Baltimore School Leaders and Their Response to COVID-19 – David Guzman, Mary E. Rodman Elementary School

The Fund asked a group of City Schools’ principals to share their perspectives and experience in grappling with school closures and the COVID-19 crisis. In our third blog post of this series, David Guzman, principal of Mary E. Rodman Elementary School, calls for a collaborative effort to rethink and quickly adapt our learning model during this unprecedented time:

Two weeks into school closures; 725,000+ cases; and 34,000+ global COVID-19 related casualties, I am reminded how educators customarily look forward to holidays and extended breaks. It is natural and necessary to regroup, reflect & recharge in order to give the scholars we serve our best. That said, I never envisioned returning to school being outside our control or scope of influence.

For as long as I can remember schools have served as hubs for communities. Schools function as safe spaces where scholars have access to meals, extracurricular activities, and meaningful learning. Yet, this recent and unprecedented phenomenon reminds us that schools mean much more.

With at least four weeks from schools reopening, we are compelled to rethink what matters most and how to be catalysts for change. Accordingly, it is imperative not to underestimate the significance of interdependence while learning. Work packets serve to meet an immediate need and it is essential to identify means that keep learning communities connected. As distance learning becomes more prominent, it is crucial to ensure collaboration as a core value.

Furthermore, leaders and policymakers must consider access to technology. While most families have smartphones, not all have internet connection or devices such as tablets and laptops. Some school districts are ahead of the curve in providing scholars with technology. It’s time to consider options around a sustainable model that gives scholars access to learning platforms while outside of the physical school building.

I am optimistic that we can leverage connected learning communities and technology integration to support authentic learning experiences. In doing so, we can revisit and optimize what terms like rigor, engagement, and student-centered look and sound like.

The next time I have a “tongue in cheek” conversation about being ready for an upcoming holiday or break, I’ll be reminded of Spring 2020. A time when we were reminded that quality teachers are irreplaceable and essential; a time when we realized how vital strong schools and classrooms are in providing structure and stability; a time when adults modeled a growth mindset for children; a time when we couldn’t wait to get back to work.

Baltimore School Leaders and Their Response to COVID-19 – Joseph Manko, Liberty Elementary School

In light of recent events, the Fund asked a group of City Schools’ principals to share their perspectives and experience in grappling with school closures and the COVID-19 crisis. In our second blog post of this series, Joseph Manko, principal of Liberty Elementary School, describes how his school community has rallied to provide quality, virtual instructional tools and resources to students and families:

This has clearly been a challenging time for our students, families, teachers, and community as we all work to adjust to the new social distancing measures.  We miss our kids and I am sure they are missing coming to school each day to see their teachers, their friends, and continue their learning journey.  In these most unique of times, we are working to continue to push the learning process despite the limitations of time and space.

As the principal of Liberty Elementary School, the educational home to over 500 students, we have worked to continue to provide instructional opportunities to students during this period of closure.  Thanks to the efforts of our incredible team of teachers, we spent the bulk of the professional development day on Friday, March 13th imagining what instruction could look like if the closure period extended beyond the designated ten days.  We quickly mobilized to create a home learning page, coming off of our main website,, that contained the most recent updates on the school including an FAQ page, locations for the school meals program, information about how to talk to your child about COVID-19 from our school social worker, and access to home learning resources for each grade level.

The teachers worked diligently not simply to compile at home learning packets, but also discuss a plan for delivery of content, create a structure for continuing academic interactions with kids, and plan for a system to provide feedback to students.

Four days into the closure period, I was astounded by the response of so many of our teachers and families.  Throughout the week we handed out 203 learning packets as parents came in to pick up the work needed to keep their children learning and moving forward.  We also had 224 unique visitors to the website, many of those visitors whom we believed downloaded learning packets for their kids or accessed the online resources.  Between those two numbers, we feel like the vast majority of our 500 students were able to access learning materials during the first week of school closures.

Beyond the learning packets, teachers began to upload content on their own newly created YouTube channels, conducting read alouds, morning messages, questioning prompts, etc. to help students learn, connect, and see a comforting face during these challenging times.  We had reports from one parent that her child gathered up all his siblings to hear his teacher read the story on YouTube.  Our third-grade teachers instituted an old fashioned pen pal system where they would write letters to their students and respond to their messages, thus helping with writing skills and continuing the student/teacher connection.

I am a strong believer that online learning can never replace the depth of instruction that can occur in a face-to-face setting, particularly for elementary-age students who are so dependent upon a deep, loving connection with their teacher.  However, in these unprecedented times, we are working to suspend our disbelief, and imagine what distance learning could look like.  We are still learning our way through this and didn’t have the appropriate lead-up time to plan and prepare, but despite these challenges, we are trying as much as possible to bring rich content and personal learning experiences to our students every day.  I have always felt that it is during times of great struggle that you really see the true strength of a community.  During these most pressing times, I am proud of what the Liberty community has done to demonstrate learning is important, our kids are precious, connections (virtually) can continue, and our community is stronger than the virus that seeks to distance us.  As our first-grade instructor says in her Facebook post, “the show must go on!” and despite all odds, for Mark, learning definitely does.

Baltimore School Leaders and Their Response to COVID-19 – Dr. Katrina Foster, Hampden Elementary/Middle School

In light of recent events, the Fund asked a group of City Schools’ principals to share their perspectives and experience in grappling with school closures and the COVID-19 crisis. In our first blog post of this series, Dr. Katrina Foster, principal of Hampden Elementary/Middle School, describes how the unprecedented situation has given rise to collective support and solidarity in her school’s community:

Over the past week, I’ve witnessed our world turn upside down. The public health emergency has ushered us into a new frontier, full of equal parts panic and pressure. As a principal in Baltimore City Schools, my technical and adaptive arsenal of skills were put to the test as I had to lead my school community through a maze of worries, fears, and concerns. It seems like the tasks and plans we were working on—planning for standardized testing, organizing end of year ceremonies and field trips, and conducting formal teacher observations – were instantly replaced with copying learning packets, organizing food distribution, and securing cleaning supplies for classrooms, hallways, and lockers. No one could have expected the sudden change of direction to occur, so no one knew to prepare for this. Yet, I have been both personally and professionally encouraged by the outpouring of help, hope, and humility I’ve seen by a diverse cross-section of my school’s community over the past week:

-School custodians are taking special care to clean and disinfect learning spaces.

-Students and families are picking up learning packets with the same level of energy and excitement they bring to school every day.

-Educators are figuring out creative ways to keep students engaged in the learning process.

-Community residents and volunteers are helping their neighbors, some of whom they had never met or interacted with before.

Our actions today are laying the foundation for the new normal our world is creating. Without question, there are loads of unanswered concerns that demand attention and scores of unknown scenarios that we are expected to prepare if one, some, or all of these circumstances become a part of our new reality. After all, dogged resiliency is still the order of the day, regardless of the current challenging times.

And, without question, I am proud to work as a principal of City Schools, where we are called to lead with love.

Kirwan’s Career Prep Revamp Must Prioritize Equitable Access

With the 90-day 2020 Maryland Legislative Session underway, the state of education in Maryland could potentially see monumental changes over the next decade.

The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, if fully funded, has the opportunity to transform education in Maryland, leading to a higher quality and more equitable experience for every student.

If supported, the bill will infuse an additional $4 billion into the state’s 24 school districts over the next 10 years. The additional funding would positively affect teachers’ pay, ensure access to pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, expand support of special education programming, invest in the building of additional community schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and remodel the state’s approach to career and college readiness—each worthy and important expenditures to providing an excellent and equitable education. As a community, we must ensure this happens for the good of our students and families.

Earlier this month, the Baltimore Sun published “Maryland schools have long overlooked career training in favor of college. An education overhaul would change that.” The article brought up some interesting points regarding our state’s current career prep system and outlined what a revamped college and career prep model might look like. While the reimagining of this system is overwhelmingly positive, we need to ensure that each district receives funding necessary to perform at the College and Career Readiness standard set by the Commission to prevent performance disparities between districts.

On the career readiness side of the proposed revamp, the Commission suggests a set of ambitious and rewarding pathway programs that allow students to graduate with an associate degree or credits towards a baccalaureate degree. Students would have access to robust career and technical education programs offered through their high school, local two- and four-year colleges and other training providers. However, access to these robust programs are dependent on academic performance, dubbed the College and Career Readiness Standard by the Commission. Any student who meets the College and Career Readiness (CCR) standard before twelfth grade can participate in post-CCR pathways. To put it another way, any student who does not meet this standard before the twelfth grade will not have this opportunity.

Students reach the CCR standard by scoring 4 or higher on the MCAP state assessments for Algebra 1 and English 10. Based on 2019 test scores, less than 10% of students of color in Baltimore City would meet this requirement compared to 60% of students in Carroll County. Through other interventions, the Commission is hopeful that by 2030 65% of Maryland students will reach this CCR standard by the end of grade 10. But what happens if these other interventions do not have as big of an impact as hoped for? Do we just exclude the majority of a district’s students from participating in these pathways because they weren’t able to score high enough on the MCAP? Their alternative would be the consolation prize of more “career counseling” and generic, non-credentialed “hands-on career exploration” which won’t be enough to connect them to middle-skill careers with livable wages. This simply won’t do.

For this metric to work, we must put individual accountability measures in place for each district and fund districts in proportion to the level of growth each needs to achieve the 65% pass rate for CCR standards. Getting to a state-wide goal of 65% means nothing if more affluent counties are reaching 85% for the CCR Standard, carrying the state to the 65% goal but struggling districts are only reaching a fraction of that. We can’t afford to exclude children from accessing these programs because they weren’t able to pass the standardized test that we neither gave them the supports or educational rigor to be competitive when taking in the first place.

For the next generation of students, we have to get it right because there are too many young adults, who’ve tried the career and technical programs, then graduated and tried the workforce development programs and are still under- and -unemployed, searching for a reason to have hope. It isn’t because they lacked “grit, determination and work ethic”. They were caught in an underfunded system that had no consistent way of getting them from one side to the other. This needs to change and ensuring individual districts’ performance meet the CCR standards, expanding access to career development programs for all students, is one way to do that.

Read the Fund’s full report Broken Pathways: The Cracks in Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools, which provides practical, specific recommendations for restructuring the CTE program in City Schools to better support student success. The full report is available here.

NAF Soccer Coach Reflects on Impact of Facilities Upgrades and Support by Under Armour

The National Academy Foundation soccer team took the field this year as a mosaic of the new faces that are rapidly populating Baltimore City Public schools. Bypassing the traditionally dominant fall sport of football, these student-athletes found brotherhood and community through a shared love of sport.

Few equate Baltimore City Public Schools with the immigrant, English Language Learner students that make up the fastest growing demographic in the city. Yet the NAF soccer team is emblematic of this shift, as we bring together students born in six different countries, oscillate between English and Spanish, and provide a family for student-athletes not just new to high school, but to the United States as a whole.

In a year’s time NAF grew from having no soccer program to sporting both a boys and girls varsity team. As we continue to build our program up from its infancy, we intentionally mold our brand. Thanks to Under Armour, we now have the opportunity of fresh new jerseys, a state-of-the-art weight-room, and coaches receiving the highest quality training and development. In the past, our lack of resources placed a ceiling on what we could accomplish. A year ago as fall sports drew to a close, this meant the few student-athletes who remained dedicated were confined to running through stairs and hallways. With our new weight-room at the core of the recruiting pitch, our rosters for Indoor Track have sky-rocketed to over 25 for both a Varsity boys and girls team. The myriad of resources Under Armour has provided grant our soccer community the opportunity to expand from a season-long team into a year-round family and athletic department.

The motto scribed on our gym and shirts, We Will, extends beyond the workout for the day or game for the week. First and foremost it applies to what is demanded of student-athletes to be a part of our family by following our team’s code of conduct academically and behaviorally. More importantly, it speaks to what brings our student-athletes from diverse backgrounds together; that we aren’t just fighting for the next win, but for the opportunity for a better life. Juggling learning English, rigorous class schedules, immigration challenges, and part time-jobs requires a familial support system to ground us in the belief that whatever the obstacle: We Will.