Baltimore City’s school system is preparing to “accelerate and scale up” its prekindergarten offerings, teacher hiring and early interventions for high school students under its plan to roll out the state’s landmark educational reform.
Maryland’s General Assembly approved the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future in 2021, kicking off an enormous effort by the state’s education department, 24 public school systems and other agencies to reform public education in the state.
Officials will spend the coming decade distributing billions of additional funding to schools, though the effects might not be fully apparent until the cohort of students entering prekindergarten in fall 2022 graduate from high school in 2036.
Each jurisdiction’s plan for implementing the Blueprint’s many requirements was due Wednesday to the state’s seven-person oversight authority, the Accountability and Implementation Board. Baltimore City school leaders submitted their 184-page plan around noon and posted it online for public review.
Blueprint policies are divided into five pillars: early childhood education, high-quality and diverse teachers and leaders, college and career readiness, more resources for students to be successful, and governance and accountability.
Each pillar outlines a list of critical policy changes. Some examples include expanded prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income households, salary boosts and professional development incentives for teachers, and intensive interventions for students who are not considered college- or career-ready by the end of the 10th grade.
Many of these efforts already are underway in Baltimore, said Sandi Jacobs, a coordinator for the city’s Blueprint rollout, on Wednesday. The ambitious state reform will instead expand existing initiatives, she said.
“The Blueprint is letting us accelerate and scale things that have already been priorities,” Jacobs said.
The system has provided prekindergarten for about a decade and serves an estimated 4,000 4-year-olds, Jacobs said. The program already functions similarly to what is laid out in the Blueprint, she said, adding that children with the highest needs are prioritized for the early education services.
The city has asked the state for just one waiver on the required number of preschool slots for the next two academic years provided by private institutions. Other systems including Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties have requested similar waivers.
The Blueprint’s second pillar increases pay for teachers in 2024 and offers incentives for seeking additional certifications. Recruiting and retaining educators likely will be a challenge for school systems, including Baltimore City, which has used additional Blueprint funds to increase the number of positions available.
“The hiring environment is not optimal for that kind of scale-up, and that certainly isn’t unique to Baltimore City,” Jacobs said. “Our challenges are primarily around that we are staffing up, not that we fill [the vacancies.]”
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The Blueprint’s third pillar notably accelerates the timeline by which students must be considered college- and career-ready to the 10th grade. In 2019, Baltimore City school leaders began building out processes and dashboards to help identify ninth graders who might need additional support based on their “ABCs” — or attendance, behavior and coursework progress — that are often early-warning indicators, said Rachel Pfeifer, the city school system’s executive director for academics.
“There’s a lot of infrastructure we have to build on,” Pfeifer said.
City schools also have a head start on developing individualized plans for students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are deemed behind on the path to college and career readiness. Additional supports could include tutoring, enrollment in a credit recovery program or alternative supports such as child care.
Although the Blueprint’s fourth pillar bolsters the community school model, the city already has 100 community schools offering a variety of wraparound services to students and their families.
Still, Jacobs said city schools still face a number of challenges in funding the programs that fall under the Blueprint plan. In some cases, she said, the system must implement the requirements before the funding is fully available, such as with prekindergarten. The Blueprint’s fully funded expenditure is expected to be about $19,000 per child annually, but the city expects to receive just $10,000 per pupil this year.
“The reality is we have to these things now,” Jacobs said.
The Accountability and Implementation Board is expected to review school system plans in the coming months. The board’s next virtual meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday.