Recently, I have read several articles criticizing current Baltimore City Schools chief Gregory Thornton. The most critical article alleged a broad coalition of "legislators, faith leaders and education advocates [accusing him of having] sowed division among schools, and fail[ing] to articulate a clear vision for the future and [not] being transparent about budget issues" ("Some critics call for Thornton's ouster as leader of Baltimore schools," Feb. 25). As a native resident of our great city and a cautious cynic of Baltimore City Public Schools' administration, especially in the wake of Freddie Gray last year, I have closely monitored the activity of our educational system. In many respects, effective management of our school system represents the frontline for our city's stability.
I am specifically concerned about urban youth having the constant unhealthy dose of hopelessness doled out every time a leader such as Mr. Thornton has the audacity to provide constructive public administration. Criticizing to the point of suggesting ouster not only makes me concerned about the lack of the images and forms that demonstrate model citizenry and the hope afforded by academic achievement and civil behavior, it also makes me afraid for this city, for I am aware of how lethal, disruptive, and violent our city can become without proper guidance at the helm of the school system. I vividly recall the impetus for our city's shutdown last year motivated by school students. Through effective leadership, Mr. Thornton was able to restore stability and academic continuity at that dangerous time for our city.
In the recent articles criticizing Mr. Thornton, the call for his ouster failed to point toward any scandal, fiscal impropriety or gross mismanagement; in fact, the article piqued my curiosity to better understand the circumstances of his performance and to better make my own judgment. What I have found was astonishing!
While the article mentioned eliminating a $108 million budget gap, it failed to also tout the additional $8 million in grant funding from the National Institutes of Justice, Northrop-Grumman and the Wallace Foundation for leadership development and STEAM programming, and the record-breaking $59,739,864 2015 Baltimore City graduates received in scholarship funding for college. These financial achievements merely pronounce the doubt and lack of understanding the fact that he has also actually achieved accomplishments that aid growth and stability of our academic system. Mr. Thornton has "right sized" the physical plant and school buildings by aligning the enrollment trends and consolidating schools; for this our children will now enjoy buildings that look like they will built in and are equipped to serve 21st century students. And while many of children were hungry and unable to perform academically for their hunger pangs, Mr. Thornton has expanded the free breakfast and lunch program to allow the entire district's students access to healthy nutrition; this removes a key impediment to performance that was previously unmet.
Most impressive of these changes and achievements derived and instituted during Mr. Thornton's short tenure is The Re-Engagement Center designed to support the re-entry of students who have left the system before achieving a high school diploma. This culturally competent academic re-entry process is comprehensive in scope as it assesses student readiness to re-enter the system by gathering information on academic and social preparedness and helps the district identify the most appropriate educational setting. Effectively implemented, through the BCPSS' partnerships with Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, Johns Hopkins Bayview, Community Conferencing Center, Concentric Educational Solutions, New Vision Youth Services, Treat Resources for Youth, and Youth Ambassador Leadership Academy, this effort looks like nothing I have previously witnessed toward providing the redress required to address the BCPSS drop-out rates.
Our city is in crisis and has been for decades. When we finally attract a champion of prudent administrative results that actually work to improve the life and future of our city, loud and wrong voices of dissent object to the requisite changes as though he has committed a crime. Perhaps a black man with the audacity to build broad coalitions, challenge failed aspects of the status quo, reduce wasteful budgetary practices, and develop a strategic plan that addresses the real circumstances with reasonable corrective action instead of correctional facilities, is unwelcome by some in Baltimore. It should be known that there are many of us who see and appreciate Mr. Thornton's good works and judgment, and we caution those who seem to move hastily toward what is likely the wrong conclusion.
Mark Fuller, Baltimore