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Mayor and new superintendent hold forums in lead up to school year

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and new schools CEO Gregory Thornton will kick off a listening tour around the city on Monday, as part of a back-to-school campaign scheduled throughout the month that will include hearing out parent concerns and expectations for the upcoming school year.

The effort will kick off in Cherry Hill, where Rawlings-Blake and Thornton will begin canvassing the neighborhood, knocking on doors and listening to residents.

The first education forum will be held at Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School on Thursday, when the mayor and new schools chief will talk about progress and challenges and their plans for the new school year.

Rawlings-Blake said the measure is a way to welcome Thornton, who came to Baltimore from running Milwaukee Public Schools, but also signals a renewed effort to unite City Hall and school headquarters in improving education in the city.

While the school board is responsible for hiring the superintendent, Rawlings-Blake has publicly supported the board's decision to hire Thornton.

"We share the opinion that we work better when we work together, and we both have a goal to make Baltimore great for all Baltimore's kids. There's a lot of excitement about his administration, and I'm going to do everything I can to make him successful because it's important for the city."

Thornton takes over the school system as it experiences a backslide in academic progress and settles from a storm of reforms under former schools CEO Andrés Alonso, who led the school system for six years before resigning last June. Alonso's chief of staff, Tisha Edwards, led the school system until June.

One of the biggest challenges in front of Thornton is to continue rolling out a $1 billion plan launched by the previous administration to overhaul the school system's infrastructure, which will see dozens of school buildings repaired or replaced in the next decade.

Rawlings-Blake said that her administration selected Cherry Hill to begin the back-to-school tour because it's a community whose schools will benefit from the 10-year-plan, which the city campaigned for and will help finance.

Two schools in the community are among the first to be renovated or replaced. A new recreation center is also slated for the community. The neighborhood's schools also host city-sponsored reading and summer meals programs.

"As we plan for these investments, it's important that we continue to talk and hear from the community," Rawlings-Blake said. "Overall, I think it's important for us to hear from parents about what's important for their children."

A second forum will be scheduled for later in the month. The mayor will also host her annual back-to-school rally, at which students can receive free immunizations and backpacks full of school supplies, on Aug. 9 at the War Memorial Plaza. The first day of school in Baltimore City is August 25.

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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