Baltimore administrators kicked off the coming school year Wednesday in an unconventional ceremony during which interim schools CEO Tisha Edwards told them that they would be encouraged to take risks, make mistakes and push the limits of what's possible.
The annual event — which traditionally has been the superintendent's platform to deliver a "State of the Schools" address reviewing the previous year and previewing the next year's goals — drew more than 200 school leaders to the American Visionary Art Museum, where there was more dancing and laughter than data and lectures.
Edwards said she chose the new format, which was emceed by famed Baltimore artist Joyce Scott and featured sporadic dance parties to Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up," to exemplify what she called "a new day" in the school district.
Edwards, who served as chief of staff to former city schools CEO Andrés Alonso for four years, took over the post July 1 as the school board conducts a national search for a new schools chief.
She said she wanted to "hit the refresh button" this school year, which begins Aug. 26, during which education leaders will need to be "bold and courageous leaders."
"The spirit of this is that it's OK to make mistakes," Edwards told the crowd. "We can't do the things we've already done. I want you to feel safe to take risks for children."
Jimmy Gittings, president of the city school administrators union, who spoke at last year's event of the "disconnect" between principals and school officials, told principals that he was confident the relationship would improve this year.
Edwards also recognized the "stories behind the data," highlighting principals whose school breakfast programs had high participation rates, a principal who took an art class to connect more with his students and let them critique his work, and a principal who bought a bus for his school that he uses to drive students to their internships around the city.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ditched her prepared remarks to thank the administrators for doing the work that "a lot of people talk about, but wouldn't sign up to do." She said that while Baltimore has garnered national attention for securing $1 billion to upgrade its school buildings, it's the people leading them who will make the biggest difference.
City school board President Shanaysha Sauls reminded leaders that it was important to "work together in this critical time."
"Everyone is watching us," she said. "Everyone is depending on us."