Schools

Mary Skipper named Boston Public Schools superintendent

Skipper previously worked for Boston Public Schools as both a teacher and an administrator, and most recently served as Somerville's superintendent.

Superintendent of the Somerville Public Schools Mary Skipper posing for a portrait at the Edgerly Education Center in Somerville. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper was voted by the Boston School Committee to be appointed Superintendent of Boston Public Schools pending a contract agreement Wednesday night during a School Committee meeting.

Skipper was one of two final candidates for Boston Public Schools superintendent. The other was Boston Public Schools Region 1 Superintendent Tommy Welch.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Superintendent Mary Skipper as the experienced leader and dedicated partner that Boston needs for our young people and families,” Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement.

“In this moment of challenge and opportunity, Mary is uniquely prepared to drive forward the systemic reforms and immediate results our students deserve.”

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The vote was close, with Skipper receiving four votes and Welch receiving three votes. Most School Committee members said they would be satisfied with either candidate even though they were not satisfied with the search process itself.

Chairperson Jeri Robinson, Vice Chair Michael O’Neill, and Members Rafaela Polanco Garcia and Quoc Tran voted for Skipper, while Members Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, Stephen Alkins, and Lorena Lopera voted for Welch.

“Tonight’s decision by the School Committee is a huge step forward for the District,” Robinson said in a statement.

“…Under [Skipper’s] leadership we will continue prioritizing the needs of our students so that they can receive the support and quality education necessary to excel inside the classroom. I would also like to thank Dr. Tommy Welch for his continued commitment to BPS, our students and our City.”

School Committee members cited Skipper’s record of working towards equity for students of color and English language learners, as well as her experience as a district-wide superintendent, as reasons for their support.

During public comment, both Welch and Skipper received supportive comments, but Skipper’s supporters came out in droves.

Other commenters said they were disappointed with the search process due to lack of transparency and the fact that it did not result in any finalists who were Latino or Black. Some even asked that the search process be extended in an attempt to find more candidates.

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In response, multiple School Committee members said that they believe it is unlikely that extending the search process would net more candidates.

“Given the scarcity of candidates throughout the country for this type of high profile, important job, I’m strongly opposed to reopening the process. We have to honor the two candidates before us,” Tran said during the meeting.

O’Neill added that other major cities have interviewed between 12 and 20 candidates for superintendent positions, while Boston interviewed 34.

He said he even reached out to qualified superintendents he knows from across the country, but said few were interested in interviewing for the job.

“What I heard repeatedly was one of two things: either they are very tired from what they have gone through, they’re burnt out and they’re ready to leave the profession…or they felt a calling to stay with their district as they’ve been coming out of the pandemic,” O’Neill said.

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Boston Public Schools has also struggled to attract candidates for superintendent because, until Monday when the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education finally struck a deal with Mayor Wu on the future of the district, the state was considering taking over the district to help improve academic outcomes.

Members also clarified that the superintendent search actually netted four candidates, two of which were women of color, but that those two candidates dropped out due to “personal reasons” before the final review.

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Skipper has lots of experience working at Boston Public Schools. She previously taught Latin at Boston Latin Academy and helped launch Tech Boston Academy and served as its headmaster while Network Superintendent of High Schools in 2002. She has been the superintendent of Somerville Public Schools (SPS) since 2015.

According to Skipper’s resume, under her leadership, SPS made strides to achieve equity for minority and special education students.

During her tenure, Skipper said, the district adopted new equity policies, hired a director of equity, added equity teams with specialists to each school, expanded its multilingual learner program with newcomer academies and specialized programs, and decreased out-of-district placements by developing specialized programs and services to meet student needs.

Under her leadership, the district also created its own student insights data system and increased the presence of counselors and social workers in schools.

In 2019, four years into Skipper’s tenure, Somerville High school reached an all-time low dropout rate of .5% and reached an all-time high graduation rate of 92.5%.

“I am honored and humbled to have been selected to lead the district that raised me as an educator and solidified my passion for making a difference in the lives of students,” Skipper said in a statement. “This is a pivotal time in Boston and BPS’ history, and nothing less than our student’s and our City’s future is at stake.”

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