Mayor, schools CEO walk Cherry Hill to promote education forum

Several Cherry Hill residents opened their doors Monday evening to a man in a gray pinstriped suit, flanked by aides and cameras on their front stoops.

"Hi, I'm Greg Thornton," the new city schools superintendent said each time, extending his hand.

Thornton and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake walked the neighborhood, introducing themselves and handing out fliers promoting a Thursday night education forum at Friendship Academy.

Thornton, 59, hired in February from his job as superintendent of Milwaukee's public schools, said he was excited "to knock on some doors and meet some folks." The walk and Thursday's meeting will serve as his introduction to the city's students and parents.

"It's an opportunity for me to listen," Thornton said. "It's an opportunity for me to learn what concerns they have so we can work very aggressively to mitigate those concerns as we move forward."

Rawlings-Blake said she wanted to open a mutually beneficial dialogue between the city and its schools as the superintendent begins his term.

"When he's successful, Baltimore's children and the city are successful," she said. "This is about making sure he gets a jump-start and knows what people are thinking and talking about when this new school year begins."

Tamera Winder, 29, was sitting in her car at Friendship Academy watching her 8-year-old son, Demani, at a football practice when the mayor and superintendent's crowd stopped to say hello.

Winder said she planned to attend Thursday's forum to talk about class sizes and course rigor, two of her concerns.

"In schools around here, the kids are not learning what the kids in the county schools are," she said, adding that she has a stepson who goes to school in Baltimore County. "There's no challenge."

As Cynthia Mason waited to pick up dinner outside Cherry Hill Town Center, she introduced grandson Dawron, 4, who starts prekindergarten at Arundel Elementary in three weeks. Dawron, who ran around while his grandmother talked, said he enjoys reading and being read to.

Nearby, Thornton shook hands with Felicia Sivells and had an aide write a phone number for school supplies on the back of a leaflet promoting the forum. Sivells said she would take her seventh-grader, Kalia; sixth-grader, Jonathan; and kindergartener, Carlas to the school system's annual Back to School Rally on Saturday at the War Memorial Plaza from noon to 4 p.m.

Tamara Williams, 6, giggled as she met the superintendent through her screen door. "Are you ready for the first day of school?" Thornton asked the soon-to-be first-grader in a pink Minnie Mouse shirt. "Yes," she replied with a smile.

The schools CEO said he has been encouraged by what he has seen already in his few months in the city.

"I'm really pleased with the sense of energy in the community and the sense of hopefulness," he said. "We have an opportunity to rethink this whole community, and I think schools are a pivotal part of that."

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