U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Ducketts Lane Elementary School in Elkridge Wednesday to meet with staff and students to discuss the school system's initiatives and innovations in teaching.
"This is just an amazing school and an amazing group of teachers," Duncan said of his hour-long visit. "It's really inspiring, and the students here, I think, are getting a world-class education."
Duncan first visited a third-grade Spanish class taught by Jonathan Browning before joining teachers from Ducketts Lane and Thomas Viaduct Middle School for a roundtable discussion on programs at each school.
Through their discussion, teachers informed Duncan of the departmentalized schedule at Ducketts Lane, collaboration between departments, the integration of technology and a focus on students' strengths.
Ducketts Lane is one of six Howard elementary schools to incorporate aspects of the school system's Elementary School Model. The model initiative, announced last May, features full-day pre-kindergarten, daily Spanish language instruction, Telehealth services, student strengths' development through Gallup research, and a departmentalized schedule.
This type of scheduling allows teachers to focus on teaching two subject areas instead of four, which educators say leads to more in-depth lesson plans for students.
Ducketts Lane educators praised the departmentalized schedule and strengths' focus aspects of the model during their conversation with Duncan.
"We departmentalize at Ducketts Lane and I feel like my kids are getting more content as a result, because now you don't teach social studies in isolation, English and language arts in isolation. We teach them together," said fifth-grade teacher Colleen Golden.
Rachel Edoho-Eket, a kindergarten teacher at Ducketts Lane, believes the strengths' assessment that students in grades four and five have taken has created a shift in the mindset of teachers.
"Instead of saying what's wrong, we're going to focus on what's strong. That's huge for kids because there are whole pockets of communities that never get to hear 'This is what you're doing right,'" she said.
After the roundtable, Duncan noted how he loved that teachers are challenging themselves every day to improve, especially when teachers are embracing new methods of teaching, different than when they started 10 to 15 years ago.
"Change is hard. I'm so proud of just an extraordinary group of teachers for their commitment to doing the best for the children," he said.
Duncan was joined on his visit by Maryland State Superintendent Lillian Lowery and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes.
Duncan lauded the state's increase in graduation rates to all-time highs and advanced placement course participation after his visit, but pointed out that he didn't notice a sense of complacency from school officials in his visit.
Instead there was a sense of urgency to continue to get better, he said.
"That's what is so impressive to me. I really do believe that schools like this and counties like this in the state of Maryland are helping to lead the nation where we need to go," he said.
Superintendent Renee Foose called the visit from Duncan fantastic, not only for Howard County public schools, but for all of public education.
She was flattered by Duncan's praise for the school system, but added that it is a product of great work from teachers and staff at each school.
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The roundtable discussion with Duncan can be viewed online at http://www.hcpss.org.