Schools

In return to Boston schools, incoming Superintendent Mary Skipper pledges transparency

"We need (BPS) to be a place where our families trust that what we say we're going to do, we do in a transparent way, even if the data isn't pretty."

Mayor Michelle Wu and incoming Superintendent Mary Skipper walk together to a press conference that was held outside TechBoston Academy in Dorchester. David L Ryan/Globe Staff
The latest in BPS

Incoming Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper on Thursday vowed transparency to families in the district, as distrust from parents and students have plagued the district and data inaccuracies have raised serious alarm from state education regulators.

In her first public appearance since the School Committee voted 4-3 Wednesday night to offer her the job, Skipper outlined the work ahead for BPS, which in the near term largely requires making good on an improvement plan brokered with state officials earlier this week.

The agreement sets forth the district’s plans for addressing major issues identified in a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education report last month, which found the district is incapable of adequately providing even basic operations, including proper supports for special education and English language students.

Advertisement:

State officials also have outstanding concerns over district data, from student performance to on-time bus arrivals, that contain widespread inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

“We need every Boston public school to be a place where students run into the building, that they are thrilled to be there,” Skipper said Thursday. “We need every Boston public school to be a place where staff can go in and know that they’re going to be supported and have the tools they need to serve their students and families.

“And we need it to be a place where our families trust that what we say we’re going to do, we do in a transparent way, and even if the data isn’t pretty, even if the data shows us that we’re not yet at the place we need to be, we’re at least honest about it and we can lay out and explain how we’re going to get where we need to be,” she continued. “So building trust with the community and families is my priority.”

Watch Thursday’s press conference:

Skipper, a former BPS administrator, has served as superintendent of Somerville Public Schools since 2015. In the coming weeks, she will transition out of that role, but maintained she has already started working closely with BPS interim Superintendent Drew Echelson.

Advertisement:

“I know how she thinks,” Echelson told reporters, adding that the two received their master’s degrees together at Harvard. “I know the way that she will want the organization structured, and my job is to make sure we deliver on that vision.”

Skipper said she and Echelson already have plans to appoint “a senior-level executive,” who will be charged with building a team to address the work identified in the DESE report.

That person will “ensure that the data is available and most importantly we’re transparent both within the community and with the department of (education),” Skipper said.

The first of the state-sanctioned deadlines for the district arrives in mere weeks, on Aug. 15, as Skipper noted.

“Between special education and our English language learners, that’s one out of every two students in our district, so there is no greater priority,” Skipper said, touching on two of the report’s major areas of concern. “That has to be our focus.”

The incoming superintendent also placed an emphasis on correcting “foundational” problems in the district, such as student transportation and the subpar state of the district’s facilities.

“We don’t have margin for error there. If buses don’t work, if buildings aren’t safe and they’re not clean, if materials (aren’t there) and teachers don’t have the training they need for day one, those are all of the things that help our staff and our community feel ready and trustworthy in the work that we do,” Skipper said. “So that’s going to be the priority. It won’t be shiny and it won’t be sexy, but it will be foundational and it will make a difference to students.”

Advertisement:

Skipper, formerly a Boston Latin Academy teacher, helped launch TechBoston Academy and served as its headmaster while network superintendent of high schools in 2002.

The academy — and Skipper herself — was once praised by President Barack Obama as a model for the nation.

As she took the podium on Thursday, School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson offered two words to Skipper, “Welcome home.”

“As you all know, this has been a pretty tough year for BPS,” Robinson said. “By the skin of our teeth we have gotten through the first DESE hurdle.

“But now the work begins,” she added. “And this work begins with the leadership of someone who understands what the work is.”

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com