Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott appointed three new members of the city school board, who will join at a critical moment for the future leadership of the district.

The new members will be sworn in at 1 p.m. Wednesday, just weeks before the board begins deliberating over who will lead the school system after the departure of CEO Sonja Santelises, who the current board gave a one-year contract that ends in June 2025. Santelises, who had asked for a longer contract, has held the position for eight years.

All three new school board members, who were interviewed by a board that advised the mayor on who to hire, have children in the school system and two have extensive backgrounds in education, including as teachers.

  • Emily C. Ames-Messinger, a social worker and former city high school social studies teacher, works at the University of Maryland.
  • Stefan L. Lallinger is executive director of an education policy think tank, a former teacher and the father of three children, including one school-aged girl who attends Medfield Heights Elementary.
  • Ashiah S. Parker works for a boutique law firm, Funk & Bolton, as a non-attorney principal. She described herself in an interview for the board position as a community organizer, and she has a son at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts.

In public interviews, all three indicated they would not have difficulty making tough decisions when there was conflict either with the community or among fellow board members, and would seek to be transparent in how they made decisions. When parties are not on the same side, Parker said, it is best to try to reach consensus by “bringing the community along.”

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“I am not afraid of tough decisions but it is my leadership style to make sure everyone understands why and what that decision is,” she said. Parker lives in West Baltimore and has worked for the No Boundaries Coalition — a community-based West Baltimore organization that tries to address issues of racial and economic segregation — for years, including some spent as its executive director.

After getting her masters in social work at the University of Maryland, Ames-Messinger worked as a community school coordinator, a school based position that helps provide support for parents and the community. She is now an assistant director for a program within the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

In her interview with a board of community members, Ames-Messinger said she believes the school board and the CEO have discrete roles.

“Ultimately, it is the goal of the board to provide policy and oversight,” and to help the CEO build relationships with families and outside partners. “I think we are blessed that we have a gifted CEO that has been in education” for awhile, she said.

Lallinger was a teacher, assistant principal and principal before going to work in the central administration for the New York City public schools. He has a doctorate in educational leadership from Harvard University. Lallinger also heads the Bridges Collaborative, a project begun by the Century Foundation in 2020 to launch housing and school integration efforts around the country.

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Lallinger said in his interview that Baltimore had been ahead of many urban school systems both in working to give students a well-rounded education and launching literacy initiatives, including the science of reading.

When he was asked about finding a new leader, Lallinger said that hypothetically, the board could decide to further extend the CEO’s contract or call for a national search. If the board does have to pick a new leader, he said that the board should carefully consider how long candidates for the job say they will stay in the city and commit to the job.

“We have a crisis of longevity” in the country, he said. Some superintendents move from one city to another, staying only a few years at a time. “The job is such that it is so complex and it takes so long to learn,” Lallinger said. ”Change and positive change requires dedication year after year because this is such a difficult enterprise.”

Khalilah Slater Harrington and Andrew Coy were both reappointed to the board for a second term. Nine of the 12 members of the board are appointed by the mayor, three are elected, and one is a student member elected by students.

About the Education Hub

This reporting is part of The Banner’s Education Hub, community-funded journalism that provides parents with resources they need to make decisions about how their children learn. Read more.