Gregory E. Thornton, the superintendent of Milwaukee’s public schools, was named on Tuesday the next CEO of the Baltimore City school system.
Thornton, 59, who was in the running for Baltimore superintendent in 2007 when Andrés Alonso was hired, has roots in Philadelphia, where he was the No. 2 school official. He also has worked in the Montgomery County public school system in Maryland.
While being introduced at an event Tuesday, Thornton said he felt that he has strong roots in Maryland, and he plans to stay as long as the board keeps him.
“This is coming home,” he said. “I get to come home and finish a dream.”
Thornton said his top priorities in Baltimore will be academics, 21st century buildings and engaging the community.
Thornton has served as superintendent of the 78,000-student school system in Milwaukee since 2010 and recently signed a contract to stay on through June 2016.
Several members of Milwaukee’s Board of School Directors said in interviews that they were not informed of Thornton’s potential move to take over Baltimore’s 85,000-student system.
Jeff Spence, a Milwaukee school board member, said he was not aware of Thornton’s plans. Spence added that he would not be surprised if the superintendent moved to be closer to his wife and grandchild, who live on the East Coast. According to his biography, Thornton also has two sons.
Spence described Thornton as generally popular and respected among political leaders during his time in Milwaukee.
“What people see is a very thoughtful, charismatic leader, someone who is able to connect and is data-driven,” Spence said. “He has a firm sense of where he wants to take things.”
During Thornton’s time in Milwaukee, the school district has “reformulated the instruction of literacy, math and science,” according to his biography. He also has implemented a master facilities plan and made significant changes to the structure of employee benefits, it said.
One of Thornton’s most recent proposals was criticized by the school board and teachers union, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which reported his move to Baltimore on Monday afternoon.
“His plan to address the district’s lowest-performing schools, including turning some of them over to outside charter school operators, drew intense protests from teachers,” said the Sentinel, which added that his base salary in Milwaukee is about $265,000. “The School Board sent the proposal back to a committee amid the protests and has yet to act on the plan.”
In Baltimore, Thornton will face critical challenges: achievement that has stalled in the past three years, a new curriculum designed to raise rigor in city classrooms, and the $1 billion task of renovating and rebuilding the system’s infrastructure.
In a recent interview about Milwaukee’s struggling achievement, he cited Baltimore as a district that was overcoming similar challenges.
The Baltimore school board posted the position in October, with a starting salary of $290,000.
Thornton will follow in the footsteps of Alonso, who resigned in June after leading the district for six years.
In 2007, Alonso and Thornton vied for the same position. At the time, The Sun reported that Thornton was being promoted by key Baltimore lawmakers such as Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.
Tisha Edwards, Alonso’s former chief of staff, has been acting as superintendent. Her $225,000 contract ends in June. She declined to comment Monday.
According to his biography, Thornton received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Temple University and a master’s in administration/supervision at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He earned a doctorate in educational leadership at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Colin Campbell contributed to this article.