New Lighthouse Schools shine spotlight on middle schools


TOWSON, MD. – First came the happy assault on the front office.

Bearing balloons, Ryan Imbriale and a band of BCPS administrators visited seven middle schools on the nippy morning of January 29, each stop an opportunity to surprise and delight principals with the declaration that their schools had been selected as the newest BCPS “Lighthouse Schools.”

After the surprise came the sharing. Prodded by Imbriale, who is the BCPS executive director of innovative learning, principals took to the school intercom to spread the good news throughout  their buildings.

Finally, the celebration, which often did not come until Imbriale and his colleagues were walking back to their caravan of cars to head to the next school. At Cockeysville Middle School, for instance, Imbriale’s face lit up when, just as Principal Deb Magness finished her surprise intercom announcement, he heard a roar of cheers from deep inside the school.

“That’s the kids cheering!”he said, slowing his stride slightly to savor the moment. “That’s so cool!”  

The scene played out at middle schools all morning across Baltimore County – at Stemmers Run and Dumbarton, at Ridgely and Cockeysville, and at Pikesville, Windsor Mill and Sparrows Point schools.

Surprise. Celebrate. Repeat.   

The January 29 caravan was the second time BCPS educators announced which schools would lead the way in helping to create innovative, 21st century learning environments in classrooms throughout the county. Last year, 10 elementary schools became the first to pioneer the curriculum, training, teaching, and device integration that serve as the first steps in the school system’s instructional digital conversion. This year, the program moved into the middle schools.

The conversion, which is part of a multi-year effort called S.T.A.T. (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow), is centered on shifting teaching and learning through the integration of technology. Lighthouse schools are those that have been tasked with pioneering staff development, curriculum conversion, personalized and blended learning, and the use of 1:1 digital devices for each student. 

“With one year of S.T.A.T. under our belts, we’re more excited than ever to see how the move toward transformational classrooms will benefit students and teachers both at schools that have been part of the Lighthouse program and those new schools we’re welcoming in,” said BCPS Superintendent Dallas Dance. “Our move to digital instruction has been successful so far, and we are eager to see how our middle school students adapt to these new tools and opportunities.”  

Last week, Imbriale was clear in assuring each middle school principal that they will have plenty of support as they begin their first Lighthouse year. “You’ll have us in your corner all year, with all sorts of support,” he told principals. “This will be an exciting year for all of you who will be working with us on this.”

The schools were identified through a process that began earlier in the school year when middle school principals were asked if they were interested in participating in the second year of the pilot. Once interest was determined, school instructional staff members were surveyed about their level of commitment. Schools with high levels of staff interest and commitment were asked to complete applications, which were reviewed and approved by a special committee.

The conversion, which Dr. Dance introduced as a system priority during his 2012 State of the Schools address, calls for a fundamental shift in teaching and learning. The conversion involves curriculum development, technology upgrades and professional development as well as ongoing changes to policies and procedures in order to reach standards ensuring a 21st-century, technology-driven environment in each classroom.

S.T.A.T. has since won attention both from national and international observers, including recognition through a national Digital Innovation in Learning Award and a grant through Maryland’s 2014 Digital Learning Innovation Fund. Dr. Dance also has discussed S.T.A.T. before audiences including the Federal Communications Commission and a technology symposium in the Republic of Korea.

Story and photos by Charles Herndon, BCPS communications specialist
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