EDUCATION


As the son of a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher and former student myself, I know firsthand many of the challenges within the school system. We cannot talk about long term sustainable violence reduction without talking about education. Education is the cornerstone of sustainable and progressive communities. We must focus on the educational outcomes to ensure our students are leaving school career and/or college ready. A more educated populace with connectivity to opportunity is key to not only a long-term sustained reduction in crime, but also a solid footing on which to build this city’s comeback.

Investment, Accountability, and Outcomes are the foundation of what Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) should be working toward.

These three pillars will be paramount to restructuring and repositioning BCPS to meet the 21st century needs of students and the return on investment expectations of taxpayers.


Investment

Kirwan Commission

The Kirwan recommendations includes one of the most significant investments in Baltimore’s young people that will help determine the sustainability of Baltimore’s future. The funding models for such an ambitious plan still need to be resolved, however, we will evaluate the outcomes to ensure the investment is providing world-class, high quality education to every student in every Maryland public school.

In order to fund and fully comply with the recommendations my administration will:

  • Conduct a forensic audit of every dollar that flows through Baltimore City government.
  • Reassess the portfolio of city owned properties and determine the feasibility of liquidating non-essential assets. 
  • Explore options to reassess the tax structure of nonprofits operating in the city.
  • Build out reserve contingencies specifically for Kirwan funding.
  • Explore responsibly increasing the city’s contribution to BCPS. 

 Education is not a “one size fits all” prospect. The Smith Administration would employ a renewed approach to preparing our youth to leave school college or job ready. We will work to make more trade and apprenticeship opportunities available for our students by engaging unions and partnering with the business community.

Additional Investments  

Baltimore City currently allocates 16% of its annual budget to public schools, while the majority, 65% is received from the state. The Smith Administration will review all options to increase the city contribution to public schools.  There also needs to be funding increases for city schools support staff, social workers, guidance counselors, and mental health professionals.

Infrastructure 

The current state of the Baltimore City Public School system’s infrastructure is completely unacceptable.  “Baltimore students collectively have missed nearly 1.5 million hours of class time over the past five years — equal to about 221,000 school days — when schools close because their buildings are too hot or cold, a pipe has broken or an electrical problem has developed…” according to a report in The Baltimore Sun. The environments Baltimore public school children are learning in and our teachers are teaching deserve to be functional, comfortable, and safe. We will ensure transparency with funding and schedules as we “outfit” or “retrofit” schools with air conditioning and HVAC investments.

Accountability

As Mayor, I will specifically focus on the relationship between City Hall, BCPS, the Baltimore Teachers Union, and the American Federation of Teachers to ensure we are all openly communicating and advancing the goal of ensuring public school students receive a world class education consistent with the level of taxpayer investment. We will work to ensure accountability measures are in place that provide checks and balances for funding earmarked to BCPS. It is imperative that we collectively implement a new level of accountability and focus on funding for schools. The resource allocation received by BCPS needs to flow more directly into the classroom and mitigate any bottlenecks that occur at North Avenue. In order to do this my administration would work with stakeholders to determine the best, most efficient means of ensuring transparency and accountability in public school funding. 

School Board Position

As it relates to education- teachers are the lynchpin of the system. When we discuss education policy there should be a requirement that elected school board members have classroom experience. It is imperative that the composition of the board include members who have requisite experience in the environments they are tasked with making decisions for. In order to adequately speak on behalf of the constituencies they serve, school board members should possess a diversity of experience, including experienced professionals who also possess fairly recent classroom experience.

As Mayor I would support a hybrid approach to the school board, to include term limits, with the majority being elected. Taxpayers, voters, and stakeholders deserve a “say” in who their school board representatives are. A hybrid approach is a responsible way of ensuring the needs of the community and the selection of the representatives who will make up the majority of the board.

Safety

The safety of all of those who live, work, are educated, or enjoy Baltimore would be the Smith Administrations top priority. It is completely disheartening to watch what has occurred in Baltimore City Public Schools over the last several years. The safety of students, teachers, and staff is paramount. Accountability measures must be in place to discipline violent students who pose a danger to the safety of others. This measure is meant to protect other students, teachers, and staff. At the same time, we cannot expel or suspend students for trivial conduct. Any code of conduct must be clear and followed consistently in order to be effective. Any discipline also needs to be equitable, no matter the school, student race or gender, or school zip code. The Smith Administration would also advocate for in-school suspension where students come to school but serve suspensions away from their regular class, and are supervised by specially trained staff.  As a part of additional investments, I will work with the city council to allocate resources to provide the necessary expertise to maximize the learning and discipline outcomes of challenged students. Our primary responsibility is to give Baltimore’s children every opportunity to learn while ensuring they do so in a safe and productive learning environment. 

Campus Safety & Safe School Audits

Safe school audits need to be implemented to assess the safety conditions in BCPS buildings. Safe school audits that identify and develop solutions for safety matters, security issues, and the evaluation of safety conditions are imperative. Safe school audits should include skilled professionals who meticulously review a school’s physical plant to identify safety concerns and make recommendations to mitigate safety issues. In addition, threat assessment teams are essential in order to determine if students are on a pathway to destruction, and how to get them off the path of potential violence and into healthy services.

Increased Vigilance

Increased vigilance is key. The importance of school leaders identifying and investigating every threat needs to be emphasized by staff, faculty, and administrators. Students, teachers, and administrators need to be vigilant and report each safety concern. An incident tracking system must be implemented that identifies and resolves safety issues. Furthermore, it takes a “Vigilant Village” of diverse team members, sharing information, knowledge, and expertise to improve school safety. “If you see something, say something” needs to be strictly encouraged and enforced. Technology that detects and responds to potential danger is crucial in supporting vigilance.

Formation of School Safety Interagency Councils

The School Safety Interagency Councils will be composed of members from social services, the court system, faith community, law enforcement, university/college representatives, psychologists, unions, media, and school leaders who need to meet regularly and continuously communicate safety concerns. Early detection, collaborative intervention, and immediate communications among council members are essential in preventing school violence.

Outcomes

Partnerships

 As Mayor, I plan to be Baltimore’s number one cheerleader for our students and school system. I will personally engage the corporate and philanthropic community to exhort willing, participating organizations to adopt a community school/center. The organization would help hire and train center staff, help coordinate programming, and get to have a vested stake in the success of an entire neighborhood. We will identify four school/centers to pilot with hopes of scaling up to 8-10 in years 3-5.

I will also work to change the CEO title back to Superintendent. This is not a corporation and our children aren’t “things” that a corporate boss produces. Language has meaning and carries weight. Our “business” is preparing children for life and that spirit is lost. I will make the superintendent a true partner. The superintendent or a top member of their staff will be invited to groundbreakings of new industries and top-level business/workforce development meetings for the purpose of interfacing with the job creators. We need to think differently about how we are preparing our youth for the available jobs and ensuring the school superintendent is also aware of those opportunities in order to build the very best curricula that are forward thinking and innovative.

Advocacy 

 As Mayor, I do not have the power to change the education curriculum. However, I do have the power of the “bully pulpit” to advocate for specific educational needs of our children. I will be a fierce advocate for the below educational initiatives that I believe are imperative to producing a “ready for the world” young person upon graduation. We have to want more and expect more from our children for them to have a sustainable future.

  • Financial literacy – As a society we have an obligation to ensure that every public-school graduate has, at a minimum, a rudimentary understanding of the basic personal financial management concepts. By providing young people with access to information about how bank accounts work, the importance of managing credit scores, how to budget and save, taxes, and other significant concepts we lay the groundwork for having a generation of informed contributors who will strengthen the city’s economy.
  • Insurance – The necessity for life insurance, car insurance, renters/homeowners insurance, etc…
  • Relationships – Interpersonal communication, signs of abuse, what is abuse, etc…
  • Mental Health – Schools are putting a big emphasis lately on physical fitness, and that’s amazing, but mental health is equally as important, especially for young people. Stress management skills, symptoms of depression and addiction, and just learning how to have frank and open conversations about how our mental state is could only be a good thing. Young people are at a greater risk of suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10-24-year old’s in America. We must encourage teens from a young age to talk about their feelings and concerns as well as educate their peers on what to look for as warning signs.
  • Sustainable Living – In this era of scary climate change and disposable fashion, learning how to live sustainably will soon become even more important. Educating youth about climate change stats and causes, how to enjoy an eco-friendly, litter-free lifestyle by eating local, seasonal food and eco-friendly products can go a long way.
  • Nutrition – I know that this is covered in home economics, but a separate class that focuses purely on nutrition would be extremely beneficial for long term health. We should focus on changing behaviors at a young age. Students would learn the basics of healthy eating, how to cook on a budget, awareness and understanding of eating disorders and general food knowledge and skills.

Job Readiness

Many of our young people will move on from public schooling to college in order to pursue their education and career interests, but we have a significant population where, for various reasons, an advanced degree is not an option or of interest. That leaves Baltimore with a ready and willing workforce that we must train on order to participate building our city back.

We will commit to investing in more apprenticeship, internships, and trade opportunities. Baltimore is a great place to learn and make a good living if a child decides college is not the route for them. An important step in this process is ensuring connectivity to opportunities that are readily available and apparent. We want to create leaders and a workforce that any corporation is willing to invest in our city because a homegrown talent pool is available.

Baltimore must realize its full potential with its greatest asset; the people. With low end estimates of 17,000 vacant homes in the city, the Smith Administration looks upon this as a massive economic and workforce development opportunity. When building a house, at minimum, the followings jobs are necessary:

  • Excavator,
  • Electrician,
  • Plumber & Drainer,
  • Gasfitter,
  • Concretor,
  • Carpenter,
  • Bricklayer,
  • Waterproofer,
  • Plasterer,
  • Roofer,
  • Tiler,
  • Floor sander,
  • Painter,
  • Landscaper,
  • Architect,
  • Urban Planner,
  • Permits and Inspections,
  • Surveyors,
  • Real Estate Attorneys
  • Real Estate Agents

Each of these opportunities must be made available, widespread, throughout our school system so that as our children graduate, they have a skill and are marketable to our job industry.  

Hiring, Recruitment, and Retention

We must specifically focus on the recruitment and retention of qualified individuals to become Baltimore City Public School’s teachers. There must also be a focus on Baltimore residents as well as Black male teachers. While nationally, Black children make up 35% of the student body, in Baltimore they make up 78%. Nationally, less than 2% of teachers are Black males. In Baltimore, that number is even lower, right around 1%.

The Smith Administration will work to support the school system in a strategic plan to meet the demand to create a more diverse workforce that can assist in the education of our children. We will partner in efforts to create and/or find best practices for Baltimore in our push to recruit and retain more Black male teachers.

Overall, we will also allocate specific funding for loan forgiveness for new local teachers who commit to an agreed upon contractual time period of teaching in Baltimore. We must act decisively and aggressively to ensure we have the very best educators and a level of continuity amongst them.

Meeting Commitments 

I will commit to regular meetings with the Baltimore Teachers Union and American Federation of Teachers. I would like for the majority, if not all, of these meetings to be inside of a school and include a walkthrough. I further commit to monthly visits to different schools, independent of meetings.

Also, as noted in my Government Accountability platform, I will launch an “public commitment tracker” to hold my administration accountable to the residents so that they can see the progress we are making towards the promises made during the campaign. This tracker will be public and have explanations of progress or lack thereof.