The Future Of Education In Harford County: State Approves HCPS's Blueprint Implementation Plan

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Students walk to class at Havre de Grace Elementary School. (Credit: Google/ Google Maps)

HARFORD COUNTY - Last week, Harford County Public Schools's (HCPS) Implementation plan for the Blueprint for Maryland's Future was approved, allowing the district to access billions in state funding.

The comprehensive 198-page plan received unconditional approval from the Maryland Accountability and Implementation Board on July 27. It outlines how Harford County Public Schools will tackle the four pillars of the Blueprint:

  • Improving early childhood education
  • Fostering high-quality and diverse teachers
  • Strengthening college and career readiness
  • Ensuring accountability through resource allocation and student success measurements

Over the next ten years, the Blueprint for Maryland's Future is expected to channel billions of dollars into state schools, intended to help local school systems meet the goals outlined by the four pillars.  

The county school system submitted its plan in March, highlighting its efforts to increase pre-kindergarten offerings, align college and career readiness with its North Star initiative, hire and support proficient staff, and ensure a safe, secure, and wholesome learning atmosphere.

Early Childhood Education:

An immediate focus of the Harford County plan is to transform 11 half-day pre-K programs into full-day sessions without reducing the student population and doubling the classroom spaces for pre-K. The county plans to switch all half-day pre-K programs to full-day by the 2025 academic year.

The school system acknowledged that expanding pre-K will not be easy or cheap, citing challenges in providing space for children with disabilities based on their Individualized Education Program (IEP), as well as ensuring seats for eligible 3-year-olds, transportation for pre-K students, and training and staffing to meet the needs of young learners.

"HCPS is currently servicing 60.28% of children with disabilities in regular early childhood programs," the plan states. "Children with disabilities in Harford County need access to high-quality regular early childhood programs in the community and public education. Therefore, Harford County needs to ensure sufficient space is available for children with disabilities."

Recruiting and Maintaining High-Quality and Diverse Teachers and Leaders:

The education elevation pillar details the Blueprint's requirement of attracting and retaining high-quality teachers. HCPS noted its struggle to recruit local teaching candidates in its implementation plan.

"In Harford County, we are directly impacted by the lack of educators coming from Maryland Institutes of Higher Education. As an example, only 157 teachers hired came to HCPS from a Maryland IHE out of the 281 teachers hired during the 2021-2022 MSDE reporting year," the plan states.

The plan highlights several Talent Pathways  to identify and nurture future educators at Maryland institutions. According to the school system's website, HCPS seeks to "train new, non-traditional, and racially diverse job seekers for careers in education while also testing innovative models to increase equitable education outcomes for our students."

The Blueprint for Maryland's Future also necessitates increasing teacher base salaries to $60,000 by July 1, 2026, and a total 10% salary hike from 2019 to June 2024.

According to the plan, HCPS has already met the 10% salary increase and is on track to meet the minimum starting salary of $60,000. Additionally, teachers are being encouraged to pursue National Board Certification, with the system planning to refine its certification support program and provide a $10,000 stipend, with an additional $7,000 for those teaching in identified low-performing schools, according to the Blueprint Career Ladder.

College and Career Readiness:

The implementation plan aligns the college and career readiness pillar with the North Star Initiative, aiming to help students to pass the College and Career Readiness assessment.

The plan details how the district's Student Support Pathway provides opportunities for students who still need to pass the assessment to continue participating in college preparatory programming while receiving the necessary support.

The plan also focuses on English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum and teaching to improve Harford County students' college readiness.

"The mission of the HCPS English/language arts curriculum, kindergarten through grade twelve, is to provide a structured literacy program that is based on the Science of Reading and recognizes the authentic relationships among reading, writing, listening, and speaking in the real world," the plan states.

More Resources to Ensure All Students Are Successful:

HCPS's implementation plan for the Blueprint's fourth pillar focuses on expanding services for English learners, special-education students, students living in poverty or homelessness, and students facing behavioral and mental health issues.

The school system is considering a partnership with a third-party organization to help families locate behavioral health resources and provide school-based mental health services. Through the partnership, Care Solace, an organization coordinating mental health care, would offer free mental health services for families.

According to the plan, of the 54 Harford County schools, 53 currently have an agreement with at least one outpatient mental health clinic to offer mental health services on-site.

The plan also notes Harford County Public Schools CTS Language Link subscription, a service that provides 24-hour interpretation to all school sites and personnel. Additionally, the school system is looking to recruit additional certified teachers to teach English to speakers of other languages (ESOL).

In the plan, HCPS acknowledged that "current funding is not sufficient to provide the staff necessary to effectively meet the needs of students with disabilities."

The district said that the Special Education office is in the early stages of creating a strategic plan aimed at "the effective use of talent, time, and resources to improve outcomes for students with disabilities."

According to the plan, HCPS also plans to hire more special needs certified educators to improve outcomes for students with developmental disabilities.

Governance and Accountability:

The fourth pillar details how HCPS engaged principals and teachers in writing the implementation plan. The Office of Strategic Initiatives conducted focus groups, incorporated educator voices into Blueprint committees, and facilitated professional development sessions. Additionally, the Blueprint Elevating Educators Sub-committee is co-chaired by a teacher to discuss initiatives related to career growth, talent pathways, and diversity.

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