Dr. Andres Alonso was born in Cuba and emigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of 12. Originally speaking no English, he attended public schools in Union City, New Jersey, and ultimately graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University. Dr. Alonso went on to earn a J.D. from Harvard Law School and practiced law in New York City before changing course to become an educator. In 2006 he was awarded a Doctorate in Education from Harvard University.
From 1987 to 1998, Dr. Alonso taught emotionally disturbed special education adolescents and English language learners in Newark, New Jersey. He worked at the New York City Department of Education from 2003 to 2007, first as Chief of Staff and then as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, working closely with the Chancellor in planning and implementing the reform of the largest educational system in the nation. On July 1, 2007, Dr. Alonso was named CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools).
Among many other awards, in 2008 he was granted the “Audacious Individual Award” by the Open Society Institute Baltimore, and named “Innovator of the Year” by The Daily Record. In 2009 he was named “School Superintendent of the Year” by the Fullwood Foundation, and recognized as a “Hispanic Hero Award” winner by U.S. Hispanic Youth Entrepreneur Education. In August 2009 Dr. Alonso was appointed to the prestigious No Child Left Behind Committee for the Aspen Institute, a bipartisan effort to improve federal education policy to spur academic progress and close the achievement gap.
Question: What is your vision as a leader?
Andres Alonso: My vision is for every parent to have a choice of a great school. A great school meaning a school where every classroom has a great teach and every child, no matter what their point of entry, is being served with love, with intelligence. It’s that simple. Everything else is a means to that end.
One key element of my vision is that people just have to be better at their jobs. I mean, I remember this exchange at a cabinet meeting very early at my arriving in Baltimore where I think I’m very simple person in terms of how I see the work, and I remember this person, who still works for me and very young, somebody I like, very talented, who at some point says to me, “The problem is that I don’t think the cabinet understand your vision.” And at that point in the game my response was, “Okay, I’ll tell you what my vision is. I want everybody to do their job better. As in, if everybody does their job better, then by the finish in the school system is going to get much better, as in, come on, let’s have the numbers be right. Let’s have the food be better in the cafeteria. Let’s have the parents feel that when they show up in September the schools are clean, the books are in classrooms.”
Those amazingly simple things add up to a functioning school system. Most school systems that are chronically underperforming have extraordinary performance gaps and people talk about the achievement gap, they have operational gaps and those operational gaps need to be closed so that the adults who are in front of the kids can concentrate on getting better at teaching their kids.
So, a lot of the vision is about the idea of inspiring people to believe that kids can learn and that there are no excuses, etc. But, a lot of the work is simply about, you know, as the manager of a huge business operation, to get that operation to function better. So, it’s this combination between the idea of the transformational leader, but I think we’ve sold short the notion of really good managerial leadership. So, I think both things are necessary.