White dis­cusses school safety dur­ing Lis­ten­ing and Learn­ing tour

The Dundalk Eagle - - OPINION - By GIANNA DECARLO gde­carlo@ches­pub.com Fol­low me on Twit­ter @TheAv­enueNews

Pro­mot­ing lit­er­acy and cre­at­ing a safer school cli­mate are the main goals of Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools, said In­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent Ver­letta White at a stop at Ch­e­sa­peake High School on Oct. 16 dur­ing her Lis­ten­ing and Learn­ing tour through­out the county.

On lit­er­acy, White ex­plained that BCPS is fo­cus­ing on what they’re call­ing “gift with pur­chase,” mean­ing that grad­u­at­ing stu­dents have both a di­ploma and a re­sume. This can be any­thing from col­lege cred­its earned in high schools to vo­ca­tional and work­force train­ing, White said.

“We’re re­ally ex­pand­ing our mag­net op­por­tu­ni­ties, our CTE op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents so they have that some­thing ex­tra when they cross the stage,” she said.

The morn­ing af­ter the Ch­e­sa­peake High visit, White at­tended an ad­vi­sory coun­cil meet­ing held by the Bal­ti­more County’s De­part­ment of Eco­nomic & Work­force De­vel­op­ment where busi­ness lead­ers shared with BCPS of­fi­cials what they look for in a po­ten­tial em­ployee and how the schools can bet­ter pre­pare them for a ca­reer.

“Soft skills to be suc­cess­ful” such as show­ing up to ap­point­ments on time, com­plet­ing projects, and solv­ing prob­lems cre­atively are also be­ing taught across the dis­ci­plines, she ex­plained.

“But that’s not go­ing to mat­ter to a stu­dent that’s in cri­sis, one who doesn’t feel phys­i­cally or so­cially or emo­tion­ally safe,” she added.

Dur­ing her lis­ten­ing tour last year, White said she heard var­i­ous com­plaints and con­cerns sur­round­ing school safety and a lack of dis­ci­pline and how this is neg­a­tively im­pact­ing the class­room en­vi­ron­ment and be­ing in­con­ducive to learn­ing.

She said BCPS learned that they need to put the ba­sic so­cial and emo­tional needs be­fore aca­demics by tamp­ing down bul­ly­ing and other neg­a­tive be­hav­iors that can af­fect learn­ing.

In Au­gust, White pro­posed the cre­ation of a new Di­vi­sion of School Cli­mate and Safety which was ap­proved by the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and took ef­fect at the be­gin­ning of the 2018 – 2019 school year. The di­vi­sion is led by a chief of school cli­mate and safety, whose po­si­tion will be re­clas­si­fied from a com­mu­nity su­per­in­ten­dent po­si­tion.

She ex­plained this de­part­ment is work­ing on pre­vent­ing prob­lem­atic be­hav­iors by en­gag­ing in ef­fec­tive in­struc­tion and teach­ing stu­dents how to han­dle con­flict prop­erly. She added that there will be “log­i­cal con­se­quences” when chil­dren con­sis­tently act out.

“This year we have more School Re­source Of­fi­cers, par­tic­u­larly at the el­e­men­tary level, who ro­tate through, who park in our park­ing lots, where they have a phys­i­cal pres­ence at our schools,” said White.

Del. Bob Long (R-6), who at­tended the meet­ing, said that the more fre­quent pres­ence of SROs have had a pos­i­tive im­pact on the schools’ cli­mates and hopes that other school sys­tems will fol­low BCPS’s lead.

“Nowa­days, kids are scared of the po­lice. I be­lieve this is go­ing to be one way to teach the kids that the po­lice aren’t bad and they’re here to help you,” he said.

This sum­mer, over 300 ad­min­is­tra­tors, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, cen­tral of­fice staff, and teach­ers par­tic­i­pated in a two-day in­struc­tor cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course on ALICE (Alert, Lock­down, In­form, Counter, Evac­u­ate) Train­ing. White said this ini­tia­tive pre­pared these in­di­vid­u­als on how to more proac­tively han­dle the threat of an ag­gres­sive in­truder or ac­tive shooter event in the class­room.

White added that be­hav­ioral is­sues stem­ming from opi­oid ad­dic­tion and use in the home have trick­led into even el­e­men­tar y school stu­dents.

“We’re see­ing some of the ef­fects of that even in our youngest learn­ers.”

As a re­sult of these var­i­ous con­cerns, White said that in the next school year and within the next school bud­get, BCPS will con­tinue ad­vo­cat­ing for “peo­ple for our peo­ple” mean­ing funds to hire more peo­ple, in­clud­ing so­cial work­ers to work with fam­i­lies and col­lege and ca­reer coun­selors. More teach­ers, she said, are also at the top of the pri­or­ity list as BCPS is work­ing on cre­at­ing smaller class sizes.

This year’s bud­get has al­lowed for the hir­ing of sev­eral more ESOL and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers and pupil per­son­nel worker (PPW) through a “phased plan”, but White said this is still not enough.

Other is­sues to be dis­cussed in­clude po­ten­tially ex­tend­ing the school day by 15 min­utes and start­ing classes at a later time. She said a task force has been cre­ated to an­a­lyze these op­tions.

The Lis­ten­ing and Learn­ing tours are held to gar­ner feed­back from staff mem­bers, stu­dents, and par­ents on how to move the school sys­tem for­ward and de­ter­mine what ini­tia­tives and plans are work­ing and which ones need improve­ment. White will be host­ing her fi­nal meet­ing at Perry Hall High School on Tues­day, Oct. 30.

White made a stop at Ch­e­sa­peake High School dur­ing her Lis­ten­ing and Learn­ing tour.

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