Blueprint for Maryland's Future Act implementation plans due. Harford County Public Schools lists goals, solutions, and challenges.

Mar. 15—Blueprint for Maryland's Future, the state's landmark public school reform plan, will soon take effect, and school systems, including Harford County Public Schools, turned in their implementation plans Wednesday as required by the state.

Under Maryland's constitution, the General Assembly is required to establish a "thorough and efficient" system for public schools.

In 2016, the Kirwan Commission, named after former University System of Maryland Chancellor William "Brit" Kirwan, was asked to rewrite the education funding formula for the state to use for the next two decades. The commission produced a report of more than 200 pages.

Lawmakers voted to enact the Blueprint in 2020, but the bill was vetoed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Hogan maintained that the cost and fiscal impact of the coronavirus pandemic would make it difficult to fund the initiative. However, the legislature overrode Hogan's veto, and the Blueprint became law in March 2021.

Blueprint in Harford County

The Blueprint policies are divided into five pillars: early childhood education for families with low-income, elevating educators, college and career readiness, student support, and the foundation of the Blueprint.

Harford County Public Schools 200-page implementation plan has four long-term goals including: college and career readiness aligned with the county's North Star initiative; hiring and supporting effective staff; providing a safe, secure and healthy learning environment; and engaging families and communities to be partners in the education of students by becoming stakeholders.

Within HCPS, there are five Blueprint committees, 12 work groups and 150 committee members.

"The Blueprint itself demands stakeholder commitment but we have also incorporated that into the heart of the work that we're doing," said Katie Ridgeway, director of Strategic Initiatives. "We have a feedback survey that we post at the end of every meeting, and we've had over 230 responses providing real-time feedback about the work we are doing for the Blueprint and the work we need to do in the future. We're doing small group workshops and presentations, not just within HCPS but in the community as well. We've presented at the Harford Business Roundtable, Harford County Delegation, and we have a business advisory committee."

Early Childhood Education

The Early Childhood Education pillar focuses on providing high quality prekindergarten education with public and private prekindergarten providers. This section comprises 43 pages of the Harford County implementation plan.

Currently, transportation is not provided if a child attends a pre-K program outside of their attendance area, according to the plan.

This pillar has two specific goals: a plan to expand access to pre-K programs; and executing that plan with the school system's private providers. There are more than 300 private providers in Harford County.

"This last year we only had two family providers with a total of 16 seats providing pre-K under the Blueprint," said Ridgeway. "There's a lot of work to be done in that area."

The school system's short-term facility plan initially focused on converting the 11 half-day pre-K programs to full day without reducing the number of students being served, doubling the number of classroom spaces needed for pre-K at these locations. After an evaluation of these schools, seven schools can accommodate the additional space requirements, three schools require building modification, and one school will not be able to accommodate the extra classroom.

Harford County Public Schools has a pre-K expansion grant which funds expansion but will require a waiver from the requirements set forth by the Blueprint for the distribution of public and private pre-K slots for school years 2022-23 and 2023-24, according to the plan.

The school system has developed a two-year plan to convert all half-day pre-K programs to full day by the 2025 school year.

The school system is faced with the challenge providing space for children with disabilities if their Individualized Education Program indicates their home-school pre-K program is the least restrictive environment, according to the plan. Children with disabilities may become eligible throughout the school year though this may be a challenge when a pre-K program that provides the least restrictive environment is full.

Additional challenges include having seats available for eligible 3-year-olds; ensuring bus transportation space is available for pre-K students; designing a common pre-K information and application platform for Harford County Public Schools and partner providers; and providing training and staffing to ensure the needs of all young learners are met.

Elevating Education

The Elevating Education pillar explains the Blueprint's requirement of recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. This 37-page section includes a career ladder, goals for diversity in recruitment and retention, and sustainable talent pathways for educators.

"It talks about how we are going to create a career ladder, what are our milestones that we want to meet, how are we going about the goal for diversity of recruitment and retention, and what plans do we have for growing our own educators," Ridgeway said.

Harford County Public Schools is directly impacted by the lack of educators coming from Maryland institutes of higher education, according to the implementation plan. Of the 281 teachers hired by HCPS during the 2021-2022 reporting year, only 157 were from a Maryland college or university.

Due to the shortage, the school system has created several Talent Pathways/Grow Your Own initiatives in an attempt to increase the number of future educators. Through the Maryland Leads grant, a talent pathways needs assessment is underway with expected completion in April, according to the plan.

Besides hiring teachers, other challenges include a lack of diversity among candidates, and competition with other school systems that are also seeking to hire a diverse field of candidates.

College and Career Readiness

The College and Career Readiness pillar aligns with the school systems' North Star Initiative. It is the largest section of the implementation plan with 82 pages.

"What you'll find in those pages is about a third of the implementation plan is on the reading curriculum, a third is on the math curriculum, and a third is on the college and career readiness pathways, on track for graduations, and student support pathways," Ridgeway said.

The Board of Education recently approved the purchase of reading content under the Lucy Calkins Units of Study reading program.

Buck Hennigan, executive director of Student Support Services, and his team worked on the college and career readiness plan for more than a year.

"When we got started with this work, we were pretty pleased that we were already off to a good start," said Hennigan. "It started with our graduate outcomes. We work backwards from graduation to kindergarten. We want students to have access opportunity."

Harford County Public Schools' School Performance and Achievement is the continuous school improvement process to ensure each student has access to academic opportunities, social-emotional support and real-world experiences tailored to meet the needs, abilities, and interests of each diverse learner, according to the plan.

A goal is for students to pass the College and Career Readiness assessment.

Students who have not yet met the CCR standard will have options through the Student Support Pathway to continue participating in college preparatory programming while receiving support to meet the standard, according to the implementation plan. The curriculum is designed with several tiers of support for student success. Students who have not yet met the college and career readiness standard may also become eligible for participation through their grade-point average and attendance.

Student Support

The Student Support pillar focuses on expanding services and support for all students who need it, including English language learners, special-education students, students experiencing poverty or homelessness, and students with behavioral and mental health challenges. It is 22 pages.

Harford County Public Schools subscribes to CTS Language Link, a telephonic service that provides 24-hour interpretation services to all school sites and personnel. Additionally, CTS Language Link provides translation services that may be required or needed, according to the plan.

The school system will look into increasing the number of staff to support English learners, including ESOL certified teachers and will work to develop a standard definition of "bilingual" so that staff know the criteria that are considered by the county when effectively communicating in a language other than English.

Standards of proficiency will be established as well as resources that staff can use to improve their second-language proficiency.

Hennigan started small groups last year to inform outside stakeholders on the school system's process for special education and community schools and how students in poverty are identified.

"The great thing about student support is that a lot of these things are already in place so now our goal is to enhance, make it better and continue to evolve," Hennigan said.

Current initiatives that will be enhanced include continuing to provide English language learners with high-quality tutoring during the school day, working with the Office of Technology to continue to enhance the online EL program database for more comprehensive reporting, and formalizing the curriculum for ESOL 1 and 2 to be used in the middle and high schools.

The challenges Harford County Public Schools experience in meeting students' behavioral health needs are: the overall availability of mental health services in the community; long wait times from referral to the start of services; ongoing stigma associated with accessing mental health services; and families who experience barriers to accessing services in the community, especially families who are uninsured, according to the plan.

The school system works closely with the local Office on Mental Health to provide school-based mental health services in school buildings. To address service availability, HCPS is considering a partnership with a third-party care coordination organization that will work with families to locate behavioral health resources to support the mental health of students. This would be a no-cost resource offered to families, according to the plan.

Fifty-three of 54 schools have an agreement with at least one outpatient mental health clinic to provide mental health services in their buildings. Many schools have added or are in the process of adding a second provider due to high demand.

Governance and Accountability

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The Morning Sun

The foundation of the Blueprint is the last pillar, Governance ad Accountability, which consists of 13 pages.

"It is the government's requirement where the Maryland State Department of Education has asked school districts how they will go about implementing this work," said Ridgeway, "How are we involving stakeholders, what are the plans and how are we going about implementing our budget process."

Before rolling out a structure for Blueprint implementation at Harford County Public Schools, the Office of Strategic Initiatives conducted a series of focus groups about the perceptions of Blueprint work, which included principals and teachers, according to the plan. Principals and teachers are included on all Blueprint committees, which have been working on the requirements, planning, and implementation of the Blueprint.

The Blueprint has been consistently included in administrative and instructional leadership professional development as either a systemwide presentation or a choice small group engagement session.

The draft plan was posted publicly so that principals, teachers, and community members could provide feedback through a survey link.

The survey had 199 responses with 136 responses from parents or community members, 13 from Harford County Public Schools school-based employees, 57 from school system central office employees, and five self-identified individuals.

All 24 of the state's school districts wererequired to turn in their implementation plans by Wednesday.The final Blueprint implementation plan is available for viewing on Harford County Public Schools' website at