Thornton taps Fox 45 reporter to lead district communications

Baltimore city schools CEO Gregory Thornton has tapped longtime Fox 45 Reporter Karen Parks to head his communications team.

The school board confirmed her appointment Tuesday as executive director for communications; she is due to start in October at a salary of $139,000.

Parks joined Fox in 2000 and is currently a general assignment reporter and weekend anchor for FOX45, according to her biography published on the station's website.

She is an Atlanta native who taught for six years -- three of them as a first grade teacher in Montgomery County schools -- before starting her reporting career, according to the biography. Parks declined to comment on her appointment.

In a June interview about his first year as superintendent, Thornton said he planned to hire a new communications director after he was criticized for lacking vision and communication from his administration was described as "deplorable." 

In the last year, everyone from community leaders to parents to political leaders had repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of responsiveness from Thornton's administration -- a stark contrast to what they were used to under city schools CEO Andres Alonso, who was known for personally answering emails at all hours of the day and night or giving lengthy interviews and presentations on his initiatives.

Thornton acknowledged that he needed to improve in the areas of communication and articulating his vision.

Thornton also agreed that his relationship with the media needed improvement. (His administration has been cited numerous times in the Baltimore Sun as not providing information or responding to requests for comment). 

In his reorganization of the central office, Thornton separated the communications team from the office of community engagement. The engagement team is headed by Hassan Charles, who Thornton hired last year.

In reviewing the job description provided by the district, Thornton seemed to tailor the new position to his perceived shortcomings.

Among Parks' responsibilities is to "establish effective two-way communication systems between schools, offices, departments and the district...and the press, the media, and the public," and "ensure that city schools' message is clear, consistent and effectively communicated..."

The job also requires that Parks "assess public and media attitudes toward the school system and school reform efforts, and keep the CEO informed of issues, concerns and/or important events and circumstances,recommending communication strategies to address issues."



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