Every Baltimore County student will graduate bilingual. Those in middle and high school will eventually complete all of their work on provided personal digital devices. This was a part of the plan unveiled Thursday by Superintendent Dr. S. Dallas Dance.
Dance spoke of his initiative as part of the centerpiece of his inaugural State of the Schools luncheon at the Valley Mansion in Cockeysville. More than 1,000 people, including students, teachers, administrators, elected officials and business leaders attended the event, which was hosted by The Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools in conjunction with approximately 50 business sponsors. Those businesses helped pay for the event, according to county school officials.
“The great challenge is that educating today’s children to succeed in tomorrow’s world can’t be done with yesterday’s educational system,” Dance said. “We have to stop thinking about how we were educated and begin thinking more strategically about how to best educate our students for their future. ... To equip every student with the critical 21st century skills needed to be globally competitive, we believe—Team BCPS believes—we must ensure that every school has an equitable, effective digital-learning environment, and every student has equitable access to learning and developing proficiency in a second language.”
When it comes to developing proficiency in a second language, Dance said a significant key to accomplishing this goal is by introducing foreign language in elementary schools. Currently, Baltimore County students don’t take such classes until middle school.
“We want to graduate students who will be globally competitive,” Dance said. “Research clearly tells us that an essential factor in being globally competitive is being fluent in a second or—for some of our students—a third language.”
Dance said the purpose of public education is not just about preparing students for careers. It is also about helping them understand the world and learning other languages, which he thinks allows students to better understand diverse cultures.
“Research has shown us students who begin learning a second language before adolescence are more likely to become fluent speakers, and they will have higher academic achievement overall,” he said.
Dance said to accomplish these goals requires forward thinking, which, he added, will be included in the system’s five-year Blueprint 2.0 strategic plan, expected to be completed this summer. Dance’s other goals include improving special- and alternative-educational opportunities, safety and communication with the school community.
Those who attended the luncheon left feeling energized about the future of Baltimore County Public Schools and excited about the long-term future of the system under Dance’s leadership. Dance is in his first year at the helm after replacing longtime Superintendent Dr. Joe Hairston.
Among those who liked what they heard was county School Board President Lawrence E. Schmidt.
“I think the kind of technology [Dance spoke of] is how kids learn today, and we need to make sure we are in line with that,” Schmidt said. “Dr. Dance has some fresh approaches. We have a great school system, so he doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. … But he’s innovative, and he’s young. He brings some newer ideas to the forefront. The way kids learn and interact with social media and technology is amazing, and Dr. Dance gets that and wants to use that to help move us forward.”
McCall Behringer, a senior at Perry Hall High School, said having access to digital technology and understanding a second language are keys to being successful today, and she is appreciative of Dance’s efforts, even if she won’t have the chance to benefit from them.
“There’s so much we can learn with technology, and it’s refreshing to see someone push for that,” Behringer said. “It’s definitely something that will help prepare kids for their careers and life.”
Among the specifics not brought up during Dance’s address was how to pay for his key initiatives. However, Dance said working with elected officials and developing relationships with businesses through entities like the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools are ways to help make investments in students’ futures. Dance added that not making the proper investments now will be even more costly in the future.
For example, he said it costs about $13,000 per year to educate a student in the county, while it costs $100,000 over the same time to house a youth in a juvenile detention facility.
“Doesn’t it make sense to do all we can to avoid paying for detention by instead investing in education?” Dance asked.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he supports Dance’s initiatives but admits it won’t be easy to finance them immediately during today’s tight economic climate.
“Dr. Dance is spot-on with the technology issue, and he and I are working together to determine funding mechanisms to accomplish this goal,” Kamenetz said. “It’s a priority for him and me.”
Kamenetz called the event “refreshing.”
“We are all walking out of here with a positive feeling about Baltimore County Public Schools. There’s also a great sense of optimism,” said Kamenetz. “I am committed to finding the money to achieve these goals as quickly as possible.”