A 'paradise' amid the rocks and weeds
Op-Eds

Much work to be done [Commentary]

Editor's note: This op-ed has been updated to correct the number of chronically absent city students. 

As the new school year starts in Baltimore City, I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity to build on the work that has been done in the past, and lead the school district and its students and families on the journey to excellence. I applaud the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, elected officials at every level of government, and our school families and communities for their staunch support of city schools throughout the education reform process in Baltimore.

Using the foundation already in place, we need to build a robust school system that rests on three pillars of excellence: student achievement, effective and efficient operations, and family and community engagement. This work has already begun, and much has been accomplished; yet much work remains for all of us.

One of the greatest challenges to student achievement is attendance. Last year, more than 20,000 of our students were chronically absent -- that is, absent more than 20 school days in the course of the year. Until, and unless, we work together to correct this problem, our school system will not reach the high standards to which we aspire, and a significant portion of our students will not realize the potential we know they possess. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been at the forefront of this issue, but all of us – family members, educators, public officials, community and business leaders — must accept responsibility and work together to ensure that every student is in school every day, on time and ready to learn.

Thanks to the efforts of our school leaders, teachers and stakeholders, far more of Baltimore's students are graduating and far fewer are dropping out. Now we need to make sure that they graduate with the skills they need to be successful in college and their careers. With effective school leadership and effective classroom teaching, we will successfully implement the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards to achieve that goal.

Effective and efficient operations means that our district must operate like a $1.3 billion business, because that's what it is. We are in the business of education, and we must be held to the same standards of fiscal stability and return on investment (although we measure our return in terms of student achievement) that we expect of any responsibly run business. This will be especially important as we work with our partners in the Stadium Authority, the City of Baltimore, and the Interagency Committee on School Construction to implement the 21st Century Buildings Plan, which will provide our students and communities with world class buildings and state of the art technology and transform neighborhoods across the city. As a district, we must prove ourselves worthy of the trust placed in us by legislators and the public across Maryland.

Finally, we must continue to expand our engagement with families, communities and stakeholders throughout the city, to become ever more inclusive, more transparent and more receptive to their opinions and ideas. We must deepen and broaden the channels of communication between our schools and the neighborhoods they serve, with confidence that we all share the common goal of doing what is best for our children, and with the knowledge that what is best for our children is to build the best possible schools, staffed by the best possible teachers, under the direction of the best possible school leaders. None of us can afford to be parochial in our outlook or narrow in our vision at the risk of limiting the future for our kids.

That future starts today, when our school doors open and we assume our responsibility as educators, family members and community leaders. The well-being of our children in the present, and their success in the future is in our hands. Our children deserve excellence, and anything less is unacceptable. They must see and experience excellence in us, so that they come to expect excellence of themselves. That is our goal, and that is our responsibility.

I embrace that responsibility and look forward to working with our stakeholders to make measurable progress toward creating bright futures for all of our children.

Gregory E. Thornton was appointed chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools, effective July 1, 2014. His email address is CitySchoolsCEO@bcps.k12.md.us.

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