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Baltimore city schools getting new CEO

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Posted at 6:12 PM, May 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-05 06:34:39-04

The back end of his tenure was marred by calls for his ouster, coming from politicians and local activists, and Tuesday it was announced that Baltimore city schools CEO is being replaced.

Dr. Gregory Thornton's replacement, Dr. Sonja Santelises is no stranger to the district's North Ave. headquarters; she is re-joining the Baltimore City Public Schools system after holding a top administrative job for three years.

Santelises served as chief academic officer at the district before leaving in 2013 to join a Washington-based education think-tank.

"You don't suddenly become a leader because you have 'chief' next to your name," Sanelises said, acknowledging that the unrest spurred by the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who died in police custody, pushed her to return to the district.

Santelises said it was watching the unrest on TV that made her believe the issues dogging the school district for years must be changed.

"The unrest did trigger that in me, but it's ironic because it wasn't living through it and being freaked out, it actually was being on the outside," she said.

Some of those issues like declining enrollment, low test scores and increased dropout rates will be addressed from the bottom up.

"The question is, then, how do we organize the systems and the resources in such a way that we can bring that to scale. It's not a question of we don't know whether it can be done," said Santelises.

Immediate challenges include addressing the school systems multi-million dollar budget gap, which led to cuts in the $1.2 billion city school budget passed Tuesday evening the school board. It included cuts to school police, something Santelises says she will evaluate moving forward.

Santelises takes the job after the school board began a search process in Dec. As to why the change was necessary, school board chair Marnell Cooper said calls for Thornton's ouster reached a fevered pitch.

"Both parties understood that his job was becoming more difficult to be performed by him," Cooper said.

Thornton will stay in his position until Friday after serving two years of a four year contract. He will be paid a years salary of $290,000.

Santelises' contract must be approved by the school board. She is slated to start July 1.