As soon as Dallas Dance became superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) in 2012, he set out to find a way to get everyone digitally connected — not only the 21,000 employees, but also the parents of the 111,000 students in the school system. It started with making sure that the schools’ website could function properly, recalled Dance. Other early tech efforts included live-streaming public meetings, social media outreach, e-newsletters and, perhaps most important, launching a BCPS mobile app.
While some families don’t have Internet access, they usually have access to a smartphone, Dance pointed out. To date, the feedback about the BCPS mobile app has been great. “We wanted to make sure parents had easy access to their child’s schedule, grades, attendance and more. Parents can access all kinds of information from their own phone and can even see the lunch menu.”
Parents also liked the fact that they could connect with their child’s school, receive announcements when school is closed due to inclement weather and access updated bus schedule information, all in real time.
As superintendent of the 25th largest school system in the country, Dance is tasked with managing a $1.76 billion budget and overseeing more than 20,000 employees and 175 schools, centers, programs and tech initiatives.
These initiatives include S.T.A.T. (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow), which is designed to create a 1:1 digital learning environment for all students. S.T.A.T. puts curriculum first, redefines how instruction is delivered, and places a greater emphasis on personalized instruction and critical thinking skills.
And just last year, Microsoft selected BCPS as its sole showcase school system for innovative digital teaching and learning. BCPS was accepted into the League of Innovative Schools and awarded a $1.5 million grant by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to advance equity and digital learning.
When asked what has been the biggest challenge in getting some of these tech initiatives off the ground, Dance said it is keeping the momentum going. “As you expand initiatives — especially in a large district like ours — you have to maintain that same level of excitement. Over the next three years, we’re going to make sure that each kid has their own computer.”
It’s clear when talking with Dance that he has a true passion for his job. “I like being around kids,” he said. “I like that I can walk into a school as superintendent and they know who I am and they allow me to connect with them.”
He also said that it is his own child that keeps him motivated. “I have a 7-year-old son, whom I think the world of. I want for everyone else’s kids the same thing I want for him.” —Lisa Kopochinski