Monday was Darryl Williams’ first day on the job as Baltimore County’s new school superintendent. And right out of the starting gate, he heard from students about problems with bullying and dilapidated schools.
Williams’ first order of business as he came through the conference room door at school headquarters was to apologize to the dozen middle and high school students who had been rounded up to meet with him.
“Good morning everyone,” Williams said. “I know. I’m sorry. It’s summer break and I said I need to meet some students on my first day.”
He also admitted to the students he had first day jitters.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Williams said. “I really couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. I got up. I worked out. And then I said, ‘Darryl you can do it, you can do it, the first day.’”
From there he heard from the students, like Evita Tejano, a rising senior at Western Tech in Catonsville.
“I know a lot of schools in the county have deteriorating buildings,” Tejano told Williams. “Buildings are falling apart. How are you going to address these concerns at these buildings?”
Isaiah Patterson, a rising senior at Randallstown High School had the same complaint.
“I know my school personally Randallstown is falling apart,” Patterson said.
In an interview after his meeting with the students, Williams acknowledged that fixing dilapidated county school buildings is not something he can do on his own. He has to rely on the county executive, the legislature and the governor for money to do that.
“Facilities don’t just change overnight,” Williams said. “To your point, you have to have the budget, you have to have the funds you have to have a plan, all of that. And that takes some time. And we are going to continue to do that work.”
But in the meantime, Williams said what he can do is work to improve the teaching and learning in the classroom, no matter the condition of the school.
“I’m going to make sure that is non-negotiable,” Williams said. “That we have our students ready and willing to do whatever they need to do after high school.”
The students also told Williams something needs to be done about bullying. He heard so much about that from them, that Williams wants to call a conference on the issue.
“It feels like it needs to happen this year just based on the energy that came from the students around this topic,” Williams said.
A 2017 survey of county students found around 30% of middle and high school students say they don’t feel safe in their schools.
Williams has a 100 day entry plan for himself, so he can get to know the schools, the students and the staff. He said part of that will be looking at what the data shows, when it comes to school security.
“Just making sure our schools are safe, based on looking at suspension data for an example,” Williams said.
He said he will be looking at the data when it comes to student achievement as well.
Williams said he plans to visit every school in Baltimore County, all 175 of them, during his first year as superintendent.
“And seeing what’s really happening because that’s important,” Williams said. “What’s happening in our schools, what’s really happening in our classrooms, and talking to students and staff.”
And the students Williams talked to Monday told him they want their views taken seriously as he charts the future course of the Baltimore County Public Schools.