Much has been written about the six-year tenure of Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. She has led the city’s schools through an era of remarkable improvement and has positioned the district well for her successor, which underscores why her departure is a loss for our schools, its students and families and our city in ways that not many know.
As her spokesperson for the majority of her tenure in Boston, I had the honor of seeing her in action in a way that few did. She led by example and committed herself to the well-being of this city’s children. There are the documented facts that support this conclusion, such as the graduation rates rising to record highs, the thousands more families choosing BPS now compared to just a few years ago, the flourishing arts programs in schools where painting, sculpting, and the sounds of instruments being tuned had long faded away.
And then there are the actions that haven’t been written. There were the numerous occasions when we would randomly come across a recent BPS graduate she remembered from a high school visit. As her aide, I would be anxious to get to our next appointment, but she was in the moment, trying to find out how this young person was fairing. Her concern for the well-being of students was palpable. There were also the profoundly sad occasions when she visited families mourning the loss of young life taken by disease or street violence. She would cross the threshold of their home not just with words of sympathy, but with bags of groceries. When a mother, who had made her way to a college campus in Milton to see her son play a high school super bowl football game, couldn’t find a ride home to Dorchester, the superintendent’s car gained a passenger.
From time to time it was suggested a reporter be tipped off to these unknown acts of kindness and each time the idea was quickly squashed with a stern no (the disclosure of these examples even now will almost certainly prompt some chastising). That is the Carol Johnson this city is losing, the one who exemplifies what it means to serve the public well.
While her policies will be debated, it should be easily concluded that the Johnson years were a success. Not only did she move the district forward in the face of stiff headwind, she quietly demonstrated the very best of humanity, and that’s a lesson we can all learn.Matthew Wilder is the former spokesperson for Boston Public Schools.