Dr. Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools and EdReports board member, recently welcomed more than 250 educator reviewers to EdReports’ virtual professional learning training. Dr. Santileses has been an outspoken leader on the power of quality instructional materials, and the importance for all students to have access to aligned, grade-level, culturally relevant content—especially in light of school closures due to the pandemic. 

We are proud to share highlights from Dr. Santelises’ speech to EdReports reviewers where she discussed the critical role of curriculum to support students, teachers, and families through the COVID-19 crisis. 

On Adopting High-Quality Instructional Materials in Baltimore City Public Schools 

“The work of EdReports reviewers is some of the most important work educators are doing—particularly in the time we live with as we grapple with the challenges of racial injustice and COVID-19. Materials are key to both. I’ve seen this in my own district. When I returned to Baltimore City Public Schools I was walking into classrooms where teachers told me, ‘We’re not sure what we should be teaching.’ There was so much choice everywhere. There was disbelief from our teachers and principals that we could actually find high-quality materials that reflected our students’ needs and what we wanted our young people to be engaging in.

But as we involved EdReports we were able to build on the groundwork we had laid for decisions that needed to be made around standards-aligned curriculum. We were able to learn more about what to look for in high-quality materials. Our review committee still says this was the best professional learning they ever received.”

On How Quality Curriculum is Shaping the District and Helping Address Equity Challenges

“We know that schools are some of the most powerful places to address the unfinished work around racial justice that we are seeing. There is power in what is taught along with the how it is taught and the context in which it is taught. We’ve seen this with our own materials.  With the new curriculum it has become harder to water down content for certain groups. So the discussions shifted from ‘These kids aren’t ready for this level’ to ‘This is the content – how can we make it more accessible?’”

As we were choosing a new curriculum, we also talked about representation in materials. This allowed us to be able to see more clearly where our content was lacking and where the new curriculum could address those gaps and where gaps might still remain. When you get ready to do this work, I think it’s important to keep in mind that in this place and time in education with all of the challenges, curriculum is a lever to ensure that we really are addressing equity from a variety of frames. These frames include access to high-level learning and standards-aligned content, closing opportunity gaps, and ensuring students see themselves in what they are studying.” 

On How Quality Materials Supported Teachers Throughout COVID-19 School Closures

“The curriculum work we did was a huge boon for us in March when we had to shut down. We had already done the difficult work of selecting quality aligned materials. The power of the curriculum was visible even at the parent level. Parents got to see that quality through greater visibility due to technology.  Families noticed the difference in what their young people were studying.

Our teacher of the year Kyair Butts wrote a powerful article where he talks about, as a teacher, the relief he felt to know he had high-quality materials he could count on. So that during the shutdown, it allowed him to provide his students with a consistency of learning. It was a tool that helped him to also relate to other educators. He made it clear that in this time, materials were not any less important—in fact they were more important.”

On the Power of Teacher Leadership and Professional Learning  

“We’ve seen a renaissance of attention on teachers having quality materials. The power of quality curriculum allows teacher leaders to emerge. There is power and authenticity in teachers and principals coming together to focus on what quality curriculum is and how to implement it across a district.

I feel incredibly blessed to be in education right now. Schools are some of the most powerful places to address big challenges and issues. By being an [EdReports] reviewer you are doing an incredible service to districts and your colleagues across the country. You are now taking a vision and bringing it to the place of a legacy.”