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In state of the schools, Dance touts laptops, pledges more social workers

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
What's ahead in Baltimore County schools?

After two years of change —a new curriculum, the launch of Spanish in elementary schools and a program to provide laptops for every child — Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance said Wednesday the system won't introduce any major initiatives in the coming year, but instead will focus on those that have already begun.

At his annual state-of-the-schools address, Dance said he'll put 25 more social workers in schools, placing a social worker in every high school and 43 middle schools.

Baltimore County serves 110,000 students in 174 schools, and Dance said social workers provide support they need. Nearly 50 percent of the system's students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Dance touched on initiatives implemented in his nearly three years on the job, but he did not mention the contentious nature of some of the decisions — such as changes in high school schedules and school construction funding — that have at times filled school board meetings with angry parents.

The superintendent promoted his $200 million program to make the system one of the first in the state to put a laptop in the hands of every student. The program was piloted this year in a small group of elementary schools in grades one through three.

Dance trimmed a $1.5 billion budget request in recent months after County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told the school board he would not fund it. Despite $18 million in cuts, Dance said the district is poised to expand the laptop program to all elementary schools in the coming year and launch a pilot in a seven middle schools.

Dance also noted the pilot program offering Spanish in some elementary schools, the addition of technology teachers in each school and a new website that parents can use to access their children's grades and assignments and communicate with teachers.

Dance spoke at a luncheon attended by hundreds of principals, students, business leaders and politicians. The event was funded by the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools, which receives donations from corporations and individuals. In his speech, Dance thanked sponsors and made specific reference to Daly Computer for its corporate support of the luncheon. Daly is the firm that received the $200 million contract for school system's laptop initiative a year ago.

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