Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

An Evening with Andrés Alonso (again)

by Jaclyn Paul, AmeriCorps VISTA Leader, Greater Homewood Community Corporation

I first arrived at GHCC as an AmeriCorps VISTA on June 25, 2007. It didn’t take me long to become enamored with this organization and with Baltimore, and look! I’m still here. After extending my first VISTA contract and then re-enlisting as GHCC’s VISTA Leader, my presence on the staff list is assured until August 2009, more than two years after I began my year of service.

At this point folks have stopped asking “why,” as they’re apt to do when you choose national service over a living wage. Though I haven’t been here long, Baltimore is worth it to me. My fellow citizens are worth it to me.

Shortly after I landed in Charm City, another out-of-towner appeared on the scene with a similar attitude — except he made a lot more headlines. His name was Andr

és Alonso, and he had just been named CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools. The whole landscape was about to change for public education in Baltimore.

Interestingly enough, I found myself around the dinner table with Dr. Alonso and my fellow VISTAs last Friday. The atmosphere was relaxed and — even though we didn’t talk about it — the surprising progress Baltimore City schools have made lately was apparent in Dr. Alonso’s demeanor. Later, I recalled my first encounter with him, a time when he still had to sell us on change and we were quite cautiously optimistic.

GHCC AmeriCorps members (left to right) Katie Horn, John Bernet, and Ethan Hunt share a meal and conversation with Baltimore City Schools CEO Andr

és Alonso and GHCC Executive Director Karen Stokes. Click to view larger image.

One of Dr. Alonso’s first “Community Conversations” evenings in July 2007 had such an impact on me that I went home and wrote about it in the blog I kept about my first VISTA year.

Some of my first impressions?

Though he struck me as a bit soft-spoken at first, Alonso is in Baltimore as a guy who is going to…turn the entire school system around. He exudes the quiet confidence of someone who has done this before…he is not afraid to tell people “hold me accountable, but don’t forget you have a part in this.”

And also:

Baltimore City is, like a lot of industrial Mid-Atlantic cities…marvelous but broken in a lot of ways. There are many problems, hundreds of wrong ways to fix them, and probably only one right way. I hope everyone can learn to trust this Alonso guy. He seems absolutely dedicated, and he really knows his stuff.

Nearly two years later, the momentum is still there and the school system has made gains no one thought possible in such a short time. As we gathered around the table on Friday evening Dr. Alonso was honest and jovial, his audience of local organizers friendly and full of good cheer. My experiences since our first meeting — including a year in a Baltimore public school — have given him my absolute confidence.