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Thornton tours Mervo on first day as city schools CEO

Thornton and members of his cabinet kick off first day with school visits

Erica L. Green

6:30 PM EDT, July 1, 2014

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New Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton kicked off his first day on the job Tuesday by visiting summer school sites around the city with new cabinet members and taking stock of some of the work he has in front of him over the next four years.

As the new schools chief, who signed a $290,000 contract to lead the district until 2018, visited Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical Senior High School, he talked about expanding summer school programs and college-and-career readiness opportunities to more students.

Mervo serves as one of the sites of the district's "Gear up for Your Future," summer programs where students are exposed to trade programs like construction, health professions or information technology. 

He said the 6,000 students currently enrolled in summer school is "not enough." He said every student should have access to a quality summer program.

"I need more kids," he said. "My hope is that programs like this will be bigger."

Thornton's new Chief Academic Officer, Linda Chen, was also in tow scribbling notes into her notepad as she listened to the summer lesson at Mervo. Chen previously served as the deputy chief academic officer in the Boston Public Schools. 

She said she considered the site visits a "listening tour" and a chance to learn from others who have been running the district. Another Thornton appointee, Rudy Ruiz, who will oversee secondary education services, also joined the tour and said he was excited to see students engaging in lessons like they were at Mervo.

Ruiz, who served as the director of college and career readiness under Thornton in Milwaukee, said that he was "really excited to promote programs like these that are working."

Thornton has traveled to the district in the months since his appointment, even corresponding  during a tumultuous time between the previous administration and city principals.

On Tuesday, he asked Mervo's Principal Craig Rivers about everything from his attendance rates -- which he asked him to work on next year -- to what's not working in the district. Among the conclusions Thornton made was that standards weren't consistent throughout the district.

"I like his energy," Rivers said. "It seems like he understands we have some work to do, but he's up to the challenge."

Rivers said he looked forward to more consistent messaging around culture and instruction in a district that has been driven by autonomy.

While he and other principals have benefited from the freedom of running their schools the way they see fit, autonomy can also leave schools feeling like islands, he said. 

"There has to be a better alignment of best practices," Rivers said.

Thornton said that his focus through the rest of the summer is the first day of school, and that any of his grander plans will be rolled out slowly and steadily.

"After four hours I can barely find my way back to central office," he quipped.

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG