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BCPS named 'District of Distinction'

Baltimore County Public Schools was recently among 49 school districts across the nation to be honored as "Districts of Distinction" by District Administration Magazine. The school systems were chosen out of 130 applications by the editors of the magazine.

"Being named a District of Distinction is a true honor for Team BCPS," wrote BCPS Superintendent S. Dallas Dance in an email interview. "It recognizes the daily effort our entire community invests in academic excellence, and it recognizes the strength of our team, including students, parents, school and district leaders, staff and local stakeholders."

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School systems named as Districts of Distinction are ones that the magazine staff felt were creating such positive results with their students that they could serve as examples for other administrations to follow.

"It is our hope that BCPS and the other Districts of Distinction will serve as models for other districts that can replicate their success," JD Solomon, editorial director at District Administration Magazine, wrote in a email.

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The main reason BCPS was chosen was its success in raising its graduation rate to the second highest among large school districts in the United States in 2013. The class of 2013 had a four-year cohort graduation rate of 86.3 percent, up from 83.83 percent in 2012, 81.81 percent in 2011, and 81.38 percent in 2010. The 2013 drop-out rate saw a similar change, decreasing 4.03 percentage points to 9.7 percent since 2010.

"The 'All Means All' program at Baltimore County Public Schools, which has helped boost graduation rates, is an initiative that is having measurable results and that can serve as a model for other districts," Solomon said. "There is nothing more important in K-12 education than ensuring that all students graduate from high school ready for success in either a career or college. The positive impact that 'All Means All' has had on the BCPS graduation rate is something that the district's leadership, faculty, students and parents can all be proud of."

"All Means All" is an approach through which BCPS officials attempt to ensure that all students have the tools and means to succeed in an academic environment.

The increased number of graduating students is, in fact, a point of pride, not just for school system employees, but for county officials, as well.

"I am delighted that Baltimore County's school system has received yet another well-deserved national recognition for excellence, especially since this award shines a spotlight on the remarkable graduation rates achieved by our students," said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

For Dance, raising the graduation rate among students is essential to ensuring they can become contributing members of society.

"BCPS has made consistent and quick progress on an issue that matters to the entire community -- increasing districtwide and school graduation rates, while closing achievement gaps," Dance said. "A high school diploma is now the bare minimum requirement for a thriving career in our global economy, and we need to prepare every student for success. From 2010 to 2013, the BCPS graduation rate grew nearly five percentage points from 81.38 percent to 86.3 percent, which is strong and difficult progress for a district of more than 100,000 students. Because the graduation rate reflects teaching and learning over time, it's a testament to the efforts of school leaders and staff at every level -- elementary, middle, and high school -- to raise achievement for all students."

Achieving such milestones has been the result of the implementation of numerous programs and initiatives.

"I can't give enough credit to our district and school leaders and staff for individualizing supports to students," Dance said. "The assistant superintendents who manage high school principals first made dropout prevention a districtwide priority with monthly accountability meetings. School leaders carefully identify students who are not making expected progress. Next, school leaders and staff engage students and families to uncover barriers and develop solutions. Relationship building is critical to understanding each student's challenges and needs. Schools then offer student-centered credit recovery opportunities during the school day, after hours, on weekends, and during the summer, taking advantage of packet courses, online learning, and small group instruction. We're committed to relentless flexibility to help students graduate."

Solomon said that one of the factors that makes BCPS thrive as a school district is the enthusiasm and dedication its staff members show.

"Successful school districts have an everyday passion for innovation and excellence that is inspired by the district's superintendent and infused throughout the culture of every school and classroom," Solomon said. "It was clear from BCPS's application that such passion indeed exists throughout the district."

Dance said he is very proud of the dedication BCPS staff has shown to improving the scholastic success of its students.

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"We have many initiatives that I am proud of and that I think will have a lasting impact on students and our school system," Dance said. "Perhaps even more than the initiatives, however, I am proud of the way Team BCPS has implemented them. I am proud of the open and collaborative culture and the commitment to making the right decisions for all children."

Though he said he is happy with the positive changes that have been made, he said there is more work to be done.

"Graduating 86 percent of our students is an achievement, but our goal is to graduate every student globally competitive. Because course failure is the biggest barrier to graduation, school leaders and staff are intervening with struggling students before they fail a course and making ongoing adjustments to ensure student progress. We're also proactively strengthening the critical transitions to Grades 6 and 9. Using research-based criteria, we're communicating with families if students show indications of not being on track to graduate due to attendance, behavior, or grades."

Reach Times Staff Reporter Elaina Clarke via email at elaina.clarke@communitytimes.com or by phone at 410-857-3316.

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