Ofelia Arcillo, math support coach in Baltimore City Public Schools

A Baltimore Math Coach on Strengthening Math Support


Written by V. Châu

A Baltimore Math Coach on Strengthening Math Support

Q&A with Ofelia Arcillo, Math Coach 

When I got promoted to being a math coach and started working with Leading Educators and getting coached myself by other math coaches, it clicked. I thought, ‘Ah, this is how I should coach teachers.’ Finally, things started to make sense,” says Ofelia Arcillo, a math coach for City Schools.

Ofelia Arcillo began her journey as a middle school math teacher at Baltimore City Public Schools in 2006. Now, in her fifth year as the math coach at Vanguard Collegiate Middle School, she receives development from Leading Educators on standards-aligned math coaching and leading ongoing curriculum-based professional learning.

Through ongoing, inquiry-based professional learning cycles that Leading Educators designs connected to the Eureka Math curriculum, teachers in 20 middle schools practice what they teach to improve instructional rigor, relevance, and joy. 

I recently sat down with Ms. Arcillo to learn more about how the district is providing math support that helps teachers practice what they teach so all students can master challenging content connected to their lives.

It has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.


What was challenging about becoming a math coach?

I was wearing multiple hats—I was in the classroom and serving as the math lead. However, it was more like an Academic Planning Facilitator(APF) role, and not quite the official math coach yet. 

I’d even dip into my planning time to support teachers, but I didn’t have a solid structure to follow. I’d talk about best practices, but it was a bit vague, not really delving deep into instruction.

On top of that, I never had the chance to do learning walkthroughs because time was tight, and no one was giving me feedback on my role as a lead. I got feedback as a teacher but not in my lead capacity. It was a real struggle. I kept asking myself, “Is this worth it?” But then, when I got promoted to being a math coach and started working with Leading Educators and getting coached myself by other math coaches, it clicked. I thought, “Ah, this is how I should coach teachers.” Finally, things started to make sense.


Tell me about that first year.

I constantly questioned myself in my first year, wondering if I had what it takes. But then, two more coaches joined Leading Educators in the middle of the year.

They hadn’t started with me but started looking up to me as their go-to person. “Hey, Ofelia, what’s it like? Can you tell us what you’ve been up to with your teachers? How’s your schedule looking?” There was content to think about, as well as new logistical responsibilities. I kept up the communication and structure that Araceli and Brielle on the LE team had modeled for me.

When I announced we had a content cycle meeting (a professional development session that follows a learning, application, and reflection arc over several weeks), I sent an email a week ahead. There was always some pre-work involved, making sure the teachers were ready. And then, when the day arrived, we were all set to dive into the content cycle. Every day brought its own set of tasks, and I wanted to ensure I got through them all because they were crucial to my growth.

Looking back on my progress today, after two to three years, when the district approached me and said, “Hey, Ofelia, could you facilitate at the district level?” I hesitated initially, but then I thought, “Why not give it a shot?” The platform of the content cycles, with all the supporting slides and materials, has helped me right from the beginning.


Could you describe what “walkthroughs” are for those who may not know?

The learning walkthroughs are like informal observations meant to give teachers focused and frequent feedback on how they are applying new learning and using curricula in their lessons. 

After COVID, teachers and students weren’t keen on having many people in the classroom. So, we kept them to one or two folks from Leading Educators and another couple from the Teaching and Learning math office in the district. I’d also invite one of our school leaders. Plus, of course, there was me and the math ACL, ensuring we had our network’s support.

The learning walkthroughs are based on the teacher’s success criteria. When a teacher tells us, “I want feedback on my questioning,” we respect that. So, we start with the positives, highlighting all the things we noticed and appreciated—that’s the glows. But when it’s time for feedback, we narrow it down to just that aspect the teacher requested, focusing our feedback on their questioning technique.


This year, the content cycles focus on using academic language so students can better explain their reasoning and problem-solving approaches. This helps teachers understand how students’ conceptual understanding is progressing. What “aha moments” have you experienced with this math support?

Since I’ve got nearly 100 percent new teachers this school year, the real “AHA” moment for me was seeing how quickly the teachers jumped in and applied what they learned, even before getting the official green light.

I want to capture what’s happening in the classroom without constantly repeating myself about needing to observe for data purposes. I have to give it to the teachers—they’re incredibly resilient. Even when grappling with understanding a topic, they keep pushing forward. And, I’ll admit, I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt. I want to ensure I’m addressing exactly what needs to be addressed when leading instruction. That way, we can achieve our goal of having 75 percent of the students write the definition with the associated words.

This year, almost all of our math teachers want one-on-one coaching with me nearly every day. Last year, it was a struggle—I’d be assigned for the day, waiting for them, and maybe some would show up, but it wasn’t consistent. They’re all eager to come in, even though we only have an hour. It’s huge for me because it shows the strong relationships we’ve built throughout.


What difference have you seen this work make in the district overall?

I began working with Leading Educators in 2019, and when my friend was promoted a year or two after me, their network wasn’t part of the partnership.

She’d contact me asking about collaboration and planning, and I’d explain everything. But she wasn’t familiar with what I was talking about. She’d even ask, “What should I tell the teacher if their learning objective isn’t written in the standard way?” I realized I needed to use my extra after-school hours to coach my friend, who’s also a math coach. She hadn’t received the same training I had, and this work was really needed.

For four years straight, I’ve witnessed growth in teachers’ instruction, especially regarding representations. I’m thrilled when I hear about tape diagrams or tables because, back in the day, it was like, “What’s a tape diagram?” Seeing them in students’ work is evidence of progress.

Some teachers, especially new ones, may start saying, “I don’t like tape diagrams,” But then they see the impact and are eager to learn how to introduce them to students. This kind of vulnerability from teachers, asking for help, has made my work more fulfilling. It’s not that I don’t want to come to school because I’m unsure of what I’m doing, but because the teachers need me. That’s what drives me to be there.

I’ve mentioned before about when I facilitate district-wide PDs. For two years, I worked virtually with sixth, seventh, and eighth grade [teachers], and now I’m doing it in person. They’ve already seen me in action virtually. With the script provided in the Leading Educators slides, I’ve got my flow down pat—I know when to stick to the one-minute mark and when to say, “Hold onto your questions; I’ll address them at the end of the session.”

All these skills that an APF must have, all these moves when conducting PD, are crucial for me as I continue to facilitate professional development. As a coach, it’s about moving forward.

I’m not just a math or instructional coach; I see myself delving into the curriculum, really digging into it. And besides that, now that I’m expanding my network and working with other teachers in the district, seeing them in person and trying to convince them to join my work. It’s about assuring them that there’s support. 


Stay Engaged!

This interview is part of an ongoing series in which we chat with school and district leaders to shine a light on the most promising opportunities for systems change and the leaders who are making it happen.

Baltimore City Public Schools Math is just one of a dozen partnerships across the country that are pushing the boundaries of what schools can offer students. Learn more about how we offer tailored support packages to help visionary districts, networks, and states go further faster.

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