In 2017,Baltimore City Public Schools released its new strategic vision: “Building a Generation: City Schools’ Blueprint for Success.” The Blueprint lays out three areas of strategic priority through 2021: student wholeness, literacy, and leadership. While there has always been a recognition that work on these priorities must be integrated, in 2018 City Schools’ CEO, Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, clarified that everything that the district does must ultimately be in service of student wholeness. The district’s vision for wholeness is:
City Schools students are inspired to pursue their passions and reach their potential when schools provide engaging, safe, and supportive environments that foster well-being and meet academic, social, emotional, and physical needs.
Within the broader scope of student wholeness, the Blueprint calls for an initial focus on integrating social and emotional learning and restorative practices throughout the district. As part of this effort, in the spring of 2018, City Schools launched twenty SEL “intensive learning sites,” each of which will develop and implement a plan for schoolwide SEL. An additional 15 schools will deepen their work related to restorative practices.
SEL in Action
Baltimore City Schools established a partnership with CASEL during the 2017-18 school year to provide technical expertise to the district in planning and rolling out a strategy for SEL throughout the system, in line with CASEL’s district Theory of Action. In 2017-18, several Baltimore City Schools team members had the opportunity to visit CASEL partners in Chicago and Atlanta, stoking their enthusiasm to drive the SEL work forward back in Baltimore.
Organizational structure: SEL is part of the work of the Office of the Whole Child, where there is a Director of SEL and Wellness, an SEL Coordinator, and two SEL specialists.
School rollout: Twenty schools, identified as SEL Intensive Learning Sites (ILS), were included in a pilot program dedicated to fine-tuning SEL practices in the district. Members of the district SEL team visited these sites to acquire a baseline understanding of current SEL practices to assist the schools in developing an SEL plan of action for the 2018-2019 school year. These sites received more extensive professional learning than other schools in the district and will continue to meet as a cohort and receive guided coaching from the SEL team and CASEL consultants. Lessons learned from their journey will help inform the strategy for rolling out SEL across the district.
Each of the 20 ILS will have a Wholeness Room, a dedicated space in the school for students to use when they need time to reflect, calm down, or modify their behavior to be more engaged as learners. The rooms are staffed by personnel trained on techniques for helping students employ SEL competencies to be aware of and modify behavior that may have a negative impact on their school success. These rooms are modeled on the Planning Centers in Cleveland Metropolitan School District, which representatives of City Schools had the opportunity to visit in 2017.
In addition to the 20 ILSs, 15 sites were chosen as pilots for Restorative Practices, with the same goal of using the 2018-2019 school year to explore and refine their work and serve as models for other schools in the district.
Professional learning: Throughout the year, SEL was introduced to all principals and members of their leadership teams at various citywide professional learning sessions, one of the structures used in City Schools to deepen understanding of district initiatives. Due in part to these sessions, there is widescale knowledge of basic content often referred to as “SEL 101,” along with some content on adult SEL.
Professional learning also will occur through site visits to other CASEL districts involved in districtwide SEL. Initially, members of the district-level SEL team, along with school leaders and staff from the 20 ILS, will participate in cross-district SEL visits for opportunities to share and learn.