Maryland's recipe for success: Strong, consistent leadership and a high-quality program

(November 25, 2013) - Maryland has a long history of PLTW success, but State Leader Dr. Lynne Gilli says there isn’t a “secret sauce.” Rather, Gilli says it starts with strong support and leadership at the state level and flourishes from strong partnerships formed across the state.

Maryland first partnered with Project Lead The Way in 2002. “We didn’t want students to miss out,” Gilli says. “We felt like we were already late to the party. So we had a lot of excitement about it.” It was then that the strong partnerships across the state started to take shape. The State Department of Education jumped on board right away, along with the state superintendent of schools and the governor. Business and industry took interest. It wasn’t long before school districts began asking for the program. Today, PLTW programs of study are in 23 of the state’s 24 school districts.

Maryland’s PLTW network benefits from strong, sustained leadership at the State Department of Education, state leader, and affiliate levels. Kathy Oliver, assistant state superintendent for the Division of Career and College Readiness, has been a long-time supporter of PLTW. Gilli has been in her role as State Leader for PLTW since 2002, and both Maryland affiliate universities – University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and Stevenson University – have a long history with PLTW. Affiliate directors Anne Spence and Meredith Durmowicz have been in their positions since the beginning of the affiliate partnerships. Marquita Friday, Luke Rhine, Nina Roa, and Charles Wallace round out Gilli’s PLTW state leadership team.

“We share a vision of what high-quality, rigorous STEM programs of study are, and we all agree that PLTW is a model for STEM education. From the start, we sat down and began with the end in mind. ‘What do we want this to look like? How can we help local school systems implement PLTW?’” Gilli explained.

Like any program, PLTW in Maryland didn’t grow overnight. Gilli looks back fondly on the way it all came together, starting with their first affiliate, UMBC. “Anne Spence volunteered to be an affiliate without any funding. After seeing how difficult it was to start without any money, the Maryland State Department of Education provided UMBC with grants for continued program implementation. Later, we made sure we had grant funding available when Stevenson came on board.”

It was after getting the affiliates up and running that Gilli and the state team really started to make headway in Maryland’s school districts. Large incentive grants from federal Perkins Reserve Funds helped incentivize districts to come on board quickly. Over the past three years, state funding from Governor Martin O’Malley and the legislature has accelerated the expansion and growth of the PLTW Biomedical Sciences program.

Business and industry leaders are highly involved as well. Gilli has excelled at growing and leading a state advisory board that provides critical industry expertise for the PLTW programs. “We don’t work with only a certain type of individual,” she says. “If we need someone, we invite them to go on a certification visit or ask them to provide scholarships or partnerships with schools. It’s a very facilitated process. Whether it’s research, vetting curriculum, going on a certification visit – we call the appropriate person. We have an array of people involved. When you show people how they can contribute and be a part of the program, they get excited. You can’t sit them at a table, and say ‘this is what we did last year.’ They get bored and don’t come any more. We ask them to do things in their interest at the level they want to be involved. That’s how we get their buy-in.”

None of this would have happened, Gilli says, if it weren’t for the strong support and quality reputation PLTW earned.
“It’s teacher developed and led from the beginning. It wasn’t a vendor package that came out of some big education company. That’s why it was so easy to get buy-in. It was so transparent. It’s a nonprofit. It’s not vendor driven. No one is doing sales. It’s all about what’s right for students- project-based, problem-based instruction and learning. That’s why teachers and students love it.”

Maryland was also the first state to push for what is now PLTW’s Biomedical Sciences program. The state had received a special Workforce Investment Act grant from the federal government, which it put toward the curriculum start up. Six other states joined in. “We saw the success of the [Pathway To Engineering] program, so we wanted to see more programs like it,” Gilli says.

The success of PLTW programs is dependent on schools implementing them with fidelity, Gilli says. She and her team have made certification visits a key part of their shared work. “We believe in fidelity to the model,” she says. “We are very rigorous about certification visits, following up every five years at a minimum. So we have a running cycle of visits. The affiliates and our team go together, we always work together. We’re like gears or pieces of a puzzle, we’re all in sync with each other, and we share a vision for high-quality programs like PLTW’s. We are also proud to award transcripted credit to students who meet requirements.”

PLTW Senior Director of School Engagement Carolyn Malstrom has worked with the Maryland PLTW Leadership team for several years and echoes these reasons for Maryland’s success with PLTW. “Lynne Gilli and Kathy Oliver foster an environment of collaboration and place the needs of Maryland students first,” she says. “They have fostered relationships with Maryland businesses and community organizations to enhance the opportunities for students, and they work with school districts to ensure quality program implementations. The Maryland State Department of Education team monitors school programs and intervenes with additional resources or guidance when necessary to improve a program. Outstanding programs receive statewide recognition.”

Gilli plans to expand Maryland’s long history of success even further. She has a strong vision for the future that includes using PLTW’s new enhancements and course offerings to ignite a renewed energy in PLTW in Maryland. “The Learning Management System, the software agreements, the ongoing support, and the elementary program [PLTW Launch] that is now creating a pipeline from elementary to middle to high school is what we want to see in STEM education. This is going to take us to another level.”