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Be the change

Cecil County Public Schools logo

Cecil County School District

Cecil County Student Demographics
84.7% White
11% African American
3% Hispanic
1% are Asian or Pacific Islander
0.3% are Native American
41.40% of total receive free/reduced meals
12.89% of total receive special education services
Almost 1% of total are English Language Learners


Cecil County Public Schools is a rural school district of approximately 16,000 students located in northern Maryland. CCPS has a long history of inclusionary practices, collaboration among learners of diverse abilities and high expectations for all learners.

Since May 2010, administrators and teachers have been exploring the Universal Design for Learning guidelines and investigating the possibility of using UDL as a framework to guide curriculum development and instruction. For the UDL Implementation Project, district leaders identified two middle schools with eleven cross-disciplinary educators and administrators to participate in the project. Each school formed a UDL Professional Learning Community (PLC) that met with the UDL facilitator once a week.

The district also invested in creating a robust technology system that includes full wireless network coverage and a student-to-computer ratio of approximately 3:1.

Dealing with Initiative Overload is the First Challenge

One of the biggest challenges to the success of UDL Implementation in CCPS is the long list of initiatives the state and the district has adopted. Administrators worried that there was a real danger of “initiative overload.” The state of Maryland had mandated UDL as a curriculum design framework and required the development of inquiry-based instruction. Cecil County middle schools were moving toward adopting the Content Literacy Continuum RTI Model (CLC) framework as a secondary intervention model and using the Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) from the Kansas Center for Research and Learning to support meaningful instruction for all learners. In addition, the district was exploring the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) as an instructional approach for English Language Arts and rewriting all curricula to align with the Common Core State Standards.

So many mandates and initiatives can be overwhelming, but CCPS decided to focus on literacy instruction in the middle schools and used UDL as a framework to understand and implement the other initiatives. Justin Zimmerman, principal at Perryville Middle School explains, “The key component of the district’s philosophy is meeting the needs of all the learners in our schools, so using the principles and guidelines of UDL seemed like a no-brainer. We felt that a natural solution to having so many mandates and initiatives was to use UDL as an umbrella to support all upcoming curriculum writing and direct instructional change.”

Deep Respect for Variability is Key

Mike Hodnicki

A challenge for any district is for all stakeholders to gain a deep understanding of how UDL helps to address learner variability. Michael Hodnicki, Instructional Coordinator for Professional Development puts it this way, ”It is more than providing flexible means of representation, action and engagement, it must come from a deep respect for the variability of the learners. What you do does not change until you change how you believe.” The district’s philosophy of respect for all learners is well matched with the UDL framework. Mr. Hodnicki continues, “It’s so easy when you see something that is so right to grab it and run, but you risk losing the depth of it that you appreciated in the first place. UDL is not how you operate; it’s how you think and what you believe in respect to students.” He suggests identifying the people who do have a deep understanding of UDL, bring them together, build a strategic plan and then build teacher expertise. Also, it is noteworthy that during the UDL implementation project, CCPS rewrote its district philosophy to incorporate UDL as an overarching framework guiding their teaching and learning framework.

Professional Development Must Be a model of UDL

Professional development is a high priority for CCPS. Administrators, teachers and coaches all have allocated time for it. The intention is for professional development to be on-going and connected to the district goals. Professional development occurs for teachers through coaches, extra planning time and professional development days. Mr. Hodnicki believes that UDL needs to become the fabric of the county and that one way of accomplishing this is for professional development to model UDL for educators. He explains, “Teachers have different strengths and weaknesses. Professional development should not look just one way; it needs to model what we expect them to do in their classrooms. It’s not just what we provide our kids, it’s what we also provide for our adults.”

Video: Michael Hodnicki on UDL as the fabric of Cecil County

Advice from Cecil County Public Schools

  • Grow UDL through grassroots enthusiasm, then make early initiators your UDL coaches and facilitators.
  • Build in time with creative scheduling to get together as a community to design and share lessons and to work together to incorporate UDL learning.
  • UDL facilitators or coaches are essential and need to be available more often than once a week.
  • Professional development needs to be a model of UDL.
  • Take it slow, collaborate, and make it an “all stakeholder show.”

What’s Next?

  • As the district rewrites its curriculum the language of UDL will be the underpinning of the redesigned curriculum.
  • The district plans to expand UDL PLCs into other content areas and other schools and use this model to support and grow UDL leaders. For example, the UDL PLC members led workshops for all the English and Language Arts teachers and will do the same for other content areas.

UDL Implementation: Case Stories

Baltimore County Public Schools Case Story
Baltimore County Public Schools

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation Case Story
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation

Cecil County Public Schools Case Story
Cecil County Public Schools

Chelmsford Case Story
Chelmsford Public Schools

A Tale of Four Districts

UDL Implementation: A Tale of Four DistrictsUDL Implementation: A Tale of Four Districts is the story of four school districts taking the journey into the UDL implementation process.

Published as:

Ganley, P. & Ralabate, P. (2013). UDL Implementation: A Tale of Four Districts. National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved [date] from [insert full URL].

Last Updated: 03/16/2013

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