Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, along with the Baltimore City School Board, introduced new CEO of the Baltimore Public Schools, Dr. Gregory Thornton, during a news conference Feb. 18 at John Eager Howard Elementary School.
A life-long educator who once turned down an opportunity to study medicine free of charge because he was committed to becoming a teacher, Thornton comes to Baltimore after spending the last four years serving as superintendent of Milwaukee’s public schools. There, he helped raise graduation rates and improve student achievement scores at a rate higher than the national average, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment for 2013.
In her introductory comments, Rawlings-Blake spoke of some of the challenges facing the Baltimore public schools and touted the 21st Century Buildings initiative, an effort to build new schools and renovate existing ones with the aid of $1.1 billion in funds secured by the Baltimore delegation to the Maryland legislature in Annapolis.
“Our city school buildings” explained the mayor, “still are the oldest in the state. Many were built in the early part of the 20th century and some unfortunately…are still standing from the 19th century,” she said. “Leaking roofs,…unreliable heating and cooling systems, unusable bathrooms and water fountains had become the norm in too many of our schools and I can’t tell you what it means to me that future generations of Baltimore’s children—current and future—will see new schools, renovated schools, and first-class schools right here in Baltimore.”
The sorry state of the school buildings was also attested to by Marcellis McQueen, a fourth grader and reporter for Cool School News, the John Eager Howard Elementary School newspaper.
“Our water is always green or brown. Our bathroom, it’s dirty and is always getting flooded and needs improving,” Marcellis said.
The young student reporter also noted that he would like to see better gym facilities and a student lounge where kids could receive additional help in subjects such as math.
Thornton, whom the Mayor described as “a seasoned administrator” and “an outstanding partner in working to provide [the] world class education that we all want for Baltimore’s children” will take over for interim CEO Tisha Edwards, who oversaw the implementation of Common Core State Standards in the Baltimore public school system in July.
In addition to continuing the implementation of Common Core, Thornton will be tasked with overseeing increased access to technology for Baltimore’s public school students, an effort he also helped oversee during his time in Milwaukee.
According to Thornton, “On any given day, my kids [in the Milwaukee school system] are out on job sites, not as laborers, they are out basically looking at the role technology plays in every aspect of life.”
The necessary tech infrastructure will be installed as part of the 21st Century Buildings initiative, but Thornton said he wants to work to increase access to technology beyond the walls of the schoolhouse for Baltimore’s public school students.
“Kids gotta have access at home,” he said. “What I think premiere cities are trying to do is to create a way in which, no matter where you plug in, any time—kid’s laying in bed and can’t sleep, he takes his cell phone and gets caught up. That’s my goal.”
In addition to being a life-long educator, Thornton is a grandfather and is accompanied in his move to Baltimore by his wife and fellow educator, Theresa Thornton, whom he has known since they were both 15 years old.