Mary Skipper selected as new Boston school superintendent
Somerville leader pledges focus on special ed, English language, operations
HOURS AFTER SHE was selected as Boston’s next school superintendent, Mary Skipper pledged to focus on improving special education and English language instruction in the district.
“That’s one out of every two students in our district,” Skipper said, referring to special education students and English language learners. “There is no greater priority that has to be our focus.”
At a Thursday morning press conference outside Dorchester’s TechBoston Academy, the school she helped found, Skipper also pledged to focus on operational foundations – things like ensuring buses run reliably, schools are clean and safe, and teachers have the needed materials and training. “It won’t be shiny and it won’t be sexy, but it will be foundational and make a difference for students,” she said.
The Boston School Committee selected Skipper over Boston regional superintendent Tommy Welch at a meeting Wednesday evening. Skipper has spent the last seven years as superintendent of the Somerville Public Schools and will take the helm in Boston in September. Until then, Drew Echelson, Boston’s deputy superintendent of academics, will serve as acting superintendent. Current superintendent Brenda Cassellius’s last day is Thursday.
Before coming to Somerville, Skipper was a network superintendent in the Boston school district in charge of 34 Boston high schools. She had a long career in Boston, as the chief education officer and founding headmaster of TechBoston Academy, with a stint as assistant academic superintendent for 19 Boston pilot schools. She started her career as a teacher and administrator at Boston College High School.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Skipper has “worked at every level of leadership in the Boston public school system.”
Skipper takes the helm of the massive 122-school district at a tumultuous time. A state review of the Boston schools released in May portrayed a system in disarray that has failed for years to successfully educate many of its students. Prior assessments of the system highlighted problems with how the district provides special education and English language instruction, and also spotlighted the struggles of the district’s lowest-ranked schools. The May report highlighted facility needs, inadequate data, a lack of reliable transportation, and safety concerns. After discussions of a state takeover, state education commissioner Jeff Riley was on the verge of declaring Boston an underperforming school system, which would give the state more authority in its governance, until the city and state reached a last-minute agreement on next steps.
Even the process of selecting Skipper has been acrimonious, with some civil rights advocates calling for a do-over in the superintendent’s search after neither of the two finalists for the position were Black or Latino, despite Black and Latino students comprising a large portion of district students. (The Boston Globe reported that two other finalists, a Black woman and a Latina woman, withdrew before the finalists’ names were made public.)
Boston School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson acknowledged that it has been a “pretty tough year” for Boston Public Schools and urged the community to support Skipper as she begins the work needed to improve the school system. “The work is not going to be pretty or exciting, but it’s going to be foundational,” Robinson said.
Skipper harkened back to her work turning the struggling Dorchester High School into the successful TechBoston Academy. “That’s what we need in Boston Public Schools,” Skipper said. “We need every Boston public school to be a place where students run into the building, that they are thrilled to be there. We need every Boston public school to be a place where staff can go in and know they’re going to be supported and have the tools they need to support our students and families.”
State education officials have accused the city of publishing misleading data about the schools, and Skipper pledged full transparency. “Even if the data isn’t pretty, even if the data shows we’re not at a place need to be, we’re honest about it and we can lay out and explain how we’re going to get to where we need to be,” she said.
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union and a member of the superintendent search committee, expressed support for Skipper. “Although we’ve been through some dark and stormy days recently, we believe Superintendent Skipper is the right leader at the right moment to lead us through the storm and right the ship so we can grow together,” Tang said.