Boston’s new mayor will have three major appointments to make after his inauguration on January 6: Police and fire commissioners, and a school superintendent. That last position has been open the longest, and may take the longest to fill.
The search for a new superintendent is usually exhaustive, far-reaching and deliberate.
“The only job with perhaps the same range of complexities as the mayor’s job is the superintendent’s job," said Boston School Committee member Mary Tamer.
Tamer is the only Boston School Committee member with a child currently in the public schools.
“We are the number one employer in the city of Boston, and so you are talking about someone who is in charge of literally thousands of people," she said. "We want someone who has shown success with the managerial component with whatever position they currently have.”
The search is national but is just beginning. Former superintendent Carol Johnson announced in April that she’d be stepping down. But that was when Boston’s first mayor’s race in 20 years was heating up.
“So our process has been somewhat slower as a result, but now that we have our mayor-elect, things should be moving along with the search,” Tamer said.
Tamer says the mayor and school committee share input on the search. She hopes the city will have a new superintendent in the next 12 months. But it’s hard to paint a picture of exactly what the school committee is looking for. Tamar lists qualities such as entrepreneurial, innovative and focused on literacy. And Paul Grogan, president of the nonprofit Boston Foundation, says he’d like an advocate of extended school days.
“We want a person who can lay out a vision of where all the change is going, both through the vehicle of the growth of charter schools, and a lot of structural change within the district,” Grogan said.
Grogan is a big fan of interim superintendent John McDonough, and hopes he’ll stay for another year or two.
“He’s far more than a caretaker, he’s really moving some issues ahead," Grogan said. "So I think that should be comfort to the mayor and the school committee that we have someone in place.”
The major changes McDonough is now facing include the teacher evaluation system, facilities and student assignments. Enrollment is up in younger grades but down in high schools. And while McDonough has declined to comment on whether he’d stay, Boston Public Schools spokesman Brian Ballou said “McDonough continues to serve at the pleasure of the school committee.” Ballou also says the city is interested in public input on the superintendent search.
“Through early January, there’s going to be community meetings that are going to be held throughout the city to gather feedback from residents and agencies that are closely involved with the K-12 education in the city,” he said.
The city’s last superintendent, Carol Johnson, was hailed by some as an academic leader, keeping the city’s dropout rate at its lowest in three decades. But she was also criticized for personnel and administrative decisions. Now she’s headed back to her southern roots, to teach at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. But her six-year commitment to Boston was a relatively long one for an urban school superintendent. The Boston School Committee is already writing a so-called “long-term strategic plan” for her replacement.