School Reform in Charm City

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Here's an interesting piece on Andres Alonso. In the wake of Michelle Rhee and Bloomberg's appointment of Cathleen Black, this really stood out to me:


The system had churned through six superintendents in six years, so Dr. Alonso's priority was to persuade people that things would be different this time. For his changes to work, he needed a lot of support, but that took some convincing. 

"The community felt alienated," said Bishop Douglas I. Miles, a pastor at Koinonia Baptist Church and a major sponsor of youth programs in the city. "There was a sense that we weren't wanted except to do bake sales." 

So Dr. Alonso held public meetings, inviting parents, librarians and leaders of nonprofits and churches. He directed community organizers to knock on doors in a campaign to bring back high school dropouts. Students as young as fifth graders were allowed to choose their schools in a boisterous annual fair. 

"Everything was about creating a surge of energy into the schools," he said. "I wanted people to have to push to get past each other." Next he took on the culture of the schools, which relied heavily on suspensions for discipline, a practice Dr. Alonso strongly opposed. "Kids come as is," he likes to say, "and it's our job to engage them."

I don't know much about Alonso--I've definitely read less about him him, then other reformers. Still, it seems he's excelled at not making enemies out of people who don't actually have to be. Moreover, he doesn't seem contemptuous of local democracy. I'd like to hear more.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/12/school-reform-in-charm-city/67340/