Leading and learning with equity [Commentary]

Howard County schools interim superintendent Michael Martirano presented his plan to the school board Thursday to overhaul the staffing structure for administrators.
Howard County schools interim superintendent Michael Martirano presented his plan to the school board Thursday to overhaul the staffing structure for administrators. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

As we welcome our students back this week. the energy and excitement in our schools is contagious. I am privileged to serve as the interim superintendent and extend my thanks to the community, our families and the Board of Education for entrusting me with the care and education of our children.

It is a new day in Howard County, and our schools are on a path to build an equitable, nurturing educational environment. We are embracing all stakeholders as valued partners, and renewing our commitment to responsiveness and transparency.


I have issued a strategic call to action to guide our work: "Learning and Leading with Equity: The Fierce Urgency of Now." This vision draws on the inspiring words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to build an instructional ecosystem that enables each student to reach their greatest potential, regardless of ZIP code, gender, race, family structure, economic situation or any other factor.

As we start this year, we are guided by the absolute belief that every student can develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to be successful and positively influence the larger community. We emphasize "equity" rather than "equality", because every student requires different kinds of support and instruction to best meet their needs.

Together, as teachers and champions of children, we are making four overarching commitments:

We Value every stakeholder, and want each to feel happy and rewarded in their roles as they cultivate the learning community. This means we place equity and positive relationships at the foundation of our work, establishing school cultures where each child and adult feels important and heard.

Every child can, and will learn, when caring teachers and other adults recognize them as individuals and respect their unique needs, challenges and gifts. To teach a child well, we must know a child well, so teachers and students throughout the county are already taking part in community-building activities to help them get to know and understand each other. Lessons emphasize each individual's contribution to the classroom; norms for respectful, trusting and safe interactions; and the meaning and value of equity and how it looks and feels in our community.

We commit to ensuring that all students and staff Achieve success. For students, this means providing an individualized, high-quality education and consistent, equitable access to resources and services; using only assessments that can improve instructional planning; and graduating students well-prepared for meaningful employment. For staff, it means offering professional learning and leadership development opportunities to become more effective in their roles.

We Connect with students, parents and community members in ways that nurture and restore. We turn to restorative practices, rather than punishments, to help students learn constructive ways to resolve conflicts and overcome hurdles, and give resources to teachers for guiding balanced, civil classroom discussions about controversial issues. We make schools safe harbors for students by standing up for the most vulnerable.

We Empower every person in our community by lifting student voice, working with families to find the best ways to educate and support their child and partnering with community leaders and organizations to enrich the instructional program. We place the highest premium on openness and transparency, seek and respond to questions and input from stakeholders and support teachers in making decisions that best serve their students' needs.

I am honored to join a tremendous team of educators who possess exceptional passion and skill, a community that values and takes an active role in education, and a Board of Education and local government leaders who share a strong commitment to our school system and recognize its importance to county prosperity.

I ask you, as parents, mentors and community stakeholders in our county to be our partners in this important work.

Michael Martirano is interim superintendent for the Howard County Public School System.