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.

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.

A Reflection of my Summer Internship at the Fund for Educational Excellence

If I had to describe my summer internship at the Fund for Education Excellence in one word, it would be “confidence.” Through piloting a new community mapping project, revamping the School Choice presentation process, and meeting with stakeholders and community members, my experience this summer helped me to build confidence in who I am becoming as a person, what I am passionate about, and where I want to take my career in education.

Being raised in a low-income single-parent household in Baltimore City, finding and following your passion was treated as a privilege. As a result, when I graduated in May and watched my friends heading to medical school or Fortune 500 companies, I felt guilty for my decision to pursue my interest in education. Could I help to bring my family out of poverty working in the nonprofit sector? Could I really make a difference in the education system? My summer internship completely changed my perspective.

Over the course of nine weeks, I co-led two major projects. First, I and two staff members worked to identify and map community assets in the Sandtown-Winchester community, highlighting important community leaders and centers that will be used as internal contacts for the Fund to have a deeper level of engagement. We canvassed the neighborhood and talked to a variety of leaders including those from an Enoch Pratt branch library and Safe Streets, a grassroots organization that strives to prevent gun violence. The experience taught me the importance of conducting and publishing research and the importance of sharing community input and voices.

I also helped redesign the School Choice Guide presentation, which serves to assist parents and students in better understanding and navigating the school choice process. After seeking input from City Schools’ families and students, the goal of the project was to make the current presentation more digestible to parents, guardians, and students. I helped to reorganize the presentation so it was more comprehensible and interactive. I enjoyed the research process and the opportunity to improve my research skills and realized that I am particularly interested in promoting educational policies with the potential to give students an effective and equitable education.

Lastly, the Fund exposed me to a diverse pool of connections and resources. I have met with community leaders from City Hall to Baltimore City Public School System that offered career pathway, secondary education, and self-care advice. From learning about Doctorate in Education (EdD) programs to the importance of self-care, these connections have helped me to better understand the endless possibilities that exist in the education field.

My career goal is to research, develop, and advocate for educational policies that enhance the lives of students in marginalized communities. This internship has already proven to be one of the most invaluable experiences in the start of my career in education because it emphasized being an organized, flexible, and creative problem solver and provided the resources and mentorship to improve my skills needed to work on educational issues. I am grateful for the Fund’s opportunities that have helped me to become more confident in myself and my passions in the sphere of education.

Fourth Annual Heart of the School Awards Recap

On Monday, May 20th over 550 principals, teachers, parents, students, and corporate and community leaders packed the Hippodrome Theatre for the Heart the School Awards, the annual event celebrating Baltimore City Public Schools principals for their hard work and dedication to their students, staff and communities.

2019 marked the highest-attended Heart of the School Awards to date! Thank you to everyone who was able to join us and ensure that principals feel as valued and appreciated as they are!

Heart of the School Award Winners and Honorees

Five standout leaders were honored, chosen out of more than 500 community nominations for creating school communities where students are inspired to learn; teachers are valued, celebrated, and supported; parents are engaged and recognized as the assets they are to the development of their child; and student outcomes are improving. Each will receive $2,500 to spend on their schools.

  • Patricia Burrell– North Bend Elementary/Middle School
  • Francesca Gamber– Bard Early College High School
  • Chad Kramer– Patterson Park Public Charter School
  • Zulema Sockwell Moore– William S. Baer School
  • Danielle Tillman-Cromartie– Harford Heights Elementary School

Click here to read more about the winners and here to watch the videos screened during the event showing each winner in action at their schools.
Five Honorees were also recognized, each receiving $1,000 for their schools.

  • Corey Basmajian– Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School
  • Mark Gaither– Wolfe Street Academy
  • Diya Hafiz-Slayton– Brehms Lane Public Charter School
  • Cathy Miles– Abbottston Elementary School
  • Jael Samuel– Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School

Congratulations to all winners and honorees!

2019 Heart of the School Fund Update

Proceeds from the Heart of the School Awards support the Heart of the School Fund – the year-round program delivering grants to principals for school enhancements such as musical instruments, school plays, field trips and even community gardens. Thanks to Baltimore’s support and that of our amazing sponsors, the Heart of the School Fund has awarded more than $350,000 across 89 grants over the past three years to principals.

The Heart of the School Fund will again receive applications starting in July. Spread the word to principals in your networks! Learn more about the Heart of the School Fund here.

2019 Heart of the School Principal Raffle

Thanks to the generous donations from individuals and businesses across Baltimore, we created prize packages that principals in attendance at the Heart of the School Awards could enter to win. In total, these prize packages are worth more than $8,500 and included Ravens and Orioles tickets, restaurant gift cards, tickets to local theatres, and more. Congratulations to all of our lucky winners!


To learn more about the Heart of the School Awards and Heart of the School Fund, visit