Hanlin offers ambitious plans in State of Schools

Dr Donna C. Hanlin, Superintendent of Wicomico County Schools: “Just imagine what we can do together – imagine the future.”

In her first-ever State of the Schools Address, held before a select crowd of county leaders this week, Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin reviewed the successes of her Achieve! 1.0 goals of the past year and set a bold agenda for the coming budget year.

In a presentation that stressed the school system’s progress and potential, Hanlin outlined the facts and figures that distinguish the Eastern Shore’s largest school system from its neighbors, demonstrating its unique challenges and distinct possibilities.

And, with county funding for the school system historically set at the minimum required under state budget rules, Hanlin offered a vision for a school system funded beyond the bare minimums.

The superintendent will enter her third year on the job in July. The strategic priorities in her Achieve! 2.0 plan:

  • Increase the percentage of students who enter kindergarten ready to learn from 3 percent to at least 38 percent by 2022.

Hanlin reported that last year’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment found that only one-third of county kindergartners arrived “ready to learn” when beginning their school careers. The assessment is a statewide exam that gauges reading preparedness and literacy potential. While this year’s assessment showed some progress, it’s not clear whether that will be sustained as new classes come online.

At best, according to the testing, a full 53 percent of kindergartners are still not ready. Hanlin, therefore, would implement a universal prekindergarten over four years, expanding the limited program now in place. Such a program would require additional funding on the part of the county’s leadership.

  • Increase the percentage of students who enter Grade 9 and graduate four years later from 82 percent to at least 87 percent by 2022.

Wicomico’s graduation rate has long been a problematic number. Under her plan, Hanlin is offering a vision for “classrooms of the future,” where teachers would encourage students to work in teams. These modern classrooms would rely on even more technology.

Hanlin would also encourage academic academies or “pathway projects” within schools — especially middle schools — that would encourage students to select career paths that excite and challenge them — and make them more committed to study.

Again, if county officials can agree to fund it, Hanlin said she wants to see pathways created to include accounting and finance, global studies and international baccalaureate. Online learning, internships, dual enrollment and nighttime programs would also be expanded.

Hanlin also stressed her previously articulated desires to create a high school devoted to the performing arts — a multi-year project that would rely on public/private partnerships to succeed.

  • Decrease the three-year employee turnover rate from 20 percent to 15 percent by 2022.

While school officials have often talked favorably in recent years of their success in recruiting new teachers, retaining those employees has been more of a challenge.

Hanlin wants to invest more in the system’s employees, improve diversity hiring and conduct a salary study with the idea of improving wages and benefits.

The crowd of about 100 local leaders was treated to a presentation that reviewed budget numbers and identified the system’s funding sources. Many people in the room seemed surprised that the clear majority of school funding comes from state and federal coffers.

The current year’s school budget is about $205 million, with just $43 million of that total coming from the county. The county’s annual budget is just over $140 million in total.

Hanlin dissected her funding explanation down to a per pupil figure, explaining what additional programs would cost. The county has nearly 15,000 students.

She said the state pays the county $10,014 per pupil, and that number is expected to rise by $179 next year. In fiscal year 2018, the schools essentially received $3,041 per pupil from the county.

Hanlin asked her audience to “imagine” ways citizens and elected leaders could unite to fund new programs that improve learning and implement her Achieve! 2.0 goals.

“I know what I have presented today is a shift in thinking for many in our community, and our county leaders have very difficult decisions to make,” Hanlin said. “I have presented a very specific plan because I do take our fiduciary responsibility very seriously. I ask that you consider what it would mean for our community to think of funding education as an investment in our future and if you agree, get behind my request for this investment.

“Just imagine what we can do together — imagine the future. With an increase in per-pupil funding just imagine Wicomico County Public Schools in 2022.”


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