A shrinking North Avenue

Our view: Downsized school headquarters will benefit classrooms

August 13, 2008

For years, the Baltimore schools' bloated North Avenue headquarters staff was the whipping boy for every major challenge the system faced. Whatever the problem, the proposed solution always seemed to involve reassigning headquarters staff to classroom duty. And for whatever reason, school officials always insisted it couldn't be done.

Now Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso has accomplished the impossible. As a result of the budget reorganization he initiated last year, more than 140 headquarters staffers will be headed back to the schools this year, and the system will have a teacher surplus for the first time in decades. Educators will be assigned to tutoring, conflict resolution and other badly needed programs. Like the much improved city test scores, changing the mix of headquarters and local school staff was one of those things that absolutely couldn't be done - until someone went and did it.

Shrinking headquarters staff and shifting personnel to the classroom aren't aimed at just putting more bodies in the schools. The main goal of the reorganization is to give principals more authority over funding their schools' daily operation. They know the priorities. But Mr. Alonso seems to be the first schools chief in memory to trust them enough to let them make those decisions.

So now Mr. Alonso is two-for-two in his mission impossible of turning a troubled district around. The fact that his predecessors failed to bring about the kinds of reforms he has achieved is no guarantee that he will succeed in the larger undertaking. But the results so far certainly suggest he must be doing something right.

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