Big City School Leaders: Several Newcomers on Deck

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Several major cities are giving new school chiefs a chance at bat with the hopes of hitting a home run: turning around low-performing schools, fixing dilapidated buildings, and recruiting good teachers. In a job with sky-high turnover, this new batch of leaders offers a particularly fresh perspective on what it might take to turn around troubled urban schools. Anyone who has ever worked with DC's new chancellor, Michelle Rhee , can't help but feel optimistic about that struggling district's improved chance for genuine reform. Rhee (a NCTQ Advisory Board member) is unflappable, courageous, and perhaps the hardest working woman on the planet. A colleague and one of Rhee's many boosters was quoted as saying that if she can't find a way to improve DC schools, "it's time for all ed reformers to throw in the towel."

Other newcomers are passing through revolving doors in New Orleans and Philadelphia. Former Philly chief and perhaps the original renegade superintendent, Paul Vallas is trading cheese steaks for begneits, being wooed down to post-Katrina New Orleans to rebuild the school system and recruit teachers--but unfortunately leaving a sizeable deficit in his wake. Pinch-hitting for Vallas will be Thomas Brady, formerly the chief business operations officer in DC Public Schools, who is heading north to Philly for the interim job. Brady turned to a career in education after 25 years with the military.

Meanwhile, Andres Alonso, Joel Klein's deputy chancellor in New York City, is heading south on I-95 to land in Baltimore, a gutsy move on the part of that city's school board. Alonso moved up within the ranks but is an immediately likable and inspiring choice who is already proving to be a hands-on, no-nonsense leader. Seattle welcomes Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who left Charleston, for the Pacific post. She is known for her financial acumen and for helping to set the financially-strapped Charleston schools back on solid ground. Detroit snagged Connie Calloway from Normandy School District outside of St. Louis. Locals have high hopes for Calloway to steer the long-failing schools away from another state takeover and to rebuild trust in spite of dropping enrollments. Like Alonso, Goodloe-Johnson and Calloway are products of the system, serving in various instructional and administrative positions before taking the reins of a school system.

As the new school leaders prepare for the first day of school, perhaps they should follow Thomas Brady's advice he gave to a group of new teachers in Philadelphia: "You're in charge. When you're in charge, take charge."