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Now's the time to raise the bar for Baltimore schools

As the founder of KIPP Baltimore, which operates two high-performing public charter schools in the city, I am heartened and encouraged by our progress over the past six years under schools CEO Andrés Alonso. As I move to a new role as executive director of MarylandCAN — the Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now — I am hopeful that many of the policies and approaches that have driven this progress will be replicated in other Maryland school systems.

But the work in Baltimore is far from over. Now, more than ever, Baltimore will need a leader who can continue Mr. Alonso's forward charge, with reforms that improve schools and create lasting change.

As the city Board of School Commissioners considers candidates to fill this role, I see a great opportunity to maintain the positive momentum of school reform in Baltimore. The new schools chief should have four key priorities to keep Baltimore moving forward:

•Laying the groundwork to successfully implement new systems that raise the bar for public education. During the next city schools CEO's tenure, we will see some major national and statewide initiatives take shape, such as the new Common Core standards and the development of a new teacher evaluation process. The new CEO must partner with the Maryland State Department of Education to ensure that the standards are implemented well and that the new teacher evaluation system truly highlights the academic growth teachers lead students to achieve.

•Ensuring all students are taught only by effective teachers. There are many excellent teachers in Baltimore schools who deserve recognition for the academic growth and achievement of their students. The next CEO can ensure they get it by receiving the highest compensation. It is also equally important that struggling teachers receive the best possible training and support so that they can become effective. It is essential that no student is stuck in a classroom with an ineffective teacher.

•Increasing autonomy for public school leaders. Public school principals must be allowed the autonomy and flexibility to use their funding in a way that best serves their students and not have funding withheld to pay for central-office functions from which their students never benefit. And our new CEO should partner with the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation that promotes the growth and increased autonomy of high-quality public charter schools.

•Focusing on students' postsecondary educational attainment as a measure of schools' success. A student's educational journey does not end when he or she leaves Baltimore City Public Schools. In order to truly assess the success of the school system, we need to evaluate all schools on their effectiveness — not ultimately based on test scores or college matriculation rates, but based on setting students up for success in their professional lives. Our new CEO should keep a close eye on the rates at which students graduate from four-year colleges and other post-secondary education programs — including vocational and apprenticeship programs — to ensure that our schools are adequately preparing students for both academic and professional success.

As we shift our focus to hiring a new leader for city schools, I am optimistic about Baltimore's future. Mr. Alonso's successor has big shoes to fill, but I believe that he or she will be able to keep us on the path toward progress, enabling all of Baltimore's children to receive the high-quality education they deserve.

Jason Botel is the incoming executive director of MarylandCAN: The Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now and the founder of KIPP Baltimore. His email is jbotel@kippbaltimore.org.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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