Sun profile: Andrés Alonso

Andrés Alonso

Andrés Alonso

Urgency drives Andrés Alonso. He has been given uncommon power to reshape Baltimore's dysfunctional schools to make them work for, not against, the children. He knows that he cannot do it by himself.

Alonso comes 'as is'

February 8, 2009

First of three parts

Alonso comes 'as is'

In July 2007, Andrés Alonso — the immigrant with four Ivy League degrees — charged into Baltimore to bring a culture of high achievement to a school system where historically only about half the students have graduated. It is an enormous task, one at which many have failed, not only here but in cities across America. But Alonso, a 51-year-old bachelor, believes fervently that the poor, minority children born into America's underclass don't have to be stuck there. His urgency and intensity, often fueled by little more than diet Lipton green tea, have inspired some employees and alienated others.

Photo gallery: Andrés Alonso's tenure in Baltimore
Video: Videos of Alonso
Bio: Quick facts about Andrés Alonso

Pushing hard, with no excuses

February 9, 2009

Second of three parts

Pushing hard, with no excuses

From the start, Baltimore schools chief Andrés Alonso has pushed administrators and staff hard, giving them heavy new responsibilities — and expanding their possibilities. "It takes extreme leaps to get a system like this to take small steps," Alonso said. "My work here has been all about extreme leaps."

Turn it around

February 10, 2009

'A community conversation'

No matter how energetic he is, Andrés Alonso can't take street values out of the schools by himself. "The kids come as is," read the saying that Alonso saw in the office on his first day of teaching in Newark, N.J. It has guided his outlook as an educator ever since. To truly transform the city schools, he says, the community must believe in the possibility of transformation with the kids it has, as they are. Therein lies what is perhaps Alonso's biggest challenge: overcoming the community's acceptance that things are as they always will be.

Graphic: Signs of improvement for Baltimore schools

The reporting
Education reporter Sara Neufeld spent hundreds of hours interviewing Andrés Alonso, attending public meetings where he was present, and accompanying him on visits to schools and events after he was named CEO of the Baltimore schools in June 2007. She observed most of the scenes in this series that take place in Baltimore; others were reconstructed based on interviews with him and his relatives, friends, and current and former colleagues. Alonso's adopted son, Joel, was interviewed for this story on the condition that his last name not be used because of his disabilities and challenging life circumstances.

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