Dance challenges school system to set goals and embrace a 'barrage of ideas'

Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent  S. Dallas Dance  last week set his expectations for "Team BCPS" — calling on educators to working together with parents, students and the community to make the county school system the best in the nation.

On Aug. 17, Dance's back-to-school address at Loch Raven High School marked the traditional start of the new school year for nearly 700 principals, assistant principals, office heads and administrators.

"In the next two to five years, the improvements to this school system will be because of the people in this room right now," said Dance, who took over the school system in June from retiring Superintendent Joe Hairston.

"We have a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous opportunity right here before us," Dance said. "This is going to be a great school year, and we aren't going to wish it so. We are going to make it so."

The 2012-2013 school year begins for students Monday, Aug. 27.

Baltimore County Public Schools' enrollment is projected to approach 107,000 students, about 1,600 students more than last year and the largest expected increase in student enrollment in the past 15 years.

Throughout his remarks on Friday, Dance acknowledged the high level of school system performance for children — including having the nation's fourth-highest graduation rate among large systems and having more than half of the system's high schools named the nation's best in national surveys.

During his address, Dance announced several initiatives designed to focus resources and support to schools and principals, including a reorganization of the system's organizational structure that was scheduled to be presented to the Board of Education on Aug. 21.

He also pledged additional attention and resources for middle and high schools including additional administrative support and resources.

Dance said efforts are under way to concentrate on goals for the year, including a "Blueprint 2.0," building on the Blueprint for Progress that has guided BCPS for the past 12 years. Dance said the update will help the school system move "from good to great."

He also said the goals of each school should not only be "about boosting our mathematics and reading skills. Our students are whole individuals preparing for the rest of their lives. Classes in art, health, physical education, music, finance, world languages and other subjects are essential. ... These classes are not ancillary; they are integral."

Dance told system employees that progress was possible only by "confronting the brutal facts."

"That means telling the truth about gaps between where we are and where we want to be," he said. "That means having honest discussions and being open to hearing occasional criticism and a constant barrage of ideas."

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