Donald Fry: Let Alonso do his job

By Donald C. Fry

Just a few months ago, the media, education, business and civic leaders praised the successful recruitment of Dr. Andres Alonso to run the under-achieving Baltimore City Public School System, a system that has shown limited progress for decades and has produced embarrassing graduation rates and test scores.

Remarkably, the school commissioners managed to attract such a highly motivated, extraordinarily well qualified, energetic CEO who works around the clock and has the best interests of children at heart. An innovative educator, Dr. Alonso has received national acclaim for turning around poor academic performance. Yet within three short months of his arrival he is under siege from the local teachers union, which is calling for his ouster.

For what misdeed has the union chosen to attack Dr. Alonso? Amazingly, it is a simple request that the teachers use one (not all) of their weekly planning periods to work together in the hope that collaboration might improve the education product.

It’s hardly a novel idea or burdensome request. What a disgrace for the union to take such a position.

Let’s label this controversy between the teachers union and Dr. Alonso for exactly what it is – an attempt by union leaders to thwart innovation without regard for whether it might actually improve teacher preparedness and student performance.

This is an effort to test the new CEO’s authority and to wrest control of the system away from an educator-administrator who is nationally renowned and has proven ideas of how to nurture improvement of academic performance.

Baltimore was lucky to get Dr. Alonso and now the union leadership is treating him so rudely that it serves as an embarrassment to the entire city.

Perhaps the union would have a better argument if Baltimore City schools had been performing up to par. But they are not – and have not done so for years.

Improving Baltimore City schools was the most debated issue in the recent mayoral primary election. If we don’t empower Dr. Alonso to attempt innovative measures and support his efforts to make tough decisions regarding school reforms we will likely be debating poor Baltimore City school performance for years to come.

It is time for our community leaders and business leaders to express outrage. Year in and year out, we ask for a functional school system that will graduate young people who have a chance at a decent future and the ability to succeed in the jobs that will be available for them. But year in and year out, efforts such as this attack by union leaders undercut and damage the chance for success that a dedicated and talented leader like Dr. Alonso, and the many dedicated principals and teachers within the system, are working so hard to provide to our young citizens.

These demonstrations don’t appear to represent the majority of teachers in Baltimore City. According to media accounts, picketing by the teachers and union “work to rule” efforts have been sporadic.

Only a handful of picketers at a recent school board meeting reportedly stayed after the meeting began and most media and cameras had left. Optimistically, we can hope that this means the vast majority of teachers, who are dedicated and hard working, would welcome increased collaboration with their peers and want no part of this ill-conceived nonsense.

Likewise, it is appalling that media coverage of this spectacle has displayed a painfully apparent lack of balance. Although not engaging in public displays to attract media attention, many groups, including the Greater Baltimore Committee, stand firmly in support of Dr. Alonso and the school board. It is ironic that not a single reporter or camera has covered that side of the story.

As a city, it is time that we not allow this type of disruptive behavior to distract us from needed reform in the Baltimore City public schools. It is time for all community, foundation, philanthropic and business leaders to unite and demonstrate our support for our new school CEO.

Let the school board members know that we can no longer tolerate the status quo and that changes have to be made if we want to provide a quality education for our children. Also, let’s urge our elected officials to keep out of this debate. This is not the time for politics or pandering to special interests. There is only one special interest that is important in this debate – the children in Baltimore City’s public school system.

By uniting behind Dr. Alonso there is a chance that we can see innovative methods and reforms put to work that can transform a school system fraught with dysfunctional factions that have stymied a succession of administrations and yielded dismal achievement results. We must break the culture of complacency that has existed within our city’s school system for years.

Let Dr. Alonso do the job he was brought here to do. He could be our last true hope. 

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