At start of second year, Dance eyes technology advances

Superintendent Dallas Dance's second year in charge of Baltimore County Public Schools began Monday with a new level of comfort and reaffirmed belief in the vision he brought to the county last summer, he said.

"There is a difference in a year — and what a difference a year does make," Dance said Aug. 20 during a media session at BCPS' Greenwood building.

"I think we have a firm understanding of what direction we want to go," Dance said. "You come into a position with an idea of where you want to take things, but until you have all the relevant information in front of you, you just don't know. I think people got excited as they saw the plan coming."

According to Dance, the plan for the 2013-2014 school year is to continue conversation about advancing digital capabilities as well as to accommodate the demands of the new Common Core curriculum, which coincides with the new national tests Baltimore County is set to begin.

Though it's a lot of transition for one year, Dance said the main motivation is "it's the right thing to do for kids."

"For the last, probably, 20 years in education, there's been all this talk about personalizing learning for kids. But we've never really gotten to the point where we've been able to do it," the superintendent said.

To do that, the superintendent said digital learning environments need to be available to students, including 24/7 access to curriculum as well as classroom resources for parents and students alike.

"There's a lot of excitement around that," he said, acknowledging that the community needs to be educated on why such a learning environment is important. "A lot of folks will ask why. 'I learned with textbooks, so why can't they learn with textbooks?' "

In order to accommodate the new learning environments, Dance restated the idea that the school system's ongoing 10-year infrastructure improvement plan was vital to the curriculum changes.

"We have some new adjustments to our curriculum that align us with the state standards, so we're raising the bar in terms of what kids should know and be able to do, which is always exciting, increasing rigor for kids," Dance said.

"What's also exciting is we're really having a visionary setting around what should our 10-year footprint look like as opposed to having facilities drive that work — we're actually having our instructional programs drive that work."

School officials met with members of the Towson community last spring to gather input on how to solve infrastructure and overcrowding problems in the Towson area last month, and Dance said the feedback is being used as part of the formation of a draft plan to be unveiled later this year.

When asked what his vision for Baltimore County's schools of the future was, Dance said he has "pretty wild ideas," and mentioned something he talked about at a countywide administration meeting Aug. 16, "where you break out of desks and chairs and start getting out-of-the-box thinking in terms of how kids should learn."

"I think we're going to have a firm conversation around what the classroom looks like ... what the building should look like, natural light, all that," Dance said. "The classroom conversation is the one people need to have next.

"Do you really need a desk and chairs in a classroom for the future? You'll not necessarily need that, you can go a different approach."

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