Md. BOE vows to fast track Blueprint plans, Eastern Shore school districts prepare to keep up
Part of that commitment, according to MSBOE officials, is sticking with in-person learning. Superintendent of Dorchester County Public Schools David Bromwell says only about a dozen students are still learning in the virtual model. “Each day, we’re coming back with about 0 or one positive [COVID-19 case]. The students or staff come back after those five days [of quarantine] immediately,” he said.
Bromwell says getting up to speed with virtual learning was challenging early on. “We’re one of the counties that really took a hit remotely, trying to figure out how we would get all of our students to be able to go to a virtual platform, because we needed so many hotspots,” he said.
However, even with most students now back in rooms full of their peers and teachers, Bromwell says virtual learning has proven to be helpful in some scenarios. For example, Bromwell says Dorchester County was hit especially hard by flooding last fall. “If we had a virtual component that we could have easily transitioned to, we could have saved two days with our students, instead of using our inclement weather days,” he said.
Meanwhile at Talbot County Public Schools, Superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith says virtual learning has also presented the district with a bittersweet situation. As of now, Dr. Griffith says about two dozen students are learning virtually. The rest, she says, are happy to be back in school. “Our attendance is looking great. In some of our schools, our attendance is better now than it was three years ago. I do think that kids really want to be in school,” said Dr. Griffith.
But, Dr. Griffith says she wants to make sure schools on the Eastern Shore are ready for other changes coming under the Blueprint, and how they might impact students still learning virtually. As Dr. Griffith puts it, it’s all about accountability. “I’m not sure that some of these requirements, if you will, are caught up yet in that virtual world. So, we do have some accountability things to work out,” she said.
Meanwhile, funding provided by the Blueprint is also becoming a pressing issue for the Eastern Shore’s school districts. Bromwell says initial, smaller amounts have proven to be helpful in hiring more mental health personnel. “It’s been great,” he said. “But, were expecting this year for pretty much all the counties to get a significant increase. Depending on where your student enrollment was in 2019, it could play into how much money you receive. We’re pretty much flat funded this year.”
Bromwell says that issue is even more poignant for smaller, rural school districts, like Dorchester County. “It’s kind of difficult for Dorchester County, because of our socioeconomic status, to put that burden on our taxpayers. They’re at their limit,” he said. “If the funding formula doesn’t change in some kind of format to really do what the Blueprint says it’s supposed to do – to make all counties equal – we’re kind of in a bind.”
Part of that funding is set to go towards increasing educators’ salaries. The Blueprint requires the state to get a 10% pay bump by 2024. Plus, teachers salaries must be a minimum of $60,000 by 2026. “We’ve been working with our union, and our County Council. So, we’re doing pretty good with that expectation,” said Dr. Griffith.
However, Dr. Griffith says she worries over how newly required teacher certifications will be paid for. “[The Maryland State Department of Education] is supposed to pay for two thirds of the certification piece,” she said. “We’re still kind of feeling our way in the water when it comes to certification.”
One more concern for Dr. Griffith is the Blueprint’s requirement that students must be college and career ready by 10th grade. She says not every student is a great test taker, and that could serve as a road block for those interested in career and technology studies. “It would be great if every student was college and career by the end of 10th grade,” she said. “But, in reality, some kids need four years of high school before they’re college and career ready,” said Dr. Griffith.
Many of these concerns are shared by educators across the Eastern Shore. Dr. Griffith says that’s because educating students in a smaller, rural community can much different than in metropolitan and urban areas. “The work is very important, and we all believe in it,” she said. “We do have to make sure we educate people on those differences, with the understanding that we want them to be learning while being flexible.”