School board advisers

Our view : Panel needs more than the usual stakeholders

August 03, 2008

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes more than one person to turn a school system around. After only a year in office, Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso has shown himself to be a dynamic leader and meticulous manager who cares deeply about improving the quality of education for city schoolchildren. He's already shaken up things by appointing energetic new principals and giving them more authority to run their schools.

But Mr. Alonso will need the backing of an equally strong school board whose members aren't afraid to make the tough decisions that bold reforms often require. That's why Mayor Sheila Dixon must select carefully among candidates to replace three school board members whose terms end this year. And she could show leadership by expanding the circle of advisers who help her choose wisely.

Under the 1999 arrangement that allowed the state to take over the city's schools, state education officials draw up a list of nominees for vacancies on the city school board; the governor and mayor then make appointments from that list (in practice, the governor defers to the mayor's wishes). Like her predecessor, Ms. Dixon also has named a panel of community and union leaders - some of whom have been critical of Mr. Alonso - to help screen the nominees.

If the mayor really wants to be an agent of change, why not open the membership of the screening panel to a broader range of opinion on prospective school board appointments? Include business and foundation people, many of whom are working for similar goals through the money and mentors they contribute to the schools.

That's a smart, practical and easy step forward: Keep the stakeholders who have worked with the system while bringing in fresh faces and new ideas to review school board nominees. Sounds like a win-win situation all around.

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