New York City wins urban schools prize

The Baltimore Sun

The New York City Department of Education, where Andres Alonso was a deputy chancellor before coming to lead Baltimore's schools this summer, was recognized yesterday with the nation's biggest urban education award.

New York was named the winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education, after being a finalist for the previous two years. The award recognizes the nation's most improved urban school district, awarding it $500,000 for college scholarships for its students. Four finalist districts each receive $125,000 for scholarships.

In response to the news, announced yesterday at the Library of Congress in Washington, Baltimore school board Chairman Brian D. Morris said: "We are serving notice to the nation that we got next."

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg attended the ceremony in the morning and was back in New York by the afternoon to meet with Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon.

"We are particularly flattered that this summer, Mayor Dixon's city chose one of our deputy chancellors, Dr. Andres Alonso, to serve as the CEO of the Baltimore school system," Bloomberg said in an interview. "When we find something that works, we're more than happy to share our knowledge with other cities, and we try to learn from their experiences."

Alonso said he is implementing in Baltimore the major principles driving New York's reform effort: accountability, competition and empowerment at the school level.

To bring New York-style growth to Baltimore, Alonso said, he first needs to fully understand the baseline, or his starting point. Second, he said, he has to evaluate where resources are spent.

He also said that he must examine the structure of his administration and build "a team of people who have a shared mission and who have extraordinarily high levels of standards and competence."

"It takes time to build a foundation," Alonso said. "Once the foundation is built, there can be an acceleration in terms of achievement."

As immediate first steps, Alonso committed to ensuring that schools are clean and that textbooks arrive early enough next summer for teachers to have adequate planning time. This summer, textbooks were still arriving the week before school started.

And Alonso said he will change how principals are selected so that a school's community is involved in the process.

The Broad Prize is sponsored by the Broad Foundation, established by billionaire Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe. The couple also founded the Broad Superintendents Academy, a 10-month program designed to prepare those with business, military and educational backgrounds to lead public schools. Alonso's new chief of staff, Bennie E. Williams, is a fellow at the academy.

New York City's test scores were better in all grade levels than other districts in New York state serving students with similar family incomes, according to the Broad Foundation.

The finalists for the award were Bridgeport, Conn., public schools; Miami-Dade County, Fla., public schools; Long Beach Unified School District (which won in 2003) in California; and San Antonio's Northside Independent School District.

Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article from New York.

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