The Boston School Committee has selected its new superintendent in a close vote Wednesday evening.
Mary Skipper was selected as the newest superintendent of Boston Public Schools in a 4-3 vote. Boston School Committee Chairperson Jeri Robinson cast the fourth vote for Skipper, breaking the 3-3 tie between Skipper and Tommy Welch.
“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 after the vote. “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. I look forward to working with our families, educators, community leaders and our students to ensure every BPS student has the opportunity for a great education that sets them up for success in school and in life.”
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said she was thrilled to welcome Skipper as "the experienced leader and dedicated partner that Boston needs for our young people and families.” Wu will hold a press conference Thursday morning with Skipper.
“In this moment of challenge and opportunity, Mary is uniquely prepared to drive forward the systemic reforms and immediate results our students deserve," Wu added. "Her knowledge and relationships from serving at every level in BPS–as a classroom teacher, school leader, and longtime district administrator–and as a successful superintendent in the area, will supercharge our work."
Robinson said Wednesday's vote by the school committee marked a "huge step forward for the district."
"On behalf of the School Committee, congratulations to Mary Skipper on becoming Boston's next Superintendent," Robinson added. "Under her 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.”
Committee members Stephen Alkins, Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, and Lorena Lopera voted for Welch. Committee Vice Chair Mike O’Neill, and committee members Rafaela Polanco and Quoc Tran backed Skipper -- with the tie-breaking vote from committee chairperson Robinson. Student rep Xyra Mercer did not make an endorsement for superintendent.
The school committee took the vote during a virtual meeting Wednesday, and it will be followed immediately by contract negotiations with Skipper in executive session. Skipper must formally accept an offer for the position in order to negotiate her contract, including salary, benefits and her starting date.
Skipper was one of two people being considered finalists for superintendent of Boston Public Schools: Skipper, the superintendent of Somerville Public Schools, and Welch, who oversees 15 BPS schools as the Region 1 superintendent.
Both Wu and Robinson thanked Welch following the vote in Skipper's favor Wednesday night, highlighting his passion and commitment to the district.
"I’m grateful to Dr. Tommy Welch for his passion as an educator and administrator, his connection to communities, and commitment to our schools," Wu added. "We have much work to do together across all our communities and sectors in the city, and I can’t wait to deliver on the promise and possibility for our kids.”
Robinson added, "I would also like to thank Dr. Tommy Welch for his continued commitment to BPS, our students and our City."
Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang released a statement Wednesday night, saying the BTU was looking forward to partnering with Skipper "in pursuit of creating the schools our students deserve."
"Superintendent Skipper has the experience, knowledge and qualities that will be integral to addressing the pressing needs facing our school district," Tang said.
Tang also said the teachers union was looking forward to continuing its partnership with Welch, thanking him for his leadership and commitment and noting the district is lucky to have his expertise and experience.
Both Skipper and Welch were up for the position knowing that the district is facing a number of urgent challenges, and each candidate has years of experience within the district, which was could have helped either of them turn around endemic problems that the state has identified at BPS.
Dozens of members of the public sounded off on the decision ahead of Wednesday night's vote as the beleaguered district narrowly evaded a state take-over.
Boston Public Schools has come under fire recently for what DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley called underperformance as well as what the NAACP described as a lack of representation in the search for a new superintendent.
In a report released last month, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said Boston Public Schools is struggling to operate on a basic level and is not addressing "systemic barriers" to equitable education. The district reached an agreement with state officials Tuesday to follow a system improvement plan, narrowly avoiding a state take-over in what is known as receivership.
Skipper and Welch were both interviewed publicly for hours last week by the Search Committee, where they talked about how they would tackle the issues.
“A big goal here would be reengaging and restructuring in ways that allow our teams to be most effective for our students and their outcomes," Skipper said.
“Taking on the challenges of the pandemics and the systemic racism is not easy work, but I am fortunate to make a difference every day in schools with dedicated colleagues," Welch said.
After starting the search process in March, the BPS Search Committee narrowed the field down from 34 candidates to two for superintendent through a series of private interviews. The finalists each made their case to students, parents, teachers, and community leaders during the interviews last week.
“So why BPS? BPS has raised me," Skipper said. "This is where I learned to be a teacher and how I learned to be a caring leader. This is where I learned to be a principal. I had so many great opportunities in the district to grow because people were willing to take risks on me and invest in me.”
Skipper has seven years as Somerville’s superintendent and a lengthy career in Boston, which includes launching TechBoston Academy, under her belt. Meanwhile, Dr. Welch is already in the BPS system, overseeing 7,000 students in 15 schools across Charlestown, East Boston and the North End.
“I believe I am the leader we need,” Welch said. "Boston is our home. BPS is our home, where both my wife and I have dedicated our careers and entrusted our children. This is the only place where I would do the job.”
Tanisha Sullivan, the leader of NAACP Boston, publicly voiced her concerns that neither of the two finalists are Black or Latino, which doesn't reflect the majority of Boston Public School students. Sullivan is running for secretary of state against Bill Galvin.
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Brenda Cassellius is leaving the post on June 30, and signed off at the meeting Wednesday night.
Cassellius began as Boston's school superintendent in the summer of 2019 after serving as Minnesota's education commissioner, and led the district through the pandemic. She said she arrived in the job "Minnesota Nice" and is departing "Boston Strong."
"Getting through adversity makes us stronger, but more importantly it builds our character and it guides our sense of purpose," she said, before receiving warm wishes from members of the school committee.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Cassellius have called the superintendent's decision to step down a mutual one and has thanked her for "steadfast leadership, grace and courage."
The Boston Teachers Union thanked Cassellius for her contributions to the district's schools "during what have been incredibly trying and unprecedented times."
"Dr. Cassellius made important contributions to the district, particularly around issues of equity and social-emotional wellness, and through her efforts to begin addressing decades of deferred maintenance on facilities," Tang said. "We wish her the very best in her future endeavors."
Deputy Superintendent of Academics Drew Echelson is acting as superintendent before Cassellius' replacement takes office.
Skipper and Echelson will work closely together during the leadership transition, as Echelson leads ongoing district initiatives -- including the implementation of the Systemic Improvement Plan negotiated with DESE -- until Skipper begins her tenure.
"I'm deeply committed to working closely with Ms. Skipper to ensure a smooth transition," Dr. Echelson said in a statement Wednesday night. "Mary has always been a very empathetic listener who leads with purpose, humility and an unwavering belief in our children. I look forward to strengthening our work and leveraging much-needed reinforcements to accelerate reforms in BPS, especially as it relates to racial equity, Special Education, native language access, and improved transportation systems."
The president of the Boston Teachers Union congratulated Echelson on his appointment as interim superintendent and said she is looking forward to working with him to help ensure a smooth and successful transition.
Tang also said with a new superintendent named and a systemic improvement plan in place, a key next step is for the district to agree to a contract with frontline educators in order to advance "many of the local solutions long advocated for by students, families and educators."
"Working with the new BPS leadership, our educators will continue to bring their enthusiasm, creativity, and passion for teaching students as well as commitment to equity and inclusion to the table as we welcome Superintendent Skipper back to the Boston Public Schools and work together to build the schools our students — and our communities — deserve," she added.
“We’re already behind the 8-ball with regards to Boston students and families getting what they need. So I hope and trust that the superintendent will indeed hit the ground running,” she said.
Francis Pina, a BPS math teacher, is expecting the new leadership to address issues concerning the lack of quality education for English learners and underserved students, saying, “If we’re trying to keep it student centered and family centered and do the best that we can for those key stakeholders, then we all need to get behind a superintendent who is really good a building those relationships and makes due not only by listening to those stakeholders but makes due in fulfilling the promises that they will say.”