Ten weeks of summer: World Languages prepares for 2014-2015 school year

When beach hats replace thinking caps atop students’ heads, Baltimore County Public Schools shuts down for the summer, right? Not quite.

Of the school system’s 18,783 employees, 1,032 work in the BCPS central offices. While some of those 1,032 employees hold 10-month positions, most central office staff hold 12-month positions and spend the summer months preparing for the next school year.

For each of the 10 weeks of summer, a 12-month central office employee will answer a series of questions about his or her staff’s preparations and projects for the 2014-2015 school year. This week, Blake Lubinski, an intern in the Department of Communications and Community Outreach, interviewed Brian Schiffer, director of the Office of World Languages.

Blake Lubinski: “Historically, what role has your office played in the school system?”

Brian Schiffer: “Our office has supported schools in the delivery of the world languages and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) curricula for Grades K-12. In the past, we have belonged to academics and, at one time, to special programs.”

BL: “What are the responsibilities of your office?”

BS: “Our primary responsibility is providing teachers with a solid curriculum and the necessary professional development to deliver effective instruction. We also support teachers and build leadership capacity, manage the Title III Grant for English Language Acquisition (ELA), facilitate translations of essential documents, provide interpreters for families whose first language is not English and collaborate with other offices on many school system initiatives.

“Most recently, we’ve been tasked to support Blueprint 2.0’s second theory of action in building a program for elementary students to start learning a second language.”

BL: “What can you tell me about this second language program?”

BS: “Much planning has gone into crafting a sustainable program, and we’re proud to be launching a pilot of it in the 2014-2015 school year.”

BL: “The pilot program aside, how do your office’s responsibilities change during the summer?”

BS: “During the summer, in addition to all of our regular responsibilities, we revise and rewrite curriculum; participate in the hiring process of new teachers; ensure that all schools have the necessary materials to deliver instruction; plan and participate in the New Teacher Orientation; plan professional development, including an all-day session during the first week that teachers return to school, for many different groups of teachers; support building administrators as they prepare for the first days of school; and provide testing and registration materials for English learners entering BCPS for the first time.”

BL: “What projects does your office have planned for this summer?”

BS: “Our office is revising French I, French II and Advanced Placement (AP) Chinese curricula; writing an elementary Spanish curriculum for the pilot program; providing professional development to groups of teachers; continuing to enter curricula into BCPS One; and revising world languages final exams into Integrated Performance Assessments.”

BL: “What are your office’s goals for the upcoming school year?”

BS: “Our goals for the upcoming school year are to implement the elementary world languages program in the 10 pilot schools and, at the same time, prepare to scale it to all BCPS elementary schools in the future; move teachers in the direction of student-centered lessons; work with the ESOL task force to ensure that ESOL instruction meets the needs of a diverse population; have a highly-qualified world languages teacher in every classroom; build leadership capacity by increasing the number of teachers in the currently-vacant department chair pool; provide support for all teachers to help them become highly-effective teachers; and continue to digitize the curricula for placement into BCPS One.”

BL: “How is your office preparing to meet those goals?”

BS: “We are preparing to meet those goals by hiring two elementary teachers and two world languages resource teachers to partner with pilot principals and teachers, become familiar with the digital platform and oversee the writing of the elementary curriculum; considering the recommendations of the task force; working with the Office of Human Resources to recruit teachers to work in BCPS; working with local universities to prepare up-and-coming teachers and capture those student interns who show promise and a strong desire to work in BCPS; providing leadership opportunities for teachers outside of their buildings; working with the world languages consulting teachers and school-based S.T.A.T. teachers to help other teachers understand and use the curricula, locate resources, differentiate instruction and use data to inform instruction; and, finally, continuing our own and our teachers’ professional development in the area of building and assessing students’ second language proficiency.”

Wow – now that’s what I call a demanding, but productive, summer! Summers like these just go to show that there’s no such thing as a “slowdown” for Team BCPS!

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