Dance promotes new initiatives in county schools

Baltimore County schools will embark on a number of new initiatives next year, including expanding pre-kindergarten for its poorest students and those with special needs, a Spanish blended-learning program in 10 schools, and more opportunities for middle and high students to advance their studies.

The initiatives, along with the county's successes and struggles, were laid out Wednesday by Superintendent Dallas Dance during his second annual "State of the Schools" address. During the event, held at Martin's West at Windsor Mill, Dance told teachers, administrators, students, and political and business leaders that "the state of our schools is strong."

Dance lauded the county's above-average achievement and nationally competitive graduation rates, and recognized county leaders for their investment in schools and university partners for the additional resources they provide students.

Dance said the system would focus on new opportunities for middle-schoolers, such as expanding world languages and allowing them to earn high school credit. The district will also pilot a Spanish program for fourth-graders that will blend educators and technology.

He elaborated on previously announced efforts around safety and facilities, such as a "One Card" access and attendance monitoring system for school buildings, and continual efforts to sharpen the district's technology with devices and infrastructure.

The county also launched a new program called Parent University, which will host workshops for parents and guardians of county students.

But Dance also emphasized that the county has to acknowledge its inequities and adjust how it educates what is now a majority-minority student population.

Dance, citing the fact that nearly half of the county's students now qualify for free and reduced-priced meals, told the crowd that "Baltimore County is not the same as it was in 1960 or 1990."

Among his proposals next year will be what he called an "equity policy." Dance said the district would "ensure equitable access to quality learning opportunities for every child."

"We're seeing things like race, family income, and whether they receive special education services predicting our students' achievement," Dance said in his address.

Dance used the speech to answer a question that has spurred his biggest criticism over the past year: why he is doing so much, so fast.

"The first and best 108,000 reasons are our students," he said.

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