Guerrero’s trying time at Dever

Boston superintendent finalist led school now in receivership

THE GOOD NEWS for Guadalupe Guerrero, one of four finalists for the Boston school superintendent post, is that, as the only candidate with prior experience in the district, he is well-known to many in the system and can speak with some familiarity about the city and its schools.

The bad news is that his prior Boston experience included six years as principal of a Dorchester elementary school that struggled with low test scores under his watch. It continued to falter so badly that the school ended up in state receivership, one of only a handful of schools statewide to meet that fate under a 2010 law allowing for such takeovers.

Guerrero, who currently serves as deputy superintendent of “instruction, innovation, and social justice” for the San Francisco schools, went through a whirlwind day in Boston on Monday, with four different public interviews before different groups. At an afternoon interview with the Boston School Committee, his tenure at the Paul Dever School in Dorchester, which Guerrero led from 2002 to 2008, was raised by the first questioner, school committee member Michael Loconto, who said it was the topic on the minds of many.

Asked about his tenure at the Dever just before the School Committee session started, Guerrero called it a “very challenging assignment by Superintendent Payzant,” referring to the district’s former superintendent, Thomas Payzant. Guerrero said Payzant “had confidence that I would begin to turn around the school.”

Student achievement scores from that period, however, don’t show much sign of turnaround, with most scores stagnant during his time, and several falling sharply toward the end of his tenure. Proficiency in fourth-grade math, for example, got as high as 25 percent in 2005, but then tailed off badly, with proficiency rates of just 7 and 8 percent in Guerrero’s last two years at the school. Fourth-grade English language arts scores also fell sharply during his last two years, with only 10 percent of students proficient in 2008. Third-grade reading scores, a key predictor of students’ long-term trajectory, were flat during Guerrero’s time at the school, with just 24 percent proficient in his last year, the exact same rate the school recorded in his first year there.

In October 2013, the Dever School was one of four schools statewide put into state receivership, the first time state education officials moved to take control of individual schools under the 2010 reform law. (The state seized control of the entire Lawrence district in 2011 under the law.)

Though Guerrero said he is “proud of the work we did to build capacity” at the Dever School, he said it is hard to hold principals fully responsible for outcomes from that time period because they had the mandate from the federal No Child Left Behind Law to raise proficiency rates, but little in the way of resources or the sort of authority over schools needed to drive significant change. “I didn’t have the flexibilities that a lot of schools now have over staffing, extended learning time, wrap-around supports,” said Guerrero.

Guerrero said a state review of the school was carried out during his time there. “Read it. It’s glowing,” he said. “It speaks very highly to the work we were doing. We were on the right track.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Guerrero said his work at the Dever School has shaped a lot of his subsequent thinking, including the two years he spent in San Francisco, from 2010 to 2012, as an assistant superintendent overseeing a cluster of nine chronically underperforming schools that made use of a $45 million federal grant to aid school turnaround efforts. Guerrero said the schools, which enjoyed a lot of the flexibility he said he lacked in Boston, have seen significant growth in scores, with some of them now boasting waiting lists of families hoping to secure a seat there.

Not all of the nine schools saw increases in scores, but, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report, the cohort of schools experienced an overall increase of 7 percent in English proficiency and a 14 percent increase in math proficiency.