Two named as finalists for BPS superintendent; decision expected June 29

The search panel tasked with helping Mayor Michelle Wu find the next Boston Public Schools chief on Tuesday offered up two finalists for the position: Mary Skipper, Somerville’s superintendent, who lives in Dorchester, and Tommy Welch, a regional Boston superintendent who oversees schools in Charlestown, East Boston, and the North End.

After a series of public interviews set for this week with community groups, teachers and administrators, BPS families, and the School Committee, the committee is expected to vote to offer the position to one of the two finalists next Wednesday, June 29.

The next head of schools will face a host of issues on taking office, from parents’ concern about safety in schools to state regulators who have warned that the system, in search of stability after four superintendents within a decade, could be put into receivership. Wu has pushed back on placing the system under state oversight as she navigates her first term and the search for a superintendent.

The new superintendent is also expected to eventually deal with an elected school committee. Members of the seven-person committee now in place are currently appointed by the mayor, but city councillors are working to switch it to an elected body after Boston voters signed off on the change through a ballot question last November.

The position, which comes with a six-figure salary (outgoing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius’s annual salary is put at $311,000), is one of three major openings that Wu is looking to fill: The police and fire departments are also set to have new leaders at the helm this summer.

Skipper, who lives in Dorchester with her family, served as the founding headmaster of TechBoston Academy in 2002. President Obama visited the school near Codman Square in 2011 and hailed it as a model. Skipper left to head up the Somerville school system in 2015. In a letter to Somerville families obtained by The Boston Globe, Skipper said that if she is Boston’s choice, for part of the transition period she would be in Somerville for the start of the 2022-23 school year.

Before her move across the Charles River, she oversaw 34 Boston high schools and 19,500 students as a network superintendent during a time when the dropout rate declined and graduation rates increased.

A Tufts University graduate, with a master’s in education policy from Harvard and another master’s in education leadership from Columbia University’s Teachers College, Skipper presents a resume that includes stints as a night manager at a supermarket and as a Latin and Greek teacher at Boston College High School before the start of her 17-year career in the Boston Public Schools.

Her public interviews are scheduled for this Thursday, June 23. Virtual interviews, lasting most of the day and into the early evening, will involve community partners, educators, students and families while the closing session with the School Committee will be held in person at BPS headquarters in Nubian Square.

The similar set of public interviews for Welch, the BPS regional school superintendent overseeing 15 schools and 7,000 students in Charlestown, East Boston and the North End, is set for Friday. An East Boston resident and the parent of two BPS students, Welch first arrived in Boston in 2015 after a stint as founding principal of a middle school and a high school in Los Angeles’s South Central neighborhood.

A graduate of Occidental College and UCLA, he holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Boston College.
In a statement announcing his candidacy sent to the Reporter on Tuesday, Welch said: “As BPS parents, we recognize the struggles our East Boston neighbors and Boston families have faced during the pandemic. As a leader in urban education for more than two decades and a BPS leader, my track record shows that I know how to deliver high-quality academics and enrichment opportunities.

“As a biracial, bilingual educator, equity has always been at the center of my work. I enter this next step in the process with great humility, and look forward to sharing my experience and goals for the district with members of the public. If I am fortunate enough to be chosen, I am ready to lead on day one.”

The new BPS leader will take over from Cassellius, who started in 2019 under Mayor Marty Walsh. She announced her departure, scheduled for the end of the school year, in February, citing a “pandemic and three mayoral changes and just an incredible amount of headwind.”

Cassellius’ decision, which Wu called “mutual” and reached after “careful deliberation,” led to the creation of a nine-member search committee, which held public listening sessions and pulled in community feedback.

The pool of contenders originally included 34 candidates who took part in interviews behind closed doors in May and early June. The search panel then whittled the group of finalists to four on June 16. According to Boston Public Schools, two candidates withdrew before the beginning of the public interview process.

Due to Cassellius’s leaving on June 30, the School Committee will designate Dr. Drew Echelson to serve as acting superintendent to “cover the short window” before the next superintendent starts. Echelson, who is BPS’s deputy superintendent of academics and chief academic officer, was not a candidate for superintendent, according to the school department.

“I’m excited to be at this final stage in our search process and so grateful to the Search Committee for leading a robust process that yielded a strong, diverse pool of candidates with a wide range of lived and professional experiences,” Wu said in a statement. “I look forward to working hard alongside Drew Echelson, the BPS senior leadership team, school leaders, and school communities throughout this summer for a smooth transition into next school year.”

The search committee was co-chaired by Dr. Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, Lorena Lopera, a member of the Boston School Committee and a BPS parent, and Marcus McNeill, a Fenway High School student.

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