Sonja Brookins Santelises Profile
A nice profile of yet another TFA-alum rock star, Sonja Brookins Santelises, who is Chief Academic Officer for the Baltimore school system, under Andrés Alonso. She graduated from Brown in 1989 and the story about her is on the cover of the latest Brown Alumni Magazine:
In 2010, Sonja Brookins Santelises ’89 joined a radical campaign to reform Baltimore’s schools. As chief academic officer, not only is she responsible for improving the curriculum taught in the 194 city schools; she must also give teachers the guidance and support they need to implement it and persuade students they can succeed at it. As a bureaucrat, Santelises may be a member of a much-maligned profession, but if you spend any time with her, you can’t avoid the conclusion that she is really a crusader on behalf of urban children—especially those whose abilities have been too often underestimated because of their skin color or economic status. An eloquent and forceful advocate, she aims to give Baltimore’s poorest and least powerful population the academic skills and self-confidence they need to realize their potential. In a school system long mocked, in a city plagued by poverty, violence, and unemployment, she is demanding that teachers set the bar high—really high—so students can learn what it takes to excel and believe in their own academic potential.
Last spring, Santelises riveted an audience at her alma mater with her account of the bold steps she and others are taking in Baltimore. On campus to celebrate 120 years of women’s education at Brown, she spoke at a panel discussion on school reform, where she presented a laundry list of achievements made since 2007, when her boss, Andrés Alonso, became the CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools. The district’s seventh CEO in as many years, Alonso started by clearing brush: he reviewed all 198 schools and closed twenty-six nonperformers. He also replaced three-quarters of the school principals.
Santelises joined Alonso’s administration in March 2010, and the following September the district announced a landmark agreement, overwhelmingly approved by the Baltimore Teachers Union, to link teachers’ salary increases to performance rather than to length of service. That same year, Baltimore schools earned $52.7 million in federal Race to the Top grants for school reform, more than half of it for technology to help with teacher evaluation and compensation.
Maryland was one of the first states to adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and this fall Baltimore City schools implemented a new curriculum designed to meet its guidelines. A collaboration between governors and state education officials, CCSS aims to identify the skills schoolchildren need to succeed in today’s work world and to adopt the best practices for teaching them.