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In Baltimore, a former Klein deputy is in touch with parents, press

The Baltimore Sun this week ran a three-part series about Andres Alonso, the schools superintendent who used to be Chancellor Joel Klein’s deputy in charge of teaching and learning. Some elements of Alonso’s leadership sound like he imported the New York City playbook wholesale to Baltimore: He has closed failing schools, to great controversy; experimented with incentives to make students work harder; and reached out for philanthrophic money to launch new programs.

But there are some ways that Alonso sounds quite different from his former boss. According to the series’ author, Sara Neufeld, Alonso has been willing to speak directly with her since his first day in Baltimore, rather than channeling her questions through a press office. Neufeld wrote recently on InsideEd, the Baltimore Sun’s education blog, that Alonso also makes himself available to parents and teachers with questions.

Neufeld said she first heard that he might become the new superintendent one day in June 2007:

Two hours later, he arrived at The Sun’s offices to introduce himself to the editorial board. I saw him again that afternoon at the press conference where the school board officially announced his appointment. He gave me his e-mail address and cell phone number, saying I should feel free to contact him at any time.

Was this guy serious? At that point, I’d been covering education for seven years, in two states and many school districts, and the protocol for contacting a superintendent always went something like this: Call the press office, submit questions, wait. In Baltimore, school officials often would wait until I was past deadline to get back to me, and then get angry that their views weren’t more fully represented in my articles.

Not only could I e-mail Alonso directly, he almost invariably responded within about five minutes. Soon, I realized, he wasn’t only responding to me. He was waking up before dawn every morning to reply to teachers, parents, community folks. The days of a shrouded bureaucracy were over.

Things started happening – fast.

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