Home > Uncategorized > Samsara: Baltimore Public Schools, State Department Agree to Plan to Improve 24 Failing Schools

Samsara: Baltimore Public Schools, State Department Agree to Plan to Improve 24 Failing Schools

Merriam Webster dictionary defines “samsara” as “the indefinitely repeated cycles of birth, misery, and death caused by karma.” A list of “reform initiatives” in Baltimore City schools could appear as one of the pictures representing “samsara” in the dictionary, as their persistent “failure” has plagued State school leaders for decades.

The latest reform initiative in Baltimore was reported in an article by Talia Richman in Tuesday’s Baltimore Sun. In response to the fact that 24 of Maryland’s 27 lowest performing schools are located in that city, the State Department of Education and district signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will provide technical assistance to those schools. Ms. Richman writes:

The state has agreed to send leadership coaches to work one-on-one with principals in targeted schools on strategies for improvement. Other school officials, including assistant principals and some teachers, will also participate in programs aimed at stemming high turnover in underperforming schools.

As part of the agreement, the city has committed to reducing the number of school leaders who leave the city.

Based on my experience in Maryland, they might start with a commitment to retaining the Superintendent! During my ten year tenure as a Superintendent in a Western MD district four different Superintendents led the district, and it seems that the turnover rate has not improved since I left that state in 1997. And based on my experience in Maryland, this turnover rate has as much to do with State and local politics as it has to do with the quality of leadership each successive administrator provided. But Baltimore City’s problems are deeper than politics…

My sense of samsara and my analysis of Baltimore City’s leadership woes was reinforced when I read this NYTimes article from 2006 by Diane Jean Schemo describing the State takeover about to take place at that time. One sentence from the then State Deputy Superintendent was especially telling:

Mr. Peiffer, the deputy superintendent, said politics were not a factor. “Some of these schools have been failing for 12 years under three different governors,” he said. “Regardless of when you do this, there’s going to be somebody, there’ll be a governor, there’ll be a mayor and there’ll be a cry of politics. What you have to do is to do the right thing.”

In Baltimore City’s case “the right thing” is more than the failed takeover in 2006 or the leadership coaches of 2017. The problem requires a willingness of the affluent communities in Maryland to channel more funds to safety net programs to support families in poverty who are struggling with physical and mental health issues— including addiction; a willingness of the Federal government to invest in desperately needed infrastructure projects that could generate jobs in the city; and a willingness to worry less about who is to blame and more about what kind of supports are required to help families in need. Finally, as I noted in an article I wrote for Education Week over fifteen years ago, the agencies serving children should stop working in silos and begin working collaboratively, sharing personnel, information, and resources. But I doubt that it will happen any time soon. Instead, the 25 year cycle of birth, misery, and death caused by karma will continue… and the karma in this case is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

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