Before the doors open: Creating a collaborative community


This is the first entry in a weekly series that takes a peek into preparations for opening the newest Baltimore County school – Lyons Mill Elementary.

Principal Maralee Clark is excited about the prospect of opening a new school for students and families in northwest Baltimore County, but she is most excited about opening the new school with the full involvement of students, families, staff, community members, and business partners.

“I am bringing to this project all that I have learned from my 22 years in education,” she says, “including what I learned through my experience as the founding principal of Woodholme Elementary School.”

The biggest lesson learned from that experience, Clark says, is the importance of thorough planning and scheduling prior to the opening of school. “For the opening of Lyons Mill, I have spent a great deal of time working with staff and colleagues in other departments to consider all that has to be done before the school year starts and plotting that out on the calendar so we can concentrate on teaching and learning on the first day of school.”


“One of the most important things I had to do,” Clark says, “was to select the right staff. I wanted to be sure that every person hired was talented and that there was a range of experiences throughout the faculty. Staff members needed to be risk-takers, people willing to do things differently than in the past.” As part of the hiring process, Clark had prospective staff members take on the challenge of completing a project that they had not done before by using technology.

To build staff unity and readiness, Clark also worked with the Office of Organizational Development to create an intensive 8-day summer institute, from July 7-16, for her 50 staff members.

Because Lyons Mill will have a literacy, mathematics, engineering, and science focus, the summer institute included two days of training on S.T.A.T. (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow), the BCPS initiative that transforms classrooms into digital learning environments and provides each student with his or her own computer. In addition to a broad range of other topics, from culturally responsive teaching to learning styles, staff also explored the new BCPS science curriculum, a number of software programs, the use of social media for learning, and the school’s two new 3-D printers.

Other activities held during the institute allowed staff to build relationships with one another while developing plans for parent involvement activities, establishing routines and procedures, and defining the school’s vision and mission.

“Lyons Mill Elementary School creates a safe, healthy, and nurturing atmosphere which fosters collaborative partnerships among students, teachers, families and community members,” reads the first line of the school’s [vision or mission] statement. “Our diverse learners are empowered to build 21st century skills by exploring rigorous, engaging and relevant student-centered learning while integrating innovative resources. We inspire each other to be lifelong learners who are caring, productive citizens of a dynamic global community.”


On the last day of the professional development activity, the entire staff boarded a bus and toured the neighborhoods, including a new housing community being developed by one of the school’s business partners, Beazer Homes, that will be served by the new elementary school.

Lyons Mill already has attracted a number of school partners. In addition to Beazer Homes, the list includes LEGO Education, T. Rowe Price, Rita’s of New Town, Lifetouch, and the Fractured Prune. Through “friend raising” activities, Lyons Mill is committed to continue building community partner relationships in collaboration with Debbie Phelps, director of the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools.

Clark is perhaps most excited about the involvement of Lyons Mill students and their families – even before the school year starts. Large numbers of students and parents turned out for a family event at Rita’s in New Town on July 10 and for a scavenger hunt at the Owings Mills Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library on July 13. During the scavenger hunt, students wandered through the library to have their “passports” stamped by teachers and staff members stationed throughout the building. More than 60 parents showed up for the school’s first PTA meeting held on July 14.

“The motto of our school is ‘Explorers Believe, Explorers Achieve!’” says Clark, “and the strength of the community behind this school will make that true. We – teachers, parents, staff – are united in our commitment to the success of every Lyons Mill student by transforming teaching and learning through personalized and blended instruction in a learner-centered environment.”

Check back next week for the second installment in the series about plans for teacher-created afterschool clubs.
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