Strategic Planning

Baltimore STAT Initiative: A Closer Look

It’s been two years since Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) began implementing a district-wide, one-to-one digital conversion initiative known as STAT (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow). The district has been working on this initiative for more than three years and has learned a few lessons along the way about redesigning a curriculum and personalizing learning for an increasingly diverse student population.

A group of district stakeholders, including superintendent Dallas Dance who spearheaded the initiative, shared some of those lessons during a panel discussion at the recent ASU GSV Summit in San Diego. At its core, STAT is about raising the bar for all students and eliminating the achievement gap, Dance told attendees.

“We all want our kids to have access to information and opportunity,” he said, “and I believe we need to leverage technology in order to be able to [provide that access].”

STAT is part of a five-year strategic plan known as Blueprint 2.0, Dance explained, which is focused on improving academics, safety, communication, and organizational effectiveness of the district, and which builds on the successes of the district’s previous Blueprint for Progress plan.

But the district isn’t just handing out laptops, said Ryan Imbriale, executive director of the district’s new Department of Innovative Learning.

“We were not a district in crisis by any measure,” Imbriale told T.H.E. Journal in post-conference interview. “But we had reached a point where we felt we had to step back and ask, What do our students, our community and our partners need from this school district? What do we need to do to create learner centered environments and make sure that our students have access to the tools and resources? In real terms that meant ensuring that every student, eventually, would have access to a device in their hands in the classroom.”

An investment in upfront planning has proved to be essential to the success of the initiative so far, said BCPS Chief Academic Officer Verletta White.

“What do we want our students to know and to be able to do? What do we want our teachers to know and to be able to do? And what are our foundational beliefs about curriculum?” White asked. “We had to think through how to operationalize that, and we put it together into a teaching and learning framework. That framework has become our instructional anchor.”

To kick off the STAT initiative, the district started rolling out the program at the elementary school level.

“One of the best decisions we made was to start the conversion with our earliest learners,” said Dance. “We know that the achievement gap starts way before kids come to school. [This approach] allowed us to build a system where kids are driving the change.”

Since then STAT has been fully implemented among a group of “lighthouse schools,” including 10 elementary schools, seven middle schools and three high schools. The students in those schools have received “individual digital learning devices,” which support one-to-one personalized and blended learning. The lighthouse schools also serve as model demonstration sites.

Principal Steve Coco of Mays Chapel Elementary School, a lighthouse school, said that one key to the initiative’s success at his school was the establishment of what he called “a fail forward culture” among the educators.

“We have created learner-centered environments for our students in the truest sense of ‘meeting kids where they are,’” said Coco. “And we’ve taken the same approach with our staff … There was a lot of change that came along with this. And [we emphasized to our staff that] it was okay to have something not work perfectly the first time. We took those opportunities to learn from [mistakes] and move forward.”

“At first it was intimidating having all of these new resources available to us,” admitted Andrea Bishop, a teacher at Mays Chapel. “But I just took it one week at a time, learning one new thing each week that would enhance my instruction.” The ability to tailor her instruction to individual students has resulted in a significant increase in student engagement, she said.

Teachers like Bishop are getting direct, on-the-ground support in the form of a coach, or a STAT Teacher, one of whom is stationed in every school in the district.

“One of the things we did very early on was to make sure that every one of our school building had an instruction coach, called a STAT teacher,” Imbriale said. “That was critical. That coach is able to customize and personalize the experience for the staff in that building. They also get the kind of professional development they need from the system to move the work around transforming teaching and learning forward.”

Community involvement was also essential to the success of the program, Dance said. During the first year of the transition, the district held more than 200 community meetings. The result of all that outreach was much-needed community buy in. “What the community now starts to see is that we’re implementing the plan as a community,” he said. “It’s not the superintendent’s plan, but our plan.”

The district has continued to maintain solid lines of communication with the community though a redesigned website, quarterly updates, community breakfasts, an annual state of the schools report, a lighthouse school blog, and what Dance called “Nights of Innovation,” in which parents come to lighthouse schools and hear from students about the work they are doing in class.

The BCPS district, which is located near the City of Baltimore, is the 25th largest school district in the United States, with 174 schools, programs and centers serving more than 111,000 students.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Mountain View, CA.