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Carroll County Public Schools gets passing grade from state superintendent ahead of hybrid learning

While nearly all public school students in Maryland are learning remotely, more than 400 students were at Carroll County Career and Technology Center on Tuesday taking classes. Close to 170 students with special needs have been learning in-person for the past three weeks, with an additional 70 set to join that number later this week.

Carroll County Public Schools officials boasted about those numbers Tuesday as special guest Maryland schools superintendent Karen Salmon toured the Tech Center in Westminster and Shiloh Middle School in Hampstead on Tuesday morning. Salmon said she was impressed by what Carroll is doing as preparation continues for hybrid learning.

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“I don’t think I’ve seen this many students in a building yet,” Salmon said while she visited several classrooms inside the Tech Center. “They’re just so excited to be back.”

Karen Salmon, state superintendent of schools, stops to talk with, from left, Winters Mill senior Zach Milam, South Carroll senior Nick Malone and Westminster senior Abby Cwiek as she stops in the Physical Rehabilitation Lab, part of the Academy of Health, during her visit to the Carroll County Career and Tech Center in Westminster Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020.
Karen Salmon, state superintendent of schools, stops to talk with, from left, Winters Mill senior Zach Milam, South Carroll senior Nick Malone and Westminster senior Abby Cwiek as she stops in the Physical Rehabilitation Lab, part of the Academy of Health, during her visit to the Carroll County Career and Tech Center in Westminster Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

Carroll County began the 2020-21 school year in an enhanced virtual format, and allowed small groups (starting with special education and CCCTC students) to receive in-person learning beginning Sept. 14. The hybrid format that would allow all students to return to buildings two days per week — half on Mondays and Tuesdays, half on Thursdays and Fridays — is scheduled to begin Oct. 19.

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School officials said the Westminster-based Career and Technology Center kids, as well as groups of special education students across the county that have returned to school, are seeing results. Salmon and a host of CCPS staff members saw those results Tuesday.

“I think Carroll County is really on a great path right now,” Salmon said after visiting some autism classes at Shiloh Middle. “I’m very impressed with the leadership here, the leadership of their local board and certainly the superintendent here is outstanding.”

CCPS Superintendent Steve Lockard met with Salmon in the morning, and CCCTC Principal Betsy Donovan led a tour through the hallways so Salmon could see a few of the classes taking place. With CCPS central office staff and Board of Education members close behind, Salmon got a glimpse of classes such as engineering, masonry, textiles, physical rehabilitation, cosmetology, and health.

“We had known that career and tech was a group that we really felt like if it didn’t have that hands-on involvement in learning, it was important for our students," Lockard said. "Visiting classrooms today, you see some students here and some students online joining in the learning as well. We have a little over 400 students participating on any given day. ... We’ve been pleased with how we’ve been able to do that. It’s been a good learning experience for us as we look to expand.”

Shiloh Principal David Watkins and a few of his staff members later guided Salmon and the group around the middle school, where teachers were helping handfuls of students during class.

“The kids have adapted well,” said Nicholas Shockney, CCPS director of special education. “Structure and routine is a big part for all students, especially our students with disabilities. Being back into the normal routine with some familiar faces and being able to resume that instruction. ... We can do a lot in the virtual world, but it’s just not the same.”

Karen Salmon, state superintendent of schools, second from left, visits an Autism classroom with, from left, principal David Watkins, CCPS director of special education Nick Shockney and state school board member Susan Getty during a stop at Shiloh Middle School in Hampstead Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020.
Karen Salmon, state superintendent of schools, second from left, visits an Autism classroom with, from left, principal David Watkins, CCPS director of special education Nick Shockney and state school board member Susan Getty during a stop at Shiloh Middle School in Hampstead Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

Christine Bechtel, supervisor of special education for middle schools, agreed with Shockney that things have gone smoothly so far with their in-person learning. Bechtel praised the teachers and support staff for giving central office enough feedback for troubleshooting to be effective.

Salmon, who began her career as a special education teacher in Caroline County, said she felt inspired seeing some of Carroll’s special ed teachers at work Tuesday.

“We love our kids that have different challenges because they all have talents,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see how successful they’re being today, and how engaged they are. And they are very happy to be back.”

Salmon credited Donovan and Watkins for being “impressive leaders” as principals of their schools, and before leaving she chatted with Lockard and school board president Donna Sivigny about the entire county’s preparation to have in-person learning be a success.

“I think they’re really showing tremendous leadership here,” Salmon said. “Very impressed with the teachers I met today, and their mission and passion for education. They looked really happy today. I would have to say, they looked like it was a first day of school. ... They were beaming, and that was just fantastic to see that level of commitment for our kids.”

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