headshot of Kerry Steinbrenner against blue backdrop

How Baltimore City Public Schools is Reshaping Mathematics


Written by Laura Troxel

How Baltimore City Public Schools is Reshaping Mathematics

Q&A with Kerry Steinbrenner, Director of Mathematics

The partnership with Leading Educators has not only had an impact on our math leads and folks in our schools but also on our district office team, bringing a level of learning, structure, and systems that we would not have or still be using to this day if we did not enter into this partnership. We’re always saying, ‘That’s a Leading Educators thing,'” says Kerry Steinbrenner, Director of Mathematics in Baltimore City Public Schools. 

Kerry Steinbrenner started her teaching career with Baltimore City Public Schools in 1997. She fell in love with the district’s students, teachers, and families and has been there ever since. Currently, Kerry serves as the Director of Mathematics in the Teaching and Learning department at Baltimore City Public Schools. 

Strengthening math proficiency in grades 6-8 is a top priority for Baltimore City Public Schools. To achieve this, they embarked on a strategic, multi-year partnership with Leading Educators five years ago that leverages ongoing professional learning, curriculum, and distributed leadership. Over time, the supports have moved from building teachers’ understanding of standards-driven math shifts to going more deeply into instructional practices and critical use of high-quality instructional materials.

I recently spoke with Kerry to discuss City Schools’ journey toward creating a thriving instructional math system and the lasting impact of the partnership with Leading Educators. Kerry dives into the challenges faced by math educators, the power of systemic support, and the transformative results they’re seeing in teaching practices and student outcomes within City Schools.

The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Math instruction has evolved over the last decade, with many curricula now emphasizing collaborative work and practical application. What is Baltimore City Public Schools’ vision for math instruction?

City Schools wants math to be meaningful and relevant for students. We hear from students all the time that they want to know how math exists in everyday life. They also want to see themselves in the mathematics lessons, and we want that for our students too.

We want teachers to feel like they made math joyful for their students, that students are leaving the classroom with a feeling of success, and that they have a positive identity with math.

Before working with Leading Educators, middle school was a grade band with lower math proficiency scores. We knew that the skills in middle school mathematics are much different than in elementary, and that’s where we pinpointed an area of focus to start our work with Leading Educators.

Once you identified the need for greater middle school math support, what interventions did you try?

Our K-8 staff have many grade levels to support, so we started putting together monthly inputs and support for our math leads in collaboration with other content liaisons in their networks. Before changing a lot of things, we wanted our content leads to help us understand the root causes behind what was happening in our schools.

With Leading Educators, we wanted to offer greater support for our math leads with content cycles and supports specific to that role. We also wanted to utilize the content liaisons within each network to help deliver school-based PD sessions designed by Leading Educators.

We started one-on-one coaching for our math leads a couple of years ago because there’s a difference between understanding content, content knowledge, and coaching classroom teachers.  Leading Educators provided us with a coaching theory, resources, and people to meet one-on-one with our math leads. It’s so powerful for our math leads to have one person they can trust and build a relationship with to have those coaching conversations.

How has the partnership evolved over time?

It’s evolved a lot. We’ve been in partnership with Leading Educators for about five years now.

We put together the professional learning cycles and tweaked them when we started, learning and adjusting as we went. When the pandemic hit, we made a massive shift into a virtual space like the rest of the world. But we also learned a lot. We saw that virtual learning has its space and its own value and that you can now meet with people regularly wherever they are.

A recent highlight is the last content cycle we developed around academic language. In Baltimore, we have a growing multilingual population, and we heard our math leads saying, “You know, we have high numbers of multilingual families and multilignual students that need support in the instruction of mathematics.” We were able to build a content cycle alongside Leading Educators that addressed those needs, so it was really neat to see that come into play and how we were able to develop that content together.

How has your thinking on systemic support evolved or been affirmed during this partnership?

We’re a very large district, and you have to have buy-in from so many key players, particularly senior leadership and the people overseeing a particular network of schools. They have competing demands.

The one thing this work affirmed is that we need partners. We can’t do all of this work alone. We see the value of having partnerships outside of the district to help tell us what’s happening around us in the world of mathematics and bring those ideas and thoughts to our space in Baltimore.

What changes have you observed?

The biggest impact we’ve seen from the work with Leading Educators is with our math leads. Because they received the direct professional development, the feedback from that role is extremely positive. They knew the training was specific to their role, and then they could deliver that training and knowledge to their teachers. So, we saw the highest impact and the greatest data growth in their abilities as math leads.

Teachers were the next layer. In their academic planning, teachers saw the benefit of having that cycle they were going through, knowing each week they would be coming back to look at content and their students’ work, which then led to student outcomes. 

Student outcomes are always the most challenging part. That’s where you don’t see the impact of the work right away. You want to see proficiency go up immediately, but we know it takes time, which also comes with challenges around scaling.

School systems and educators are busy right now. What would you say to someone who is skeptical about focusing on this kind of work?

You have to start small and focused and need that safe space to make mistakes and tweaks along the way. Because you’re learning a whole new way of planning, designing, and facilitating, it may seem like a lot of work when you first start, but it’s in the small changes that you’ll start to see the overall shifts in the long run.

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 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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