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: How important is new technology in your mission?
Andres Alonso: It’s tremendously important in a context where, among other things, we have many over aged, undercredited students. We did a study the first year that I got to the district that showed that a high school, by the time the kids were getting to high school nearly 40 percent of the kids were over aged for their grade.
So, the work for us, in the middle and in the high schools, has become about acceleration. It’s not enough to move a child one year out of time when we know that there's such a correlation between children becoming overage and their dropping out of school. So, we are thinking of technology in terms of expanding time. How do we get to a year and a half’s worth of content in a year? How do we deal with issues of attendance when so many kids, by the time they get to high school, have really lost the norm of being in school every single day? So, at some level we need to engage them so that even when they’re home, they're participating in a learning exercise.
So, that is increasingly the work. We are looking at, as well, at replicating our best teachers or expanding the reach of our best teachers. We do collaborative planning in the district, so for at least one period a week, teachers plan lessons together. And technology is increasingly something that we’re working with in order to take lead teachers in all the areas and expand their reach across the districts. And so much of the way in which we’re thinking of curriculum is less about curriculum frames or central office experts and more about finding the places in the schools where extraordinary people are reaching kids every single day and ensuring that everyone has a very clear sense that these things are possible, how these people do these things and just learn from the people who are in the trenches.