BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Baltimore County Superintendent Darryl Williams has defended his record for leading the school system and the level of communication after five of the county council’s seven members called for his ouster.
In a letter to the board dated June 11, Williams pointed to an efficiency review cited by lawmakers and said Baltimore County Public Schools had committed to 89% of recommended changes, including a reorganization of the central office, a plan to boost morale and $7.7 million in cuts.
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He goes on to say that the school system is tackling issues such as shortage of teachers, shortage of bus drivers and an increase in student suspensions.
“BCPS is greateful for the Council’s support and investment in our children and staff,” he wrote. “In the spirit of continuous improvement, I remain open to opportunities to share and collaborate with the county council on how we can work together to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of support for students, staff and Baltimore County Public School Families.”
Five council members, including the three Republican representatives, signed the letter calling for a new direction in the school system three years into Williams’ tenure. He was appointed Superintendent of Schools for Baltimore County Public Schools on May 21, 2019.
“We recognize that the past two plus years have posed significant challenges,” wrote Cathy Bevins, Todd Crandell, Wade Kach, David Marks and Tom Quirk. “We have all been affected by the pandemic and its direct health consequences and the vast disruptions to our normal way of life. Nonetheless, BCPS has been entrusted with perhaps the highest and most urgent calling – the care, safety and education of our children. But instead of rising to the challenge, BCPS management struggled.
Driver and teacher shortages are a national problem, Williams countered, with Baltimore County ranking behind Prince George’s County and just ahead of Montgomery County in the number of teaching vacancies. During the school year, BCPS Human Resources hosted 155 recruiting events and worked to strengthen relationships with colleges.
He also said there is “a comprehensive plan that addresses organizational climate, workplace engagement, recognition and well-being” for current employees.
WJZ spoke to a mother of three in public schools who asked that we not use her name. She told us that some of her children have faced ongoing reliability issues with school bus transportation.
“My schoolgirl takes the bus and sometimes she is on time and sometimes she is half an hour late for school. It’s random,” she told WJZ interviewer Mike Hellgren. “I really think transportation is a huge issue. We need to be able to send our students to school on time. …Especially full-time working parents, it’s not fair to expect them to be able to drive their kids when the bus doesn’t show up and is an hour late.
As for suspensions, the school system has rolled out a new safety assistant position to 20 high schools and plans to add more in the fall.
“Despite a strong emphasis on implementing social-emotional learning practices across all schools in response to pandemic-related trauma, suspension rates have increased at all levels during each rating period,” he wrote.
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Assistants, who work with school resource officers and principals, are trained in de-escalation techniques and relationship building.
In their letter, lawmakers claimed communications from William’s office “have been infrequent and inconsistent.”
Williams said he had 15 meetings with the board or individual members and shared updates on the school system’s response to the effectiveness report, serious incident reports, school board memos and ‘other documents.
“BCPS proactively provided the Board with information on system operations, student and staff accomplishments, and strategic planning,” he wrote. “The Board’s claims of ‘inconsistent and infrequent’ communication paint an incomplete picture of our partnership.”
A school employee who asked us not to identify her said communication with administrators and central office was often frustrating.
“Communication isn’t great,” the employee said. “Communicating with the principal, the deputy principal, up to the teachers, something has to give. I don’t know what is true and what is not.
But mother Alysha Roberts told Hellgren she has no complaints about the superintendent and those at her son’s school.
“I had no problems,” Roberts said. ” I have never had a problem. My son has been attending county schools for 13 years now and everyone has been great to me.
The school board met behind closed doors on Monday evening for a discussion on an undisclosed topic.
The board once weathered a scandal at the top when former superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance spent time behind bars for perjury after failing to report lucrative consultancy deals on financial disclosure forms.
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When Dr. Williams was hired three years ago, executives were looking for a fresh start at the top of one of the largest school systems in the state. “I just thought it was a great opportunity to still be in Maryland and then do an amazing job running a school system,” he told WJZ at the time.