January 28, 2015
As the Kent Forward Initiative completes its second full year, Executive Director Linda Dawson can look back on a 2014 marked by a fruitful collaboration with the office of the Superintendent of Kent County Public Schools. “We have been happy to support Dr. Couch’s priorities in whatever ways we can,” says Dawson. “It has been a pleasure to work with her and her staff, especially Darlene Spurrier, Supervisor of Student Services. We have put a lot of time and effort into making local residents and businesses aware of what the schools are doing and how they can help.”
Among the accomplishments from the past year, Dawson lists:
– Discovery Education Program. Kent Forward coordinated the public announcement of the school system’s partnership with Discovery. Some 200 community leaders gathered at the KC Community Center to hear Dr. Couch and a Discovery executive outline the joint venture that is bringing interactive, digital learning to all grades.
– Challenge Day: Dr. Couch brought this meaningful three-day experience to Kent County to combat the root causes of bullying through lessons in empathy and tolerance. Kent Forward worked with Family and Community Partnerships of Kent County to raise the $15,000 cost through fundraising and grant writing and helped recruit and coordinate the 50 volunteers who participated with 300 middle- and high-school students and staffers. The results were described as a “life changing” event for the participants that brought about a positive culture change in the schools.
– Attendance Awareness Month Events. With funding from United Way and donations from area businesses, Dawson and Kent Forward in early fall administered a poster contest and an incentive program to reduce absenteeism in local schools.
– 21st Century Summer Program, an academic enrichment program offered four days a week for a month in mid-summer, included visits to local businesses and nonprofits. Kent Forward organized trips for 150 students to visit seven sites, including the Fire Company, hospital, Chester River Association and Dixon Valve.
– Career, Technology and Engineering (CTE) Programs at KCHS. Kent Forward and the Kent County Chamber of Commerce hosted a breakfast meeting where 50 local business leaders learned about these “pathway” programs at the high school and heard a presentation specifically about the Engineering Pathway.
The Kent Forward Initiative was launched by Dick Goodall, the CEO of Dixon, along with the then-presidents of Washington College and Chester River Health System (now part of the University of Maryland Shore Health System). The broad mission is to enhance the educational, economic and social well-being of Kent County residents, and education was identified as the most important area of focus. “A strong school system with a reputation for student achievement is vital to any efforts to boost the social and economic health of the area,” says Goodall. “Without it, our county loses too many young families to nearby counties and employers have a harder time finding skilled workers willing to relocate here.”
“Early on, Kent Forward’s agenda was to support the schools by making the community and its business and nonprofit leaders more aware of the challenges they face and the progress they are making,” says Dawson. “And to show area residents, businesses and organizations how they could be involved in positive ways.”
An aspirational goal was to help the schools become one of the top five ranked school systems in Maryland. “That’s still our goal,” notes Goodall. Kent Forward pledged to present data on school performance to the community, to shine a light on performance and rankings. But disparities in the statistics for 2014 make that impossible this year. During the 2013/14 school year, teachers were preparing students for the new PARCC assessments being field-tested by Maryland and the national Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, rather than the MSA (Maryland School Assessment) tests that have been administered in recent years. Many students took only the PARCC tests in some or all subjects in 2014. The results were too limited, and too apples-and-oranges to compare to prior years.
For those who still took the MSA, scores dropped, as expected, across Maryland. And in Kent County, the small size of the divided data meant that our schools did not even make it into the widely used “Schooldigger” rankings, and that the data reported on the state site, “Maryland Report Card,” was incomplete.
Some good news came from the statewide School Progress Index, which saw Kent County Schools rise in comparison to other Maryland public schools, from near the bottom of the 24 districts to number 13. It was the third-best ranking among the nine Eastern Shore counties, behind Worcester and Queen Anne’s.
“We are thrilled with the energy and optimism in the Superintendent’s Office and the progress the schools have made in the past year, despite the lack of testing data,” says Goodall. “We have faith in Dr. Couch and her team, and in the School Board, to keep this momentum going and provide our kids with the finest education possible.”