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The interim chief executive officer of city schools leaves the system after 40 years in education

The Baltimore Sun

One by one, friends and colleagues of Charlene Cooper Boston, a 37-year veteran of the city school system and the departing one-year interim chief executive officer, thanked her for her service yesterday and asked what she plans to do next.

"Relax," Boston said to the well-wishers during receptions in her honor at the school system's North Avenue headquarters.

Today is Boston's last official day as the top administrator in the city school system.

Yesterday, she told well-wishers that she is planning to take a vacation when the new CEO, Andres Alonso, takes over Sunday.

Alonso was selected for the permanent position by the city school board this month.

Boston, meanwhile, said she plans to spend more time with her family and will work part time as an education consultant. She said she is in negotiations with the school system over her pension.

Boston, 61, had applied to be CEO but lost out to Alonso, who held the No. 2 position in the New York City school system.

This week, though, Boston was the subject of tributes as she prepared to leave.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, she broke down in tears after she was honored with a bouquet of flowers, an engraved vase, a standing ovation and an electronic photograph collage, set to the Whitney Houston ballad "The Greatest Love of All."

Boston started with the city school system in 1966 and was a teacher, principal and administrator before leaving in 2002 to become superintendent of Wicomico County schools. In July 2006, Boston was about to retire from that post when she was tapped to replace then-city schools CEO Bonnie S. Copeland.

Copeland had a poor relationship with state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, and she was replaced months after Grasmick had attempted to order outside takeovers of 11 failing schools, a move that was blocked by the General Assembly.

Boston said her crowning achievement as head of the city schools was the increase in state test scores for third- through eighth-graders. Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade scores showed double-digit improvements in reading.

While educators generally agree that it takes at least three years to make substantial improvements in test scores, Boston called a news conference and took credit for the improved results.

She reasoned that if the scores had dropped, she would have been blamed for the setback, so it was fitting for her to take responsibility for the improvements shown by some students. Yesterday, Boston said a new curriculum helped raise the scores.

The test results were released on the same day that the board announced that it had decided to hire Alonso.

"My position is that Dr. Boston is a great leader, but Dr. Alonso has the capacity to revolutionize the educational process," said school board member George M. VanHook Sr. "I'm not denigrating Dr. Boston, but we felt that Dr. Alonso's vision was perfect for where we were trying to go. We're thinking five, 10 years down the road. Dr. Alonso has the capacity to ignite a flame, if you will, for change, for a revolution."

Boston disputed critics who said she was too close to the troubled system to change it. But she pointed out that she had threatened about 120 principals -- many of whom she has known for years -- with disciplinary action, including termination, if their schools failed to provide a complete set of records for each student.

"Anybody that knows me knows that I shook up a lot," Boston said. "It wasn't [a] fire-burning shake up. [The school board] said they wanted results. And I found that there were good people already here, and I utilized those people."

Boston said she is not bitter about the decision to hire Alonso and called the past year the best in her career.

"At first, I thought being the superintendent of Wicomico was the top," said Boston.

"But coming back to this district and being able to work with such great people, I think this will now be the top for me."


Read The Sun education blog at www.baltimoresun.com/classroom.

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