Veteran school administrator Mass. will be the next Boston school superintendent

The Boston School Board selected Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper to lead Boston Public Schools with a 4-3 vote Wednesday night.

“We need leadership that can get the ball rolling,” committee chairman Jeri Robinson said in the deciding final vote. “And I believe it’s Mary Skipper.”

Skipper returns to the Boston school system after leading Somerville Public Schools for seven years. Prior to that, she was a teacher, principal and administrator for BPS for over 18 years, helping to launch TechBoston Academy in 2002.

The 55-year-old captain was narrowly chosen over Tommy Welch, a BPS regional superintendent for schools serving Charlestown, East Boston and North End, who came to Boston in 2015 after serving as a founding college principal and from a high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“I am humbled and honored to have been chosen to lead the district that has raised me as an educator and solidified my passion for making a difference in the lives of students,” Skipper said in a statement.

Skipper and Welch became the two finalists to lead Boston’s school system from a field of more than 30 total applicants — although two other finalists withdrew their names late in the process.

Each faced a marathon day of public interviews late last week as they were asked about their leadership philosophy, their experience leading school districts and their vision for improving equitable outcomes for students.

Skipper succeeds outgoing superintendent Brenda Cassellius, whose last day on the job is Thursday. Cassellius announced in February that she would step down after leading the district for three years.

Skipper will take charge of the state’s largest school district at an uncertain — and crucial — time for Boston’s public schools. Just this week, city officials reached a last-minute deal with state education officials on an improvement plan that avoids a state takeover, for the instant.

The new memorandum of understanding sets out a series of timelines and benchmarks for district officials to implement improvements in areas such as student safety, transportation, facilities, data collection and education services. special education.

School committee members have not discussed an official start date for the new superintendent. Until then Drew Echelson, Deputy Superintendent of Academics at BPS, will serve as Acting Superintendent.

Skipper will step into a role that has had an unusually high turnover rate – five different people have led the BPS over the past decade, while the average tenure for a superintendent statewide is five years, according to the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

Other school districts in the United States, including Dallas and Philadelphia, have faced dwindling candidate pools lately, school board member Michael O’Neill said.

While some members questioned the speed of the search process, which was happening “at a record pace”, in the words of member Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, many were still deeply appreciative of the skills and values ​​that Skipper and Welch could bring to the table.

But, with the school’s new improvement plan taking the background into account, school committee members said they were confident in Skipper’s ability to lead the school system in times difficult.

“She is an educator with significant and verifiable experience, and in my opinion, that brings great value,” said committee member Rafaela Polanco Garcia. “She managed budgets and she delivered great performances.”

The school committee, made up of members appointed by the mayor, also heard from members of the public, including parents and community partners, for approximately two hours.

Both Skipper and Welch had strong public support in their respective corners. Many parents, for example, have praised Welch’s ability to connect with Latin American families due to his fluency in the Spanish language. Others praised Skipper’s authenticity, compassion for students, and deep connection to the neighborhood.

School committee members Quoc Tran, Rafaela Polanco Garcia, Michael O’Neill and Jeri Robinson supported Skipper.

Lorena Lopera, Stephen Alkins and Brandon Cardet-Hernandez voted for Welch.

Martha K. Merrill