Newly-hired Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper said Thursday that she is ready to get to work rebuilding the embattled district.
"There's a lot of concrete work to be done," she said, especially in the areas of special education, English learning, programming, transportation and building accountability.
"So get ready -- this is going to be fun. It's going to be a good ride," Skipper added. "Most importantly, from this day forward, students should always begin our conversation and should always end our conversation."
She said building trust with the community and families is her first priority.
"We need every place in Boston Public Schools to be a place where students run into the building," she said. "We need it to be a place where our families trust that what we say we're going to do, we do."
Skipper and Mayor Michelle Wu spoke at a press conference Thursday morning at TechBoston Academy following a roundtable discussion with students and faculty. The school is special to Skipper because she helped launch it and spent a good part of her career there.
The school district has come under fire recently for what state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education 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, DESE said Boston schools were struggling to operate on a basic level and were not addressing "systemic barriers" to equitable education. The district reached an agreement with state officials Tuesday to follow a Systemic Improvement Plan, narrowly avoiding a state takeover in what is known as receivership.
"Welcome home," said Jeri Robinson, chair of the Boston School Committee. "As you all know, this has been a pretty tough year for Boston Public Schools. By the skin of our teeth we have gotten through the first DESE hurdle, but now the work begins."
She said the work of rebuilding the foundation of the school district begins now.
"I am glad we are here today, but please remember the work is just beginning. It's not over yet," Robinson said.
Wu noted that Skipper worked at "every level of leadership" in the Boston school district from classroom teacher on up before leaving to head up the Somerville schools.
"There's so much we do right now in this very difficult moment of challenge that is also an opportunity we must seize," the mayor said. "The opportunity before Boston right now is to truly connect all the energy. People are ready to roll up their sleeves and plug in."
The Boston School Committee selected Skipper as its new superintendent Wednesday night in a close vote between the two finalists.
Skipper beat out Dr. Tommy Welch, who oversees 15 Boston schools as the Region 1 superintendent, by just one vote. Robinson cast a fourth vote for Skipper, breaking a 3-3 tie.
Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang released a statement Wednesday, 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.
Skipper accepted the position knowing the district is facing a number of urgent challenges. Her years of experience within the district could help turn around endemic problems that the state has identified with the district.
Skipper has seven years as Somerville’s superintendent and a lengthy career in Boston under her belt. When she was interviewed publicly for hours last week by the search committee, she 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," she said.
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.
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"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.
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."
Deputy Superintendent of Academics Drew Echelson will act as superintendent until Skipper starts.
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."
Tang, the president of the Boston Teachers Union, 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," Tang said.