Making Schools a “Secret Garden” for Kids

Andres Alonso remembers his school experience fondly. How can we replicate that experience for the next generation?
  • Transcript


Question: Where should twenty-somethings who want to address inequities in society be putting their energies? 

Andres Alonso:  Well, Baltimore.  They should all come to Baltimore and we will do the right thing for them.  Clearly, it’s schools.  If we don’t fix our schools, we will be having the same conversation we’ve been having for the past 40 years for the next 40.  It’s pretty astonishing to me, as somebody who’s gotten the best out of what this country has to offer, that for so many kids what was so immediate and easy for me, is so hard to get, which are environments that are going to, in a way, bring the best out of you.  I mean, school, for me, was always kind of a secret garden with almost every adult that I met along the way sort of thinking, “Oh, okay.  This kid has something,” and ensuring that that would be true.  And for so many kids, for the overwhelming majority of kids, I don’t think that’s the case.  And the structures of society are extraordinarily difficult to change and schools are a reflection of the structures of society.  

So, if we’re not tackling how to change that reflection in the schools, then the greatest country on earth is always going to have some deep, dark recesses that none of us want to venture into.  So, the work is in the schools.

If the question is about leadership, the principalship is so important.  It’s the job that has the great span.  A great principal is a leader in the community, is an instructional coach, it’s a guidance counselor to kids, it’s a business manager.  So, I encourage people to think of the principalship which is a role that is changing as schools are getting more autonomy in more and more districts.  It’s a different job than what it was 10, 20 years ago.  In school systems like mine, for example, have become places where there's an entrepreneurial spirit that a person that goes into education can run with.

So, what's intriguing for me, for example, is that then one of the reasons why I think we’ve successful in Baltimore is that the person who headed New Leaders for New Schools was a former TFA person.  The person who was developing charters was a former TFA person.  You looked around the room in any meeting of non-profits and you saw, “Wait a second.  There something going here,” which is about kids coming out of college, trying education, in many cases staying, but in many other cases seeing different opportunities, but not abandoning a kind of allegiance to the schools.