Schoolwires® provides the technology backbone for Baltimore City public schools’ PLCs
The recent economic recession has cut many public school districts’ budgets to the bone. Already in the middle of a major financial and structural reformation in 2008, Baltimore City Public Schools — the 35th largest school district in the U.S., with more than 200 schools and over 10,000 employees serving 85,000 students — knew it had to find innovative ways to improve its teachers’ effectiveness while containing professional development costs. In the always demanding teaching field, educators often have no time to grade their own performance and take steps to improve it. Baltimore City teachers keep pace with their peers — using Schoolwires® Centricity™.
A flexible solution for multiple challenges
To help ensure district-wide success, Baltimore City Public Schools partnered with Schoolwires in 2009 and launched a new district Web site and individual school sites during the summer of 2010.
“One of the reasons we partnered with Schoolwires was because their solution provided the most flexibility. We didn’t want schools to feel like we were forcing them into a predefined template,” said Michael Sarbanes, the district’s Executive Director of Partnerships, Communications and Community Engagement.
Zeroing in on teacher effectiveness
When reform came to Baltimore City Public Schools five years ago, the district gave its schools autonomy over resources and decision-making. It also introduced competition by allowing its district’s residents to choose the middle schools and high schools their children would attend. But here’s the rub:
Word gets around in a school district. Parents talk about teachers who demand nothing but the best and take every child’s success personally. They also talk about the ones who never quite get their footing. Teachers’ reputations can make or break individual schools within a district that allows school choice.
Taking Professional Learning Communities online
“Centricity’s easy-to-use Web design capabilities allow teachers to create and publish their own Web pages. As a result, they can better communicate with parents, students — and even each other,” Sarbanes said.
To maintain professional development standards while toeing the line on the budget, Baltimore City Public Schools turned to its Web site development partner, Schoolwires. Using powerful yet intuitive Centricity tools, the district built City Schools Inside, a Web site designed especially to inform and engage Baltimore City Public School employees.
While the site features essential information and a variety of time saving tools — including dynamic “to do” lists and how-to guides for City Schools processes — the Professional Growth tab houses a robust program of development opportunities, including The Works Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Formed by and for teachers, PLCs offer the opportunity to share best practices, get advice from trusted peers and more. And using Centricity to build PLC Web pages for various educational specialties that include Web 2.0 functionality makes communication easy and draws together educators from across the sprawling district.
Because Centricity is designed to grow along with a school district, Baltimore City Public Schools recently added pages and functionality on the City Schools Inside Web site to implement, evaluate and improve professional development opportunities.
A school district the size of Baltimore City Public Schools will be in a near-constant state of evolution to meet the demands of its ever-changing community. Centricity offers a Web content management system that can scale up on demand to accommodate such programs as full-scale PLCs.