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Baltimore County School System achieving great results

Stacy M. Brown | 6/19/2015, 8 a.m.
It’s been a whirlwind few days for Dallas Dance, because he has been ducking in and out of the 24 ...
Baltimore County Schools Superintendent, Dallas Dance addresses a forum of teachers, students and parents recently. (Courtesy Photo/Kalix Communications)

It’s been a whirlwind few days for Dallas Dance, because he has been ducking in and out of the 24 different graduation ceremonies at Baltimore County Public Schools, the 25th largest school system in the nation.

However, Dance isn’t complaining about the tiring schedule of gradIt’s been a whirlwind few days for Dallas Dance, because he has been ducking in and out of the 24 different graduation ceremonies at Baltimore County Public Schools, the 25th largest school system in the nation. In fact, he is enjoying every one of them and celebrating with each of the matriculating students while sharing smiles of achievement displayed by many on the staff and faculty.

With 7,000 students moving on to their next plateau, Dance— a veteran educator who began his tenure in 2012 as superintendent of the 110,000-student district, says he still hasn’t had a lot of time to reflect on the 2014-15 school year. The only thing he could say about looking ahead is he and his staff must remain focused.

“I do know that it has been an outstanding school year,” said Dance, who has credited with uniting the school system’s students, staff and the community into Team BCPS, which he called a powerful force committed to producing globally competitive graduates.

“What we’ve been talking about over the last two years, we’ve been able to accomplish,” Dance said. “We’ve implemented our plans to provide a digital environment to the kids that were personalized and to provide them access to digital equipment.”

In 2014, the county school system enjoyed an 87 percent graduation rate and Dance said when the final figures are in for this year, he expects to have exceeded last year’s rates.

“This year more kids are earning scholarships, we have a new elementary school opening in August and we are relieving overcrowding with several new projects,” he said.

School officials said that under Dance’s leadership, fundamental shifts in teaching and learning are taking place through two groundbreaking programs, the Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow— or S.T.A.T.— and the Second Language Acquisition program.

S.T.A.T. is designed to create a one on one digital learning environment for all students. The program began with the development of curriculum in core content areas to redefine how instruction is delivered, placing a stronger emphasis on personalized instruction and critical thinking skills, according to school officials.

The Second Language Acquisition program supports all students by ensuring that they graduate with fluency in a second language.

By the 2015-2016 school year, Second Language Acquisition, which offers Spanish language instruction starting in Grade 4, will be in 25 elementary schools while S.T.A.T. will be operational in seven middle and 10 elementary schools, Dance said.

“I go into classrooms and I’m seeing elementary school kids more engaged than ever,” he said. “They’re taking ownership of their work and of themselves. They know what their goals are and it makes me excited about the coming school years.”

The county school system has been recognized for its advances in instructional technology, earning acceptance into the League of Innovative Schools and receiving a $1.5 million grant by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Last year, President Barack Obama selected Dance as one of the 10 national “Connected Educator Champions of Change.” Still, Dance says while there is much work to be done, he is thrilled with the progress.

“My goal is to continue communicating with our students very openly and honestly. We would love to also make progress with our facilities,” he said. “We’ve invested a record dollar amount into our schools and, in terms of where we are with progress, I’m really satisfied.”