to speak during that session.

But back to the TELL survey…for those who did take it, what did you think?  Will the governor’s goal of hearing directly from you result in actual changes in your schools?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:42 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

Forty-six states agree to write national standards

What Ronald Peiffer, the deputy state superintendent, said he could not conceive of just nine years ago has happened.

In today's paper, a story details how 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands all agreed, at least conceptually, that classrooms ought to be teaching toward the same set of high standards.

For nearly the past decade, the country has been trying to ensure that every child got a minimum education. Now it appears we are moving to recognize that the minimum is not enough and that we have to raise our expectations if we are going to compete with foreign countries. To do that we should have national curriculum standards.

But that is no small task, as Peiffer sees it, in a nation that historically has given even the smallest school systems the right to decide what their children would learn. If they want to teach creationism, so be it. If they want to teach whole language or phonics, the choice was theirs.

States' rights were so clear that Peiffer didn't see how it would change quickly. But the states have taken the first steps. The arguing may come later when the standards are made public.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:19 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation
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