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In the Media: Md Criminal Justice System Overhaul; Baltimore Student Inspires White House

Maryland State House in Annapolis.
Amaury Laporte
Maryland State House in Annapolis.

A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: Hogan prepares to sign off on overhaul of Maryland criminal justice system

"Maryland officials are about to take steps to reduce the state prison population by more than 1,000 inmates while plowing millions of dollars into crime prevention.

"Gov. Larry Hogan plans Thursday to sign the state's broadest criminal justice legislation in decades — a package that will reduce sentencing guidelines for drug dealers, thieves and other offenders, while increasing the number of crimes that can be wiped from an offender's record fivefold.

"Users of illegal drugs will be steered toward treatment, not incarceration. And new rules will help the state go after criminal gangs.

"The Justice Reinvestment Act, a document of more than 100 pages, is a seismic shift from policies adopted during the late-20th century war on drugs, which critics say led to governments wasting money on incarceration that did little to increase public safety.

"By reducing the Maryland prison population by about 1,100 people over the next 10 years, officials expect to save an estimated $80 million that can be redirected toward programs intended to prevent crime.

"The bill was a compromise reached among Republicans and Democrats, prosecutors and defenders, civil libertarians and victims' rights advocates.

"'This is a generational piece of criminal justice reform,' said Christopher B. Shank, the Hogan administration official who led the effort to craft the bill.

"But some officials and advocates say Hogan's approval, to come as he signs more than 200 bills in the final such ceremony this year, should begin an evaluation process.

"Some say doing away with mandatory minimum sentences was a mistake, as was reducing sentences for some drug offenses. Others bemoan the increased penalty for second-degree murder, and say not enough other penalties have been reduced.

"Most of the bill's provisions go into effect in October 2017. Some will become law this October.

"Toni Holness, public policy counsel for the Maryland ACLU, said there are flaws in a bill that overall 'does move the needle forward.'"

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From the Baltimore Sun: Inspired by Baltimore third-grader, White House invites science input from students

"Taking its cue from a third-grader in Baltimore, the Obama administration on Thursday opened a dialogue with students to seek ideas on how the government can encourage more young people to engage in science, math and technology.

"White House officials announced in a blog post that they are inviting students — or 'kid scientists and innovators' — to send in their ideas for shaping the future of the field, including how to improve science and engineering education in schools.

"The idea, officials said, was sparked by 9-year-old Jacob Leggette of Sandtown, who became something of a media sensation for his interaction with President Barack Obama at a White House science fair last month. Leggette suggested that students themselves should have a role in shaping the White House policy on science education.

"'The president loved the idea, and suggested that we bring together a group of kids to share their thoughts on what they think is important in science, technology, and innovation,' the blog post reads. 'Kids know firsthand what's working inside and outside of their classrooms and how to better engage students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math [STEM] fields.'

"Leggette told The Baltimore Sun in April that the science fair 'was the best day of my life.' His favorite project that he showed the president was a set of sticky toys he made by designing and creating molds on a 3-D printer. Obama blew bubbles using a wand Leggette had made."

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From the AFRO American: New Balto. School CEO lays out agenda

"Baltimore City Public Schools newly appointed CEO, Sonja Santelises is following through on a quote made famous by the poet, Nikki Giovanni, who once wrote, 'While language is a gift, listening is a responsibility.' 

"Santelises takes listening seriously. Santelises won’t officially start as CEO of Baltimore Public Schools until July 1, but she is already observing, watching and learning from students, parents and community residents.  'I want to get into the schools before school ends pre-July 1. I will be organizing opportunities to hear different groups of stakeholders in the schools and neighborhoods. I want to re-enter Baltimore the same way I entered Baltimore the first time, which is to spend time listening,' Santelises told the AFRO. 

"Santelises replaces Gregory Thornton, who was appointed in 2014 and left the top administrative post earlier this month after complaints by political and community and a critical performance evaluation from the School Board.  Santelises served as chief academic officer for Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) from 2010 to 2013. She was brought to Baltimore from Boston by former BCPS CEO Andres Alonzo (2007-2013), to prepare the District for the curriculum shift to the Common Core Standards. 

“'We are going to articulate identifiable goals, one step at a time. We are not going to have all schools achieving at high levels in Baltimore by the end of the first year,' Santelises warned when asked about improving standardized test scores 'That will take the full time of my contract and beyond. It is important that we communicate broadly to everybody, from elected leaders to teachers to grandmothers who don’t have students in the schools any more, but who are committed to the young people in their community. Everyone should be able to feel part of the work that we are doing in the schools,' Santelises said. 

"Students in Baltimore and throughout the state of Maryland performed poorly on PARCC   standardized state tests conducted in Fall 2015. At every grade level tested, less than 25 percent of Baltimore City Public Schools’ students met or exceeded standards designed to assess understanding of the new Common Core classroom content, adopted in Maryland in the 2013-2014 school year. The state of Maryland boasted only a 33% rate of proficiency for students who took the test in Math and 39% in English. 

"Santelises is also ready to transform the sometimes onerous relationship between the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland, with regard to public schools.  'I have every indication in these early days from the Governor’s Office that they are willing to engage.  It is our responsibility to clearly communicate the needs and plans of the city related to the Public Schools.  I am going in with the assumption that we will sit down and have a two-way conversation about the needs of Baltimore’s young people,' Santelises said." 

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