Dear BSD Community,
Happy New Year! For most of our parents, this post will be a repeat of similar information we have shared through the years. However, there are new families in our schools that may not know the process we use to make inclement weather decisions and communicate those decisions, so the information bears repeating. And with the first potential snowfall coming tonight and early tomorrow morning, the timing is right for these reminders.
Our goal is to minimize interruptions to our school schedule. After all, it’s our job to educate your children, and we can’t do that effectively if they are not in school. However, sometimes road conditions warrant a change to the schedule in the interest of keeping all children safe. If the weather or road conditions are unsafe for our students, families, and staff, we will make every effort to alert our families as quickly as possible through several channels.
If you want the most updated information available, always check the BSD website first, specifically the yellow box on the homepage. That is the first place we update, followed by the BSD Facebook page, Twitter feeds, state school closing website, and finally local media such as WDEL, WJBR, and Philadelphia tv stations. While our Public Information Officer is handling those notifications, I am creating a phone message to go out to all families and staff as quickly as possible. Finally, we send out an email notification to all subscribers to the Brandywine Briefings newsletter. (Subscribe by sending an email to email@example.com.) You can also receive a text notification through Twitter, even if you don’t have a Twitter account. Simply text the words Follow @BSDalerts to 40404, and you’ll be subscribed to receive texts.
If you are unsure what the conditions will bring in the morning and whether or not we will have school, I encourage you to simply load the BSD website and hit refresh to see what’s in the yellow box, as it will contain the most up-to-date information. I typically try to make a decision about school closing by 5 or 5:30 a.m., although it can vary a bit depending on the timing of the storm.
The rest of this post will explain how decisions are made, so if you’ve heard it all before you may want to skip ahead. :) When bad weather strikes, Assistant Superintendent Dorrell Green and several members of the District’s Facilities and Transportation Departments are on the roads, in neighborhoods, and on school properties before, during, and after each storm. They analyze the conditions and provide me with valuable information. In addition, we work with other state agencies such as the Department of Transportation, Department of Education, and Delaware State Police, as well as our neighboring New Castle County school districts to make the most informed decisions possible when determining if and when to open schools. Please keep in mind that even when main roads and school properties are clear, many side roads are still unpassable, sidewalks may be unavailable, and bus stops may still be unsafe. We must consider all of our nearly 11,000 students and how they are transported to and from school when we make decisions about the school schedule.
Closing school is not a decision that we take lightly. Above all, we must consider the safety of our children. Stay safe, stay warm, and let’s hope for a mild, dry winter!
Mark A. Holodick, Ed.D.
Dear BSD Community,
At the start of the school year I wrote a blog piece titled “Feeling Hopeful” in which I addressed the importance of embracing our diversity and supporting one another for the greater good of all. I shared a personal story about empathy in action, emphasizing that acts of kindness matter. I was hopeful then, and I remain hopeful and optimistic now, that we, as a community, are continuing to move forward toward true equality and greatness for all.
Sadly, recent current events around the nation suggest that some people, and specific groups of people, have recently been the target of senseless acts of bigotry, inappropriate and offensive statements, and bullying. For us here in the Brandywine School District, as I hope it is throughout every other community in the nation, this is simply unacceptable. Not only does it fly in the face of both our school district’s and our community’s core values, it places all that we’ve worked for at risk. We must not forget that what makes us great is our diversity and the ability for all of us to live and work collectively and collaboratively toward common goals. This has always been, and will always be, Brandywine’s expectation and approach. We don’t always have the exact same ideas, beliefs, and opinions. We do, however, all want and expect every student and family to be respected, valued, appreciated, and cared for. Regardless of things such as economic status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or title, we all want and deserve to be treated with humility, justice, and empathy. This is the foundation of any great school and district. It is what allows for successful anti-bullying policies, initiatives, and programs to take root and have impact. I’ve said many times over that, as superintendent, I aspire to oversee schools where every student feels welcome, cared for, appreciated, safe, and valued. Every student should believe that they are our #1 customer and first priority. When a school culture is steeped in this philosophy, amazing social, emotional, and academic strides can be made. Brandywine’s reputation across the state is strong. I would argue that this is, in large part, due to the welcoming and supportive environment that we have worked so hard to cultivate and nurture.
I had the opportunity to witness this in person last night as I attended Mount Pleasant High School’s dress rehearsal of Peter/Wendy. As I watched, I saw students from different backgrounds, of different colors, genders, sexual orientation, and age working together to produce something magical for others to enjoy. They laughed with one another, were serious at times, and appeared to be living in the moment. They weren’t hanging out on social media ignoring each other, nor were they separated into small social groups or cliques. Rather, they were together, enjoying each other’s company while working together toward their common goal. It was completely evident that they were not concerned about socio-economic status, sexist stereotypes, or the racial divides that have dominated so much of the news recently. They were all one thing – students. It was truly enlightening and joyful to see. It was even better that I got to share it with my youngest daughter. She witnessed what I just described, and for this I am hopeful – hopeful that she will grow up in a community, and a nation, where we all treat each other with respect and kindness.
We have an opportunity right now to show others how it can, and should, be done. I encourage all of us, myself included, to look for both small and large ways in which we can reinforce our mission to make every person we encounter feel welcome and supported. There are actions that each of us can take that will make an immediate impact. With Thanksgiving upon us, it is the perfect time to share kind words, show compassion, and voice appreciation for everyone that makes up our wonderfully diverse community. If nothing else, spending time with our children and family keeps all of us grounded in what is truly important.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve met with a lot of different student groups. These groups include athletic teams, bands, students in leadership roles, and classes of students. While these various groups have different goals and intentions, they are very similar in at least one way. They are all made up of an incredibly diverse population of young people. The students who make up these groups come from different zip codes and different socio-economic backgrounds. They vary in skin color, religious beliefs, lifestyles, and ethnic backgrounds. Indeed they are a melting pot, a microcosm of our amazing community and nation. BSD, being a traditional public school district, welcomes and educates all who show up; there are no entrance exams, no interviews, and no selection criteria. Our students represent the entire community we serve as well as the world in which we live. I find this incredibly inspiring.
Talking with and watching these young people interact, support one another, and work collaboratively toward common goals has been uplifting and leaves me with tremendous optimism for our future. In many of my meetings, I spoke, rather frankly, with them about current events, many of which are disheartening, confusing, frustrating, tragic, and sad. Yet, I am hopeful because I have watched these young people consistently practice acceptance, respect for each other, and empathy. They care for, and about, each other and are more concerned with their similarities than their differences. They give me great hope, leading me to say to them that we, as adults, should model their behavior and actions and look for ways in which we can make connections with others, especially those who may be in need or could benefit from support or an act of kindness.
I saw that sort of empathy in action early yesterday. At 6:50 in the morning, I found myself waiting outside the Panera at Christiana Mall. The doors open at 7:00. I was grabbing coffee for myself and a colleague as we met there to carpool to Polytech High School in Dover for a meeting. I took the 10 minutes to make a work call and, as I was on the phone, a State Trooper pulled up. A few people were, like I was, waiting for Panera to open. One man, who appeared to be homeless, was sitting alone on a bench. As the doors to Panera opened and I was ending my call, the Trooper exited his car and discreetly said something to the man, and off they walked away together. After hanging up, I went in to purchase my coffee and saw the Trooper buying the man a coffee and breakfast. As the officer walked past me near the back of the shop, I couldn’t resist and asked, “Pardon me, did you just buy that gentleman breakfast?” The Trooper responded, “Yeah, I know what it’s like to be hungry,” and off he went. He appeared embarrassed that someone had noticed.
Witnessing this, I felt that sense of hope again, knowing what a huge impact small acts of kindness can have. As we start the school year and enter an election season that is already full of negativity and divisiveness, I hope and pray that we, as a community, look for ways to support one another and lift each other through acts of kindness, small and large. Thanks to our amazing BSD students who practice inclusiveness and empathy every day, as well as this State Trooper, today I am especially hopeful!
Dear BSD Community,
In less than a week, all of our schools will be filled with children and young adults engaged in activities that help them learn, grow, and prosper. It is an enormous responsibility for all of us who work in BSD, but more importantly it is a great privilege. Helping young people become their best selves is why my colleagues and I became educators.
In addition to a rigorous curriculum and outstanding instruction, one of the best ways we can ensure student success is through safe and positive learning environments. Through innovative and proactive programs such as No Bully, Responsive Classroom, and Positive Behavior Support, we are working hard to address and support the social and emotional needs of all students. Parents can help us in this work by reinforcing expectations at home. Establishing deadlines, instituting routines, modeling good behavior, and setting goals at home can transfer to students’ maximizing their learning at school. Similarly, ensuring that students have completed their homework, eaten healthy foods, and gotten enough sleep sets them up for success at school and in life.
I hope all of you have had a relaxing summer and have had many opportunities to create memories with family, friends, and loved ones. We look forward to welcoming all of our students back on August 29th and 30th so that we can create new school-year memories with them as well.
Mark A. Holodick, Ed.D.
P.S. In a few days, I will be posting a short video to our website and social media sites. The video contains an important message about where we are and where we need to go with respect to technology and its impacts on the learning environment within all of our schools, PK-12. Technology is an important aspect of our District Success Plan and warrants attention, discussion, and input from all stakeholders. Indeed technology is a rapidly changing environment. Navigating it successfully to best benefit our students requires dialogue and collaboration with everyone. I hope you will watch the video when it is posted, and I look forward to further discussions on this topic.
A Guest Post by BSD's IT Department
The Brandywine School District, to save money and support hours, relies on Delaware’s Department of Technology and Information (DTI) to handle both our CIPA-compliant Firewall needs, as well as email filtering. This allows BSD's IT staff to concentrate on more important matters, such as keeping on-site IT infrastructure operational and putting devices in the hands of teachers and students for educational purposes.
Unfortunately, this means we are also beholden to DTI’s policies and decisions on matters relating to these two services they provide, which sometimes generates problems such as the current blocking of some emails to the State. Ultimately, DTI is also responsible for safeguarding the networks of the Divisions of Revenue (Taxes), Department of Transportation, and the Department of Justice in addition to ours. Since email is a common attack vector, they must act in a manner that safeguards our most sensitive information, given that a majority of the email they handle goes to State agencies that are not the Brandywine School District. They have to remember that if the Division of Revenue or the Department of Transportation are hacked, the State would be on the hook for millions of dollars of identity theft. Many hackers are associated with harder criminals as well, supporting them in their activities, so the Department of Justice is equally at risk. A hack of those systems could result in wrongful convictions from tampered digital evidence, or criminals going free because the only digital evidence of the crime was lost – not to imply that it would be easy to do so, but getting malware onto that network would be the first step.
The reason some emails are getting dropped by the State email firewall is because two of Gmail’s servers sent so many spam, phishing, and malware emails that they were flagged by several email server trust lists as “do not receive from.” The scoring our State’s email firewall rule goes from -10 to +10, with -10 being the worst possible score. Normally, Gmail is in the positives, but right now these two specific servers are sitting with a -10. With -10, the email gets dropped instead of filtered.
Ultimately, there is no a silver bullet solution here. DTI has two bad choices: 1) they weaken their network protection by letting two email servers that are KNOWN to be spreading malware to send messages to State recipients and increase the potential for a virus outbreak on the network, decreasing the security around systems that contain sensitive personal data, or 2) they leave it as-is and allow the mail server’s owner time to clean up the reputation of those servers and add additional protections onto those systems so that they don’t send these kinds of emails in the future. Even though the flagged servers are from Google, DTI must respond appropriately and thoroughly to protect the integrity of the State's email system.
Delaware has opted to be cautious since we know the cost if something bad gets on our network. DTI is still working to resolve this, both by contacting Google directly to let them know what is up, as well as by leveraging the various groups who use Google as their organization’s email service to contact Google to put additional pressure for a speedy resolution. Unfortunately, there is no way for us in BSD to know the timeline for when Google will fix their community trust issue.
It is important to note that this is not the first time this has happened with a major email distributor. Comcast, for a while, enjoyed similar infamy in the email community. They eventually fixed the issue, restored the online trust, and were allowed yet again to send to mail servers running on Delaware’s network.
We appreciate your continued patience as the State and Google work to resolve this issue, and we will be sure to post updates as they are available.
Dear BSD Community,
You might think summer is a quiet, relaxed time for a school district. After all, school's out so there's not much going on, right? Well, in actuality summer is a very busy time for school districts.
Right now in BSD, students and staff are busy in several programs. We have an Extended School Year (ESY) program for eligible students with special needs occurring at Harlan Elementary School, Hanby Elementary School, and P.S. duPont Middle School. More than 200 students from across BSD are enrolled and receiving a full range of services. For the third year, Harlan is also hosting a Summer Enrichment program for 60 students. These students are receiving math and reading interventions and are participating in extracurricular activities such as gardening, poetry, art, and science clubs.
STEM Camp took place in mid-July and was another big success. More than 85 students participated in grade-appropriate camps at Brandywine High School, learning about computer programming, robotics, environmental science, engineering, and much more.
We are proud to offer a new radio camp opportunity at WMPH this year, thanks to a grant from the Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. And of course credit recovery courses are ongoing for students in middle and high school who were unsuccessful in earning course credit during the school year.
That's not all, though. Our facilities crews are hard at work to prepare buildings and grounds for the start of a new school year. Here is just a partial list:
- The Mount Pleasant High School track rehabilitation is complete. Small gym renovations in final stage, and a school-wide water fountain replacement is in its final stage. Also at Mount, the main hallway ADA project is ongoing, as is a project to replace the railings in the stairwells. Locker room and fitness room work is nearly complete.
- The nurse's office at Mount Pleasant Elementary is in the process of being renovated.
- Maple Lane Elementary is receiving work on its HVAC system, as well as parking lot improvements.
- The generator at Claymont Elementary School is being replaced.
- New sidewalks are being installed at Harlan Elementary School and P.S. duPont Middle School.
- Roof work is being done at Talley Middle School.
There is more, of course, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what summertime is like in BSD. I hope all of you are staying cool and enjoying time with loved ones!
Mark A. Holodick, Ed.D.
Dear BSD Community,
Dear BSD Community,
Now that the first storm of the season is approaching, I thought it would be helpful to share some information about how decisions are made with respect to opening school during inclement weather. Assistant Superintendent Dorrell Green, Facilities Supervisor John Read, Transportation Supervisor Rob Harding, and several other staff members are on the roads, in neighborhoods, and on school properties before, during, and after each storm. They analyze the conditions and provide me with valuable information. In addition, we work with other state agencies such as the Department of Transportation, Department of Education, and Delaware State Police, as well as our neighboring New Castle County school districts to make the most informed decisions possible when determining if and when to open schools.
Once a decision has been made to close schools or open on a delayed schedule, our Public Information Officer Alexis Andrianopoulos handles the communication responsibilities. If you want the most updated information available, always check the BSD website first, especially the yellow box on the homepage. That is the first place we update, followed by the BSD Facebook page, Twitter feeds, state school closing website, and finally local media such as WDEL, WJBR, and Philadelphia tv stations. While Ms. Andrianopoulos is doing that, I am creating the AlertNow message to go out to all families and staff as quickly as possible. Finally, we send out an email notification to all subscribers to the Brandywine Briefings newsletter. (Subscribe by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.) You can also receive a text notification through Twitter, even if you don’t have a Twitter account. Simply text the words Follow @BSDalerts to 40404, and you’ll be subscribed to receive texts.
If you are unsure what the conditions will bring in the morning and whether or not we will have school, I encourage you to simply refresh the BSD website to see what’s in the yellow box, as it will contain the most up-to-date information. I typically try to make a decision about school closing by 5 or 5:30 a.m., although it can vary a bit depending on the storm.
Because this first storm is occurring over a weekend, I will be able to make a decision sometime Sunday about Monday’s schedule. We are not always that lucky.
Regardless of the type of storm or its timing, we make the best decision we can based on the information we have available to us. Our goal is to minimize interruptions to our school schedule; however, we must consider the safety of our children first and foremost.
Stay safe, stay warm, and thanks as always for your support and patience!
Mark A. Holodick, Ed.D.
Dear BSD Community,
This blog post relates to something that is always at the forefront of my mind. Unfortunately, in today's society, this topic is not only on my mind but on the minds of many. With the most recent threats directed at Los Angeles and New York City schools earlier this week (both of which turned out to be a hoax), and with a similar prank call at Springer Middle School earlier today, I thought it was important and relevant to put my thoughts into words. Therefore, I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about school safety.
This is not something we communicate about regularly, for good reason. Security systems and procedures are actually much more effective if they are not publicized. The less detail we give out, the safer our students and staff are. However, I am highly aware that families want to be reassured that their children are as safe as possible when they are in our care. Believe me, nothing is more important to me personally and professionally than the safety of our District’s people.
Safety starts the moment a student comes into our care whether on a school bus, in a car line, or through the front door. Security must encompass not only the school day, but also all after-school programs, athletics, play rehearsals, marching band practice, and the other myriad of activities that take place on our grounds and in our buildings. Security and safety start with positive learning environments where all staff are highly trained and all students feel nurtured, welcomed, and respected. We must then go on to ensure there are specific procedures in place to handle unwelcome visitors or threatening phone calls (even if they are deemed to be non-credible), state-of-the-art systems containing many layers of additional protection, and regular training for all employees and employee groups.
At the end of the day, please know that ALL of us in BSD are incredibly committed to this work. I am thankful for the level of commitment shown by every staff member I encounter - thankful as not only the superintendent but also as the father of three daughters who attend Brandywine schools.
I am also grateful to the dedicated community members who serve on the District’s Maintenance Advisory Committee, working very closely with Assistant Superintendent Dorrell Green and Facilities Supervisor John Read to make recommendations regarding safety and security at all buildings. With their support, we made critical upgrades to Harlan Elementary School and Concord High School this past summer, ensuring their entries are up to our high standards. The committee also lent its support to the District as we applied for and received a Certificate of Necessity from the State for work to be done at Carrcroft Elementary.
With nearly 11,000 students and more than 1,700 staff, it is inevitable that an emergency situation may arise from time to time. When it does, the most important thing your child can do is to follow the instructions and directions of adults – teachers, nurses, bus drivers, administrators, paraprofessionals, etc. All of us are trained and must be respected as the authority figures in the situation in order to keep everyone safe and accounted for. Please reinforce that message with your children. You can also assist us by trusting that we are doing everything we can to respond to a situation: following protocols to keep students and staff safe, investigating the situation, cooperating with law enforcement as appropriate, and returning to a normal school day as quickly and efficiently as possible. All of that takes time, but the number one priority is to keep our people safe. In this day and age of instant notifications, parents may wish to be informed sooner than we can do it. It simply takes time to vet a situation so that we can relay the most accurate information. We’d much rather delay a few minutes and give you clear and complete information than rush and only tell half the story – or worse, provide incorrect or misleading information.
If recent events around the world are an indicator, this topic will remain relevant for years to come. We will remain committed to it. We will continue to revisit and refine procedures, attend meetings and trainings with partners in education and law enforcement, plan, drill, and communicate. You have my word on that.
Mark A. Holodick, Ed.D.
Dear BSD Community,
Big news! As you may know, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed the U.S. House and Senate and President Obama signed it into law last week. This is significant to all of us in public education as it includes an extensive list of changes to the U.S. Department of Education, most notably shifting more decision-making authority back to states and districts.
Here in BSD, we have engaged families, dedicated staff, a committed and active School Board, strong committees, and a supportive community-at-large. As such, I believe we are well positioned to use the new flexibility afforded by ESSA to support our schools, students, and staff. It starts with the District Success Plan. This plan was developed after the District’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee sought critical feedback, ideas, and suggestions from more than 250 students, staff, parents, elected officials, and community members in 2014 and 2015. I hope you will take some time to look it over, as it will serve as a roadmap to our district’s future. At the very least, I hope you will familiarize yourself with the plan's five major goals: High Quality Comprehensive Instructional Programming for All Students, District Innovation Guided by the Needs of the 21st Century Learner, Purposely Designed, Safe, Healthy Learning Environments, 21st Century Professionals Providing Outstanding Customer Service & Leadership, and Fiscal Responsibility & Trustworthy Stewardship. Anyone desiring more details about any of the goals or associated strategies can easily dig deeper via the many links within the Plan.
Big changes - like ESSA and a new District Success Plan - can be overwhelming. However, I believe focusing on the fundamentals in the classroom ultimately will have the greatest impact on student achievement, particularly in two areas.
1. A student's relationship with their teacher and the quality of instruction in the classroom. Children, like adults, work very hard for teachers/leaders who they both like and respect. It is critical that we support and develop great teachers as the trajectory of a student’s academics career hinges on their performance.
2. All students reading on grade level by grade 3.
If we do number 2 well, everything else will fall into place in the later years. We simply must teach all students to read by focusing on decoding skills, fluency, and comprehension. This is non-negotiable in BSD and should be non-negotiable everywhere. We know that reading well is the gateway to learning and success in all subjects. We also know that reading on grade level is a key first step in ensuring equity for all of our students (more on that later).
Last week, I participated in two events that give me great hope. First, I was asked to be a guest reader at the Reclaiming the Promise event at Mount Pleasant Elementary School. Through this event, our paraprofessionals association purchased and gave new books to each 1st-3rd grade student. Similar events have taken place at many of our elementary schools over the past year and a half, and we are so grateful to the paraprofessionals for their generosity. Secondly, I was invited by Principal Ned Gladfelter and Reading Specialist Linda Loach from Claymont Elementary to participate in a bedtime story event. While parents participated in a PTA meeting, Claymont staff (and special guests) read aloud to students. Both of these creative and strategic initiatives are succeeding in making children excited about reading. The student enthusiasm at these events was palpable.
This ties directly into the above mention of equity. Equity starts with a concentrated focus on leveling the playing field for all children, and reading is one area where we can establish that. If a student reads on or above grade level, there is a greater likelihood that they will succeed in other classes and subject areas as well. Over time, addressing equity becomes more natural as all students are able to navigate their studies more fluidly and become prepared for whatever they choose to do throughout their life. The world does indeed become their oyster.
Mark A. Holodick, Ed.D.