When the heat failed in many of Baltimore’s schools last month, angry families came face to face with CEO Sonja Santelises, complaining not just about their freezing kids, but about curriculum, tests and their inability to get answers from school administrators on a variety of issues.
Santelises said she wanted to build a partnership with families in the school district.
Monday night, city schools launched the series “Share Your Voice with the CEO” – to continue conversations with families, teachers, and students.
Cafeteria staff and school officials set up a dinner buffet with spaghetti, salad, drinks, and cookies in the small gymnasium at Brehms Lane Public Charter School. They arranged chairs and benches in a semi-circle around Santelises, who began talking about an “exchange of ideas” that would bring a “shared understanding about next steps”.
Many wanted to talk about their children’s safety. Some talked about the need for crossing guards at busy intersections while others brought up the recent shooting in Florida and suggested metal detectors at school entryways.
Santelises didn’t respond about the metal detectors, but she did say they have 100 school police officers to cover approximately 170 buildings. “We won’t have a school police officer for every single building yet but we can do better with…school culture and tightening up with protocols – I will put everyone on notice – you will have unannounced red codes.”
She said students have been practicing what to do in an active shooter situation, so the unannounced code reds will reinforce their school’s plan.
Most of those in attendance seemed to be from the neighborhood or associated with the school. Lainey Hellman, a first year special education teacher at Brehms Lane Charter, asked the last question of the evening. “What’s being done at the district level to attract talent specifically in the field of special education?” Santelises pointed to a teaching program at Towson University that’s caught her eye.
But then, she pivoted to the need to have “honest conversations” about race in schools and about the effect a teacher’s implicit bias can have on a student’s education path. “We need to figure out what is going on with over identification of special ed,” she told the crowd of approximately fifty. Some in the crowd applauded, others seemed surprised that she went there.
Santelises ended the two hour discussion on that note: that she was interested in having the “hard talks” that seemed necessary – and crucial - to the city school district at this time.
The next “Share your voice with the CEO” is scheduled in March at Mary Rodman Recreation Center on the West Side.