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Boston Public Schools ramps up search for new superintendent

Martin Desmarais

After nine months with an interim school superintendent in place, city officials are ramping up the effort to hire a permanent superintendent — kicking off the search with a number of public hearings to find out what parents and the community want in the school system’s new leader.

“Boston parents, students and other stakeholders have shared valuable thoughts and suggestions as we begin the process of finding a permanent school superintendent,” Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement. “Engaging these voices is a fundamental step in this search, and our selection should be shaped by what our community believes that we need for our kids. Holding public hearings has been a successful tactic throughout my transition and in the early days of my administration. I look forward to hearing what our community members have to say as we begin to host these meetings.”

Boston Public Schools officially established a search committee to find a new superintendent last month. The committee is being led by Boston School Committee member and Boston University School of Education Dean Hardin Coleman and Bank of America Massachusetts President Robert Gallery.

The committee also includes teachers, current and former school administrators, higher education leaders, student’s parents and business leaders. The committee will recommend a national search firm to assist in choosing a new superintendent, host the community meetings on the hiring of the new superintendent and narrow down the pool of possible candidates presented by the search firm with a recommendation of three finalists for the job by June.

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson said the hiring of a new superintendent presents a tremendous opportunity for moving the city’s public schools forward.

“This is one of the most important roles,” Jackson said. “To me the education of our children is the most important role of the city. This job, bar none, is the most important hire that we will make in the next year or so.”

According to Jackson, the new superintendent should be an experienced educator who has strong personnel skills and understands the power and importance of reaching out and building relationships in the community.

“The requirements for this job are for someone who has run an urban school system and someone who understands that we need to be squarely focused on the achievement gap especially because the Boston Public School system is 87 percent students of color,” Jackson said. “I think the person also should value and have a track record of implementing cultural sensitivity programs, as well as relevant curriculum to school systems that are in predominantly communities of color.”

Jackson is also fully on board with hiring a national search firm in the hiring process, but he acknowledges that is important to consider possible candidates from with the Boston school system as well.

“I think we need to look internally as well as externally. It is critical that we leave no stone unturned when it comes to this role,” he said.

Jackson also pointed out that the new superintendent will have some important issues to address very quickly, notably the negotiation of a new teacher’s contract. However, he reiterates that the closing of the achievement gap should be the top priority for the new superintendent. Other important issues he highlighted include lowering the drop-out rate and “making sure that our young people are getting the type of support that then need to achieve at the highest level.”

Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, emphasized the importance of experience with race disparities in a new superintendent.

“We need a leader who has had experience in eliminating racial and programmatic achievement gaps and in increasing equitable access to opportunities that lead to high academic achievement,” Janey said.

Search committee co-chair Coleman agrees with Jackson that any new superintendent needs to be very adept at working collaboratively with parents, teachers, students and the community to ensure that the city’s students have the opportunity to succeed.

He also tabbed the achievement gap as an issue of critical importance to Boston Public Schools and for the new superintendent.

“We are looking for a proven leader who has an evidenced-based or data-driven approach to system improvement that first eliminates the achievement gap within the district and then the gap between the district and the Commonwealth,” Coleman said. “Many believe that such a leader must have a high level of multicultural competence, be able to work effectively with a variety of partners — business, higher education and health care — and manage the operations of the district efficiently and effectively.”

In the search process, BPS has also begun developing what schools officials are calling “aspirational goals” that will drive Boston’s public schools forward and be determining factors in choosing a new superintendent. These goals include: improving students’ preparedness for college or a career; improving school quality; strong district leadership and action-oriented teachers and staff; effective resource allocation; and greater community engagement.

The first of six public hearings on hiring the new superintendent was held on Tuesday night at WGBH TV in Brighton. Other community meetings will take place on March 19 at Harbor Middle School in Dorchester, on March 20 at Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, on March 25 at the Dever-McCormack K-8 School in Dorchester and on March 27 at East Boston High School in East Boston. All hearings run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

According to Boston School Committee Chair Michael O’Neill, the public hearings will give the search committee a wide range of input from the public — and especially parents and others who know the school system so well.

John McDonough has served as interim superintendent since May 2013, when he was appointed by the Boston School Committee following the retirement of Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. Johnson led BPS for six years and is credited with increasing the graduation rates to the highest level in the city’s history at that time, and also with increasing enrollment. McDonough is a BPS veteran and served as the school system’s chief financial officer for two decades, prior to becoming interim superintendent.

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