A roadmap for success for Boston’s new school superintendent

Mary Skipper should leverage partnerships and effective practices

SUPERINTENDENT MARY SKIPPER begins her tenure at a critical time for Boston Public Schools – a moment when the state, families, and other stakeholders are demanding swift action and accountability for improving aspects of the system that have been failing our students for far too long. The work before Superintendent Skipper is undoubtedly daunting, but also presents an opportunity to make meaningful changes for the 48,000 public school students now under her care. Instead of allowing past shortcomings and current barriers to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, the district should build on its bright spots and existing strengths to improve learning outcomes for students.

Leverage partnerships to increase opportunities

Strengthening existing partnerships – and forging new ones – will be essential to future student, school, and district success. Boston is a partner-rich city where non-profit, community-based organizations, higher education institutions, and employers have established deep connections with the city’s schools and young people. Leveraging and expanding these important partnerships and models of collective action will be critical to improving learning outcomes for students.

For example, BPS’ 5th Quarter of Summer Learning is a collective effort with 150 organizations providing access to high-quality summer learning opportunities to more than 17,000 students. Boston Afterschool & Beyond serves as the coordinating entity for these offerings – a partner of partners, so to speak – ensuring program quality, shared learning, and greater equity.

BPS also has longstanding partnerships with companies and organizations that provide internships and other work-based learning opportunities for high school students across the district. For example, through the Thomas M. Menino Learning Lab, begun in 2014, Vertex Pharmaceuticals offers year-round opportunities for young people to engage in hands-on lab experiences, access structured mentoring from Vertex staff, and gain real world work experience through internships.

BPS Arts Expansion is a well-established, coordinated effort where public and private partners across the city work toward the shared goal of expanding access to arts education in BPS. This effort has resulted in 17,000 more students annually accessing arts instruction during the school day and can provide a blueprint for future efforts to expand access to learning opportunities in other content areas.

With Superintendent Skipper setting the vision, partners can lend critical capacity to the district’s implementation efforts, enhancing the breadth and depth of opportunities for students.

Look to examples of school improvement

Superintendent Skipper can also look to examples of improving schools to shape her strategy. There is good work happening in many of our schools that Superintendent Skipper has the opportunity to celebrate and replicate during her tenure.

Through EdVestors’ School on the Move Prize, each year we gather examples of BPS schools that have improved learning outcomes for their students that counter the prevailing narrative of decline. National research and work done by EdVestors and the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy have identified several key practices that enable schools to improve and sustain progress.

This year’s School on the Move Prize finalists – Channing Elementary in Hyde Park, Gardner Pilot Academy in Allston, and Charles H. Taylor Elementary in Mattapan – exemplify these practices in their pandemic recovery efforts. Along with last year’s winner, James Otis Elementary, these schools demonstrate facets of strong leadership and shared ownership; meaningful teacher collaboration; effective use of data; academic rigor and student support; and effective family and community partnerships that power school improvement.

While there are undoubtedly big challenges to address within the district, many of the resources Superintendent Skipper needs are in our own backyard and ready to be deployed. To move forward, she should draw on the vast network of deeply invested partners and leverage the lessons of BPS’s improving schools to ensure every student has access to the quality education that is worthy of Boston’s young people.

Marinell Rousmaniere is the president & CEO of EdVestors. To commemorate EdVestors’ 20th anniversary, the organization is running  a “20/20 Series” of commentary pieces in CommonWealth, sharing insights gathered over 20 years to address the challenges facing public schools today. This is the second installment. Read the first installment here