Healthy meals press conference on Aug. 31, 2017 at Bellows Spring Elementary School.

Feeding Young Minds

Fueling students with proper nutrition is one way the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) is empowering every child to achieve through equitable access to healthy foods. This school year HCPSS will better serve our youngest learners by expanding our Let’s Rethink Lunch Healthy Meals Program and offering fresh salad bar options at every elementary school.

Let’s Rethink Lunch gives students access to a wider range of high quality, healthy and delicious options for school meals. Last year, Bollman Bridge, Laurel Woods and Talbott Springs elementary schools had great success as pilot schools.

Studies show that healthy eating boosts students’ focus and cognitive function. We can increase school connectedness by reinforcing the high value we place on our students’ health and well-being. We also believe nutritious school meals will encourage students to develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Let’s Rethink Lunch demonstrates our Office of Food and Nutrition Services’ commitment to providing well-balanced, nutritional meals for all students. Recent recognitions include HCPSS’ “A+” on the 2016 School Food Environment Grades report from Healthy School Food Maryland, and HCPSS schools’ HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms awards from the United States Department of Agriculture.

I’m thankful for the Horizon Foundation’s partnership in launching the Let’s Rethink Lunch pilot, and for our county and community leaders’ support of the program’s expansion this year.

I invite you to watch this video to see the positive impact of this innovative program, which links together nutrition, education, physical activity and living a healthy lifestyle.

Providing a Safe and Nurturing Learning Environment for Every Student

Many students, staff and families across our county are deeply concerned about the President’s plan to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Action Arrivals (DACA) program. As educators, I strongly believe that we share a responsibility to nurture and protect each and every one of our students. I want to assure you that HCPSS remains firmly committed to educating every child in a safe and welcoming environment. 

I certainly don’t wish to insert myself into any political debate and I hope – as we all should – that the President and Congress will find a common sense solution quickly. However, my charge is to educate each and every child that enters one of our 76 schools. We don’t track immigration status nor do we ask questions or request documentation. We teach – but children can only learn when their basic needs are met.

Security is one of a child’s most basic needs. I know that we have students in our schools whose families live day-to-day in fear of having their family separated. When children come to a Howard County public school, I want them to know that they are safe. Then, and only then, can I expect the great educators across this county to be able to effectively teach and their students thrive. 

Our Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is collaborating with school and system leaders on a plan for assisting any students who may be affected by the decision. We will leverage available resources for teachers to support students including counselors, school psychologists and county resources.

I want to reiterate the fact that HCPSS does not request, investigate, document or share information about the immigration or citizenship status of any student or family member. It’s simply not our business. We teach without discriminating against any person or group for any reason.

The Board of Education and I stand together in our commitment to maintain a culture that preserves the dignity of all individuals, and to advocate for tolerance and respect for every community member. As I have said in the past, I will stand up for any child or adult in our school system or community who is subjected to derogatory words and actions, and I call on others to stand with me. Kindness, acceptance, and the genuine desire to understand others’ perspectives are powerful forces against prejudice and injustice. 

Dunloggin Middle School DMS on Oct. 19, 2016.

The First 100 Days

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

King’s words continually inspire me as we move the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) to a transformational place. It is a new day in Howard County, and our schools are on a new path to serving every student in a manner where equity guides our decision making.

I have been leading this wonderful school system for just over 100 days, and have already begun the mission-critical steps toward healing our school system community, creating an organization that places young people at the heart of all decisions and building an instructional program that enables all students to reach their greatest potential. Here are a few highlights of the great strides we’ve made so far, outlined by my overarching commitments to you in the four areas of achievement, connections, value and empowerment.

We pledge that we will support every person in reaching milestones for success through an individualized focus.

  • A Vision of Equity: I’ve come in with an extreme level of enthusiasm to lead with my Strategic Call to Action, called Learning and Leading with Equity: The Fierce Urgency of Now. HCPSS’ new educational equity model is grounded in the 10-point plan, “Leading for Equity,” by The Aspen Education & Society Program and The Council of Chief State School Officers. Our leadership team is primed to guide our organization to a transformational place following concepts from John P. Kotter’s “A Sense of Urgency.”
  • A Mission-Driven Reorganization: Our new organizational structure promotes equity, improves efficiencies and ensures academic excellence for all HCPSS students. The new model embraces responsiveness and transparency, so we can place schools and communities at the center of all we do. With a focus on instruction as a birth-through-graduation continuum, the new structure better positions the school system to address and overcome factors that contribute to the achievement gap.
  • Meaningful Assessments: Here on out, we are utilizing only assessments that provide meaningful, actionable data for instructional planning. We have decreased the time spent on standardized testing by eliminating the spring Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment in grades 3-8.
  • Meeting Nutritional Needs: We understand that every child must have their basic needs met before they are prepared to learn. In response to continuing community need, we extended our summer food service program at the Stevens Forest Elementary School, our most in-demand location. I’m thrilled we are also expanding our Healthy Meals program this year, so every elementary school will offer fresh salad bar options.

Students and staff will thrive in a safe, nurturing and inclusive culture that embraces diversity.

  • Celebrating Diversity: Today, more than ever, it is imperative that our students learn to respect and appreciate the perspectives and heritage of others. That is why I hired a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to oversee the integration of these principles throughout our educational program and school system culture.
  • Hiring for Equity and Excellence: Research shows that educators can have an even greater impact on learning when they share a similar cultural, social or economic background as their students. I’m thrilled that our hiring initiatives are bringing in a pool of new teachers that is more reflective of our student population. For example, thus far, 19 percent of our new teacher hires identify as African American, which is on par with our student body.
  • IEQ Management: To ensure our classrooms can continue providing healthy and safe learning environments, I have created the Industrial Hygienist/Indoor Environmental Quality Manager position. With this leader soon in place, I’m confident our protocols effectively prevent or respond to all environmental concerns in our schools. We received a vote of confidence in this area when the state restored $9.6 million in school construction funding to HCPSS.
  • Restorative Practices: We currently have 28 Howard County teams implementing a variety of restorative practices at their schools. My expectation is for this to be a part of every school culture, so all students can benefit from stronger community relationships that nurture learning.
  • Anti-Bullying Efforts: Our children must understand that the decisions they make online could result in a lifetime of consequences and have a devastating impact on the victim. I have pledged my support to work alongside Christine McComas and fight for children like her daughter who suffer from the wounds that bullying inflicts.

We will make every effort to ensure HCPSS stakeholders feel rewarded in cultivating a more connected and cooperative learning community.

  • Relationship Re-building: I came to Howard County schools with the intention of repairing bridges with our community and developing relationships with all stakeholders. I have proactively met with individuals, groups and organizations to hear your concerns and receive feedback. I also have rebuilt a collaborative relationship with our Board of Education to establish HCPSS norms and lay the foundation for our goals, while resolving legal fees from past disputes.
  • Special Education Parent Relations: I have addressed an urgent need for a non-adversarial partnership with parents by releasing the special education report by the District Management Council and establishing the new Special Education Parent Liaison position. This role will serve as the connection between the district and parents of students with disabilities in implementing policies and coordinating programs.
  • Mission-Driven Operations: I’m grateful that our Board of Education, local officials and the community partnered with me to acquire the necessary funding for this upcoming school year, which honors negotiated agreements and avoids staff furloughs. Our budget, staff resources and operations align with focusing on the classroom, and increasing equity and responsiveness. We restored 87 support staff to the media centers and classrooms, ensuring media centers would stay open. We added full-time General Counsel and Policy Manager positions to manage legal matters and policies, respectively. We also appointed a Chief Academic Officer to oversee academics, special education, student services and accountability.
  • Government-School Community Collaborations: Our government officials and school community are working hand-in-hand to do what is best for HCPSS. Together, with the Howard County Education Association and Howard County Council, we have begun to determine the causes of our health and dental fund deficiency and explore solutions that can be implemented over the next three to five years. And thanks to our productive relationship with the county government, we secured enough funds for a replacement school for Talbott Springs Elementary, overriding our original renovation plans.
  • Early Learning Initiatives: I’m working with the greater community to ensure all students entering kindergarten are ready to learn through a variety of initiatives. Examples include an early literacy program with Bright Minds Foundation, Launch into Learning with Howard County Early Childhood Advisory Council, and collaborations with local hospitals, pediatricians and community groups to promote early brain development.
  • Expanding Career Prep Opportunities: Partnerships help prepare our students with the knowledge necessary to acquire meaningful employment in a dynamic workplace. Therefore staff has been tasked with developing new relationships with local organizations to improve and expand upon our Career and Technology Education offerings.

Our work encourages schools, families and the community to be mutually invested in student achievement and well-being.

  • Amplified Transparency: I have made transparency and timeliness of responses to Maryland Public Information Act requests a top priority. This summer we launched a new online system for Maryland Public Information Act requests that makes public documents more readily accessible to the community.
  • Staff Suggestion Program: We’re on a path marked by continuous improvement, and we’re excited to welcome ideas from our employees through a new online staff suggestion program, called Brainstorm. Staff are invited to log onto the Staff Hub and share ways we can improve processes, decrease waste, save money or increase productivity.
  • Decreasing Inventory: In efforts to lower inventory and increase security at our warehouse, we have decreased the number of technology devices stored at the HCPSS Logistic Center from more than 6,100 to approximately 250, or by 96 percent, from last September to the start of this year. We have securely disposed of broken or outdated devices, and prioritized getting the vast majority of working devices into the hands of students and educators.
  • The Latest Email Platform: The school system will continue to take advantage of the latest technology. Beginning this summer, Information Technology started upgrading the HCPSS email system to the most recent version of the Exchange email system in Office 365.
  • Future-proofing the Technology Infrastructure: By December we will have replaced the school system’s antiquated network switches, an essential technology used each time students, staff and community members access the Internet. The new infrastructure will be more efficient by consuming 45 percent less power and enable technology upgrade initiatives, such as offering our classrooms high available broadband and continuing the expansion of digital course offerings.

I invite you to watch my recent HCPSS Insight interview below to hear some more of my thoughts behind leading Howard County schools. I very much look forward to getting to know our Howard County families and community members as we launch into the next school year.

Lisbon Elementary School on August 31, 2015.

Welcome Back!

I am thrilled to welcome you back for a wonderful new school year. We’ve worked hard over the summer to make this school year even better for our staff and the students we serve.

I am committed to leading this great school system with a call to action grounded in equity. Every child has individual needs that require different supports, which is why we must place equity and responsiveness for every person at the foundation of all decisions and actions. We must take care of our most vulnerable young people by believing that every child can and will learn.

Here in Howard County, we understand that to teach a child well, you must know a child well. This week, the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) is supporting schools in building meaningful relationships through community-building classroom engagements. Teachers throughout HCPSS will offer lessons and activities that:

  • establish classrooms as communities
  • emphasize each individual’s contribution to the classroom community
  • set up norms for respectful, trusting and safe engagement in the community
  • and define equity and what it looks, sounds and feels like in our community.

In my first few months, we’ve already been on an amazing journey to set the course in preparing every Howard County public student for the best possible start in life. I invite you to watch the video below to hear how we can create a more nurturing and inclusive environment that empowers every student to achieve.

Thank you for everything you do to prepare each student for a happy, healthy and prosperous future.

Please join in the first week of school celebrations by sharing photos on social media with the hashtag: #NewDayHCPSS.