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Who’s on Rahm Emanuel’s Short List For Chicago Public Schools Chief?

A look at rumored candidates to run CPS: two reform stars (Baltimore’s Andres Alonso and Charlotte’s Peter Gorman), a career superintendent (Maryland’s Jerry Weast), a young up-and-comer (NYC’s John White), and a member of Emanuel’s transition team (Timothy Knowles)

Trib reporters have a good piece of reporting on the men said to be on Rahm Emanuel’s short list for Chicago Public Schools CEO (and a reminder that the new hire will need to “bring stability to a district that has seen three CEOs in three years"). Here’s a quick look at the rumored candidates, both to give you a head start and to see what other cities are grappling with:

* Andres Alonso: Currently the head of Baltimore’s school system. A Harvard Law grad whose career in education started when he quit his law job at 29 to work in the Newark public schools. A good place to start is Sara Neufeld’s three-part series in the Baltimore Sun, which has a lot of rich biographical information, as well as some data about the performance of the Baltimore schools during Alonso’s three-plus year tenure. The New York Times profiled Alonso in December, and mentioned this stat:

Next he took on the culture of the schools, which relied heavily on suspensions for discipline, a practice Dr. Alonso strongly opposed. “Kids come as is,” he likes to say, “and it’s our job to engage them.”

Now school administrators have to get his deputy’s signature for any suspension longer than five days. This year, suspensions fell below 10,000, far fewer than the 26,000 the system gave out in 2004.

Instead, schools handled discipline problems more through mediation, counseling and parent-teacher conferences, and offered incentives like sports and clubs. Mental health professionals were placed in every school with middle grades.

That 26,000 was out of 83,000; Alonso is a critic of zero-tolerance policies.

One of Alonso’s ideas: combined middle and high schools. Alonso got the Baltimore Teachers Union to agree to a merit-pay contract, but there’s ongoing conflict between KIPP, (a charter school organization whose involvement in Baltimore predates Alfonso’s tenure) the American Federation of Teachers, and the BTU.


* Peter Gorman: Superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system in North Carolina. Gorman has won praise for luring principals from high-performing schools in the system to low performing ones, and for improving the test scores of low-income students relative to the state’s other big-city school system in Wake County, at no small expense (Gorman’s now the “executive coach” for his Wake County peer). More controversial: a new teacher-rating system and an accompanying performance-pay system in development.


* Jerry Weast: Stepping down after ten years as superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland (his first job as a superintendent, in Uniontown, Kansas, came when he was all of 28). A good place to start with Weast is Michael Birnbaum’s reporting in the Washington Post, who says that, like Gorman, Weast has directed considerable resources to low-income schools in the suburban district, which earned him praise from the Post’s editorial board. Weast’s current fight is over budget cutbacks by the county.


* John White: Deputy chancellor for talent, labor and innovation in the New York City department of education, former head of Teach For America Chicago. Catalyst has a good bio focusing on the fight he’s embroiled in with the state over first-in, first-out policies. Also of note: White’s been pushing technology-based learning programs using Race to the Top money; like Alonso, he recently got the city’s teachers union to agree to a performance-pay system, though it’s more limited in scope. In some ways, he’d be a radical pick: he’s young and hasn’t been a superintendent.


* Timothy Knowles: Director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago. Catalyst also has a good bio. I’ve discussed him previously in a rundown of Rahm Emanuel’s educational transition team.

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