Evaluation of Superintendent Skipper: An alternative view
The mayorally appointed School Committee gave Superintendent Mary Skipper a mark of “proficient” upon completing her first year. But the formal evaluation’s results did not incorporate the many voices who testified to the broken promises of communication and community engagement, rash building decisions, persistent transportation disasters and a budget process that was embarrassingly uninformed. What was prevalent throughout her first year were false promises of transparency and community engagement.
In public interviews before being hired, Skipper said she was committed to native language literacy and that her priorities would be assembling a diverse team and building trust and transparency by sharing data. She said, vaguely, she would be “looking into” issues and systems, but never specified which ones or how she might address any problems.
Skipper began her first year in September 2022 focused on attendance, transportation and school safety. She claimed to be investigating a letter written by 15 retired BPS administrators of color who called attention to educators and administrators experiencing racial discrimination and being pushed out. She hired a lawyer to investigate and said the letter had been written by some of her mentors. On the first anniversary of the letter, educators and community members protested outside of the Bolling Building about the ongoing investigation, which resulted in the attorney reporting that she had not been hired to investigate the issues raised in the letter at all.
Skipper’s short tenure has resulted in four schools being closed (merged) and Mayor Michelle Wu’s announcement — through an email to families and staff — of a proposal to move the O’Bryant School to West Roxbury. The email was sent as a news conference was taking place outside the school, hardly a deep commitment to community engagement.
Skipper had also highlighted her commitment to restorative justice, which has resulted in more than 90 positions dedicated to punitive measures and only nine focused on restorative justice. Her push for equity as a “throughline” in the district has resulted in the BPS equity tool being completed haphazardly, and the chief of equity being placed on leave this month.
There have been a few highlights during her first year, though. Skipper hired more bus drivers and pushed the installation of desperately needed air conditioning units. She supported the implementation of 14 Hub Schools, designed to provide wraparound services for students and their families.
Even with these highlights, what is most evident is how the School Committee failed to incorporate in its evaluation the voices of those most directly impacted by poor leadership, namely, BPS parents, students and educators. They failed to ask key questions that directly impact schools such as: How had she used federal pandemic relief funds to support students and teachers in the classroom? What type of social/emotional support is in schools? More importantly, how had she strengthened school communities and made classrooms better for students?
Most alarming about the lack of transparency and community engagement from the School Committee and Skipper is that next year school communities will have to bear the brunt of major staffing losses. Through the budgeting process last year, more than 610 positions were moved to federal relief funding, which runs out in June 2024. Under Skipper’s leadership, the budget will create major staffing holes without a plan for how school communities would not be hurt or how funds would be replaced. The staffing cuts are likely to impact educational outcomes and create even more inequity and trauma in an already traumatized school system. It is far from responsible and far from proficient.
Ruby Reyes is director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance.