The following January, she began working as Alonso's special assistant.

As much as Edwards pushes, she appreciates being pushed back.

In a recent meeting about schools in a South Baltimore community, Edwards and a staff member engage in a heated debate — the kind where one interrupts the other to ask, "Can I finish?"

As she walks into her office, Edwards says, "As tough as that was, I respect her more than someone who just sat there, nodded their head and said, 'Uh-huh.' Because as much as we fundamentally disagree, she was standing up for what she thought was right for children."

Edwards has been involved in a number of heated discussions over the past four years amid shake-ups that included reorganizations, the closing and opening of more than two dozen schools, and a $1 billion facilities plan.

As tough as she can be — on herself, adults and children — Edwards says she sees an opportunity to re-energize the district.

In a meeting about student promotion and retention policies, she tells staffers that "data has become the devil — it's killing morale."

She ordered a notification system to be put in place next year to alert parents and principals when students are at risk, rather than presenting general statistics for schools with the most failing students.

"I love data — I've been trained by the data king," she says, referring to Alonso. "But I value conversation and consultation."

Edwards says she's not entering her tenure "obsessing about test scores," because while she's taking over one of the lowest-performing school systems in the state, it's in transition.

The district is embarking on a more rigorous curriculum that will test teachers and students. Principal and teacher evaluations that began tying performance to compensation three years ago have yet to have an impact in instruction.

"It's going to get harder before it gets better," she says. "There's not a lot I can do about that today.

"What I can do something about is getting people excited about the work again. And I think if I can do that … the test scores will work themselves out in the long run."

Tisha Edwards

Age: 42

Hometown: Meridian, Miss.

Residence: Baltimore

Personal: Divorced; mother of two sons: Nicholas,19, a senior at Morgan State University, and Nevan, 13, a freshman at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute

Current salary: $225,000 as Baltimore schools interim CEO for one year, beginning July 1

Work highlights: Baltimore schools chief of staff and special assistant to the CEO, 2008-2013; founding principal, Baltimore Freedom Academy, 2003-2007; chief operating officer and special assistant to the CEO, Empower Baltimore Management Corp., 2000-2003; program coordinator, Fulton County (Ga.) Juvenile Court, 1997-1998.

Education: J.D., University of Maryland law school, 2001; master's, University of Maryland School of Social Work, 2000; bachelor's, Georgia State University, 1998.