Baltimoreans Surprised By Alonso's Resignation

May 7, 2013

Marietta English of the Baltimore Teachers' Union.
Credit Bret Jaspers / WYPR

Baltimore Schools CEO Andrés Alonso surprised many yesterday with the announcement that he's retiring on June 30th. Alonso has lead the city school system for six years, and leaves midway through his second contract to take care of ailing parents and to teach at Harvard. When he spoke before a standing-room crowd yesterday, he came with no notes -- just pure emotion.

"I didn’t prepare any words today..."

He said the sign on the school where he first taught in New Jersey still inspires him.

"Kids come as is, they’re not made to order."

“Kids come as is, they’re not made to order”.

And then he told of his first principal’s recent passing. Alonso had the crowd of supporters in the palm of his hand – they teared up with him, they called out support, and they rose to their feet to applaud that what his work has brought to Baltimore.

“I think we are in such a high plane, there is so much momentum. There is such a high belief. People talked about hope in the beginning. I think we are beyond hope. There’s enormous demonstration of what is possible.”

Alonso thanked the community and the school board for giving him time to maneuver.

“I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to lead a district where there was a readiness for a certain kind of leadership.”

Under his leadership, the district’s dropout and suspension rate dropped significantly. He tried to trim the fat at North Avenue by cutting jobs at the administrative level. But he was also in charge when last year a state legislative audit found millions of dollars at question in the school district’s books. And Baltimore city teachers have a complicated relationship with the outgoing CEO.

“Well, you get mixed reactions.”

Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union points out that the relationship between the teachers and the CEO has improved in recent years.

”But I think because we have this landmark contract that has been very good for them and Dr Alonso has been very supportive of that there will be some surprise that he’s leaving and then they will wonder what’s going to happen with their contract.”

The CEO had a reputation of not shying away from controversy – closing, merging, and expanding schools, and diving into a cheating scandal. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said they didn’t always agree. But that even though Alonso is a controversial figure…

"I’m sad to lose him. He’s been a great leader of our system – he’s stuck it out. He’s made some amazing changes – for example the largest grant of money for our children in this construction 1.1 billion. That’s a legacy to be proud of for sure."

Alonso leaves Baltimore City Schools with the windfall of school construction money that was approved this year by the General Assembly. The district will work with city government, state government, and the Maryland Stadium Authority to renovate old buildings and build new ones, starting next year.

As he spoke of these transitions, he passed the baton to his chief of staff, Tisha Edwards, who will be the interim CEO. School Officials say a permanent CEO will be put in position by July first 2014.