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What Baltimore needs in a new schools CEO

Over the past few days, as I have worked to prepare my newly minted fifth grader for school each day, the question of who should lead Baltimore City Public Schools has been on my mind.

As a mother blessed with the opportunity to serve as mayor, finding the right schools CEO is of particular importance to me. I work every day to ensure every child in Baltimore is afforded the same opportunities I want for my own child.

Next to making sure our communities are as safe as possible, this is the most sacred duty I hold. Our school system is embarking on a transformative period in which the next CEO can play a large role in shaping educational outcomes for decades to come. Those outcomes determine what type of city we will have in the next 10 to 20 years.

Will we be a vibrant and bustling economy where new industries and jobs are eager to take advantage of an educated workforce? Will we be a growing city where families want to settle down because of the quality education our school system can offer their children? Or will we be a city in decline, struggling to attract industry and maintain our tax base?

The next CEO will play a significant role in which city Baltimore will be.

For all those reasons and more we need a leader experienced enough to maintain the progress we have seen under Andrés Alonso's tenure but one who isn't so beholden to the status quo that he or she does not see where our current system still falls short.

While much progress has been made, areas remain where strong and independent leadership will be necessary to get the job done.

Decreasing chronic absenteeism is one area where the next CEO can provide that leadership. Data from city schools confirm what we already know to be true. Students who regularly make it to class perform better than students who don't come to school — specifically, 16 percent better in reading and 22 percent better in math during the 2012-2013 school year.

We need a visionary who sees our schools as community partners able to transform entire neighborhoods.

Growing Baltimore's population is vitally important to the future of our city and has been a signature of my platform since coming into office. Growth requires a community-based focus that can only be achieved if neighborhood schools are an intimate part of the strategy.

We need a skilled manager. In the face of a $1 billion school construction plan, it would be prudent for our next CEO to have experience with capital projects and a commitment to community inclusion for each new and renovated school.

The next CEO must also be able to lead with credibility. I believe much of Mr. Alonso's success was directly related to his 11 years of classroom experience. As a former teacher, he personally understood the challenges teachers face every day because he lived them himself. Our schools are only as strong as the men and women who take up the charge to educate our children, so it's important that they have confidence in the leadership chosen to represent them.

Mr. Alonso's tenure is a forceful argument for why we need another strong CEO. Under Mr. Alonso, students made significant gains in showing up to school ready to learn, reading comprehension and graduation rates. The leap forward is undeniable, yet many opportunities remain for our next CEO to make his or her own mark.

As mayor, I am looking for a partner. Under my administration, city government has taken on the long and formidable challenge of raising revenue for school construction, lobbying for landmark legislation, and fighting for success in our classrooms. My fervent hope is that our next CEO will see the power of a dedicated, collaborative and transparent relationship.

Together we can continue to promote reform, build community-based schools that have the capacity to change neighborhoods and generate outcomes that will have lasting effects for Baltimore's future work force.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, is the mayor of Baltimore. Her email is Twitter: @MayorSRB.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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