THE HUB - Feature Article

  • Time is Right to Require Course on Acceptance, Inclusion

    Posted by Melvin Edwards on 1/30/2019

    Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education who became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner at the age of 17 in 2014, described the power of conversation this way: “The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue.”


    Truer words were never spoken, and it is with that same mindset that we are approaching the transformation of the Global Community Citizenship course developed and implemented at Arundel High School into a countywide course that will be a graduation requirement for all high school students beginning with next year’s freshman class.


    The pervasiveness of hateful and bigoted incidents in Anne Arundel County requires bold and sometimes controversial steps on the part of not just our school system, but our society. To be sure, the eradication of hate and bigotry is a duty far too broad for any singular entity – be it a school, a business, a place of worship, or a community organization – to accomplish.


    However, our school system has an obligation to play our part in this critical effort. We have seen an alarming number of incidents in our communities and our schools in the last few years in which hate-filled messages were written, displayed, or distributed. That is why, though some may be opposed, the time is right to move forward with the expansion of this course.


    Arundel High School Principal Gina Davenport and her team developed the course – approved by our Board in April 2017 – after an incident where offensive and racist fliers were distributed at the school. The goal was to enhance discussions among students and the community to thwart future instances of a similar nature, but more importantly to foster a climate where inclusion is not just the expectation, but the norm.


    Every freshman at Arundel High School – to date more than 750 – takes Global Community Citizenship, and – as two students so eloquently testified at our December 5 Board meeting – its impact on the conversation and climate at the school has been tremendous.


    The one-semester course, to be clear, is not a panacea. It will not, in 18 weeks, eliminate every instance of hate and bigotry. I believe it will, however, empower students to know more and feel better about themselves and others, increase empathy, and enable them to conduct discussions that will lead to better understandings of other cultures. In short, it will build bridges and relationships that will serve our students well long after they leave our schools.


    We hope, as Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the county branch of the NAACP, said to our Board while voicing the branch’s support of this effort on January 23, it will help both us and our county “gain traction on what seems to be an intractable problem.”


    This course will not come with an additional cost. We will utilize existing teachers and the materials developed by Arundel High School. Schools will be able to customize parts of the course to make it more specifically effective for their students and communities.


    Further, this course does not add to the number of credits required to be earned by any high school students, including those in magnet programs, in order to graduate. It simply takes one-half credit from the 8½ “elective” credits required for each student and designates it to this course.


    Will the Global Community Citizenship course, by itself, solve the issues we face? Absolutely not. We need parents, community and business partners, community organizations, and our society as a whole to do that. However, Global Community Citizenship will be an important part of solving this issue because as we help our students become more comfortable talking and interacting with others, they, in turn, can be catalysts for further change outside of our school buildings.


    The writer is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@aacps.org.

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  • Budget Request Addresses Class Size, Compensation Needs

    Posted by Melvin Edwards on 1/3/2019

    When I delivered my first budget address as Superintendent four years ago, I spoke of our need to forge new pathways of access, equity, and excellence for all of our students. I spoke about the ways in which our students were engaged and challenged, and the inquisitiveness we seek to instill in them every single day.


    I also spoke about the backbone of that work: the incredible people I am privileged to work alongside in our school system. They are truly the heroes of our singular mission to Elevate All Students and Eliminate All Gaps. They are the heart and soul behind the three simple words that guide our efforts — All Means All — and I continue to be inspired by them every day.


    The cumulative effect of our curricular work, the impact of our incredible employees, and the investment in partnerships from local businesses, government agencies, and community organizations has paid incredible dividends over the last four years. To be sure, we have significant challenges, both inside the classroom and outside of it. I ask everyone, however, to stand with us and continue to invest in the future: our children.


    The $1.26 billion Fiscal Year 2020 operating budget recommendation I presented to the Board of Education on December 19 provides sufficient funding for multiple compensation increases for employees, additional teachers to address enrollment increases and help incrementally reduce class size, and positions to continue to help address the social and emotional needs of students.


    My recommendation allocates $7.5 million to fund the second half of the mid-year compensation increase provided to employees in the current year. It also includes $14 million to fund a step increase for all eligible employees in all bargaining units and an equivalent increase for non-represented employees, and another $13.6 million as a compensation placeholder for additional increases for employees, subject to negotiations with our bargaining units. This funding is sufficient to provide an additional step for eligible employees, cost-of-living increases for all employees, or some other distribution — including back steps — that a bargaining unit may desire to negotiate.


    I have included funding for 295.6 additional positions, 92 percent of which are allocated to people who have daily interactions with children. There are 201 additional classroom teaching positions, 45 of which will address enrollment increases and another 116 of which will help further reduce class sizes.


    We have talked for several years about the growing social and emotional needs of students, and the fact that we are seeing more extreme behavioral issues and at younger ages than ever before. I am asking for $1.4 million for 13 positions – seven school counselors, three school psychologists, and three social workers — to help in this area.


    This budget recommendation also contains $3.1 million for 47.3 positions to address enrollment increases and enhanced student needs in special education, and $2.4 million for 25 English Language Acquisition teachers, 10 bilingual teaching assistants, two bilingual facilitators, and a technician to assist students and their families.


    This recommendation also includes $742,800 to expand the successful Triple E program to the five elementary schools in the Broadneck cluster, and funding for the first 8.5 positions for the new Crofton Area High School, including the principal.


    We continue to have a lot of work to do. I am committed to doing everything I can to accomplish that work, and I firmly believe that the right ingredients exist to bring about the results that we all want. Indeed, what we do now — all of us — through this budget and every other endeavor, will help determine the future of our county, our state, and our nation.


    To every resident of this county, I say clearly that this is not my work. This is not your work. This is our work. These are our children. All of them. And All Means All.


    The writer is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@aacps.org.

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