Maryland education department, Baltimore public schools sign agreement to improve failing schools

The Maryland State Department of Education will target principals in Baltimore for leadership training in a bid to turn around some of the city’s struggling schools, state and city officials said.

A memorandum of understanding signed by city schools CEO Sonja Santelises this month outlines the state’s plan to help improve schools in the bottom 5 percent in the state. Of the 27 priority schools, 24 are in Baltimore.

“The key to everything is implementation,” Santelises said. “But what’s promising is that the [memorandum of understanding] really shows an effort on the state’s part to partner with Baltimore City public schools.”

The state has agreed to send leadership coaches to work one-on-one with principals in targeted schools on strategies for improvement. Other school officials, including assistant principals and some teachers, will also participate in programs aimed at stemming high turnover in underperforming schools.

As part of the agreement, the city has committed to reducing the number of school leaders who leave the city.

“High-quality teachers leave because of the conditions in which they teach,” Santelises said. “The best way to make sure we have consistency and stability in these schools is to make sure we’re building professional learning environments for folks and giving teachers the opportunity to really be a part of the work of improvement.”

State education officials will conduct monthly checks throughout the academic year to monitor school progress, and they will revise the improvement plans based on what they see. State and city officials will visit classrooms and meet with teachers to provide feedback on how they’re working through changes.

Carol Williamson, the state’s chief academic officer, said leadership training is crucial to turn schools around, but it must be backed up by state oversight.

“We’re going to be involved with the monitoring of instructional programming so we can see if the training we’re doing is having an impact in the school,” she said.

The memorandum of understanding ends next July. Williamson said she’s hopeful the it will be renewed and expanded in coming years.

Santelises said the partnership won’t turn city schools around overnight, but the city and state can “hold each other mutually accountable.”

“The MOU is a great indication that the MSDE is willing to put support on the table,” she said.

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