Since Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon announced the closure of public schools on March 12, 2020, in response to public health concerns, Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS), like many other school systems throughout the United States have had to find alternative methods of facilitating academic instruction.
BCPS CEO Sonja Santelises hosted a community conversation on the evening of Thursday, April 16, 2020, to provide updates on distance learning platforms, meal disbursement and health plan, among several other topics of great concern to parents, students and members of the community. Because of restrictions on public gatherings, the conversation was held virtually and live-streamed through City Schools’ Facebook page.
Santelises began the conversation by acknowledging the diligent work of BCPS faculty members and central office staff, discussing her commitment to making online resources equally available for all BCPS families, and announced the recent launch of the school system’s outreach efforts.
“The courage and the flexibility, and the durability that you all have shown is actually what is inspiring not only me, but all of the adults who are working really hard to get you what you need because you really are demonstrating the kind of resilience that is necessary to navigate this,” Santelises said as she addressed students in her opening remarks.
The school system is in the process of preparing and distributing 15,000 chromebooks, which was scheduled to begin April 20, with the priority given to high school upperclassmen, according to Santelises.
She also solicited ideas on how to virtually celebrate the class of 2020 and was joined by three panelists to help answer questions that were asked throughout the hour-long broadcast.
Janise Lane, executive director of teaching and learning, was the first panelist to deliver a presentation. She said she and her team have worked diligently to create weekly family guides, which are tools that give guidance on available programming, expectations and scheduling.
Grade-specific learning packets based on content areas are also available to each family without digital access and can be retrieved at any one of the 18 meal distribution sites, Lane said, adding that she and her colleagues have recently released family tutorials on how to
access some of City Schools’ distance learning platforms, such as Google Classroom and Blackboard Collaborate, in addition to resources for Spanish-speaking students and parents.
Michael Rading, customer care director of the BCPS information technology office, highlighted the newly established technology support hotline and his commitment to ensuring maximum safety as resources, such as chromebooks or tablets, are distributed.
“We just want to recognize what a challenging and strange time this can be for everyone. We know that this situation is turning up a lot of anxiety and stress, and many other challenges for children and adults alike,” said Sarah Warren, executive director of the Whole Child Services department. “Our work has focused mainly on supporting the social and emotional well-being of our students, our families and our staff.”
Warren went on to list a few resources that families can use each day of the typical school week for any social or emotional needs.
The Q&A session lasted the final 40 minutes of the CEO Conversation, and was moderated by Tina Hike-Hubbard, the school district’s chief of communications and community engagement.
Hike-Hubbard began the Q&A with the recurring question, “Are schools going to remain closed?” Santelises responded by saying that the decision is in the hands of Governor Hogan and Superintendent Salmon, but that she and her team “are planning as if that is highly, highly probable” so that leadership will be prepared, should the directive be given.
Another question Hike-Hubbard accentuated was how work will be graded. At the time of the conversation, Santelises said the district was in the process of finalizing what the grading policy will be.
On Tuesday, April 21, 2020, BCPS announced its fourth-quarter grading plan, which offers a pass/incomplete grading format:
●City Schools will offer a Pass/Incomplete grading option for quarter 4 for students in Pre-K to 12.
●Graded work will include online learning opportunities, learning packets, and lessons via television.
●Students may submit work assigned to them via our distance learning platforms. Students engaging with learning packets will not return paper copies.
Instead, teachers will monitor and offer support to students via weekly check-in calls.
●“Pass” is issued to students who have been able to engage in distance learning, to include learning packets.
●“Incomplete” is issued to students whom the schools have not been successful in engaging through multiple avenues.
Other questions included how to apply for homeschool, teacher flexibility on how to facilitate Google Classrooms and Blackboard Collaborate, whether children had to make up missed time, summer vacation, computers available to elementary students, IEPs and refunds for class trips.
Depending on the subject matter each question was addressed by either Lane, Warren, Rading or Santelises. Rachel Pfeifer, executive director of the College and Career Readiness department; and Debra Brooks, Special Education department executive director; chimed in as well.
The next CEO Conversation is schedules for Thursday, April 30, 2020 at 5 p.m.