New city schools CEO Andres Alonso met with the city's approximately 800 new teachers for the first time yesterday, kicking off teacher training and speaking about invigorating a system in which many have lost confidence.
"I very much hope that later on in the year when we come here again that there's still 800 people sitting in this auditorium," Alonso told a packed auditorium at Digital Harbor High School.
Alonso and his cadre of new employees face daunting tasks in the coming year. Not only will they deal with the usual adjustments to new jobs - navigating school hallways and learning the acronyms and lingo of a new environment - but they will also be responsible for turning around negative statistics that have beset Baltimore's schools.
City schools have one of the worst graduation rates in the country. The system faces high teacher turnover each year, often spending millions to train teachers who leave after a brief stint in the city. In a recent Sun poll, respondents gave the school system an average mark of D-plus.
Recent reports that school employees did not make several promised building repairs and sometimes permitted shoddy work on renovation projects has further marred the system's reputation.
"I liked his attitude," said David Groucutt after hearing Alonso speak. The 25-year-old will teach art at Harbor City High School after working in a preschool in Erie, Pa. "He seems really cool."
Many of the new teachers streaming through the hallways at Digital Harbor were unfamiliar with Alonso, who held the No. 2 position in the New York City school system before coming to Baltimore. Several said they liked what they heard from him.
Yesterday was the first day of two weeks of training for Baltimore's new teachers, who come from 36 states and three countries. Many, like Groucutt, are recent college graduates ready for a challenging teaching environment. Others are veterans from other U.S. school districts.
Janice Enrico, 27, came to Baltimore from Cebu City, Philippines, to teach biology. When she heard the school chief was also an immigrant, she was delighted, she said. "I was struck with what he said," she said. "I believe he will be an inspiration to all of us."
Alonso was a teacher before becoming an administrator. He described a situation in which some of the new teachers could find themselves. On his first day as a teacher in New York City, he was assigned to a school where the principal was not expecting him and did not know what to do with him after he arrived.
"She ended up putting me in a library," he said. "And without my ever having been in a classroom, and without having had any education courses, and the first couple of weeks, it was all about `What am I doing here?'"