It was almost by happenstance that Dana Bedden became an educator, as this was not the career he planned for but the one he found.
Bedden, one of four finalists for the job of superintendent of Boston Public Schools, says he was on the path to become a career military man as a college student. He was a member of the ROTC at the University of Florida when the Gulf War started in 1991.
“The war broke out and I got activated, so I never made it to graduation because I got orders to report,” he said last week during one of numerous public meetings with students, parents, school committee members, community partners, and the media.
But he was never shipped overseas, and the Florida native found himself back home wondering, “What do I do now?”
When Tommy Chang started the first grade, his gym teacher told him to remove his jacket for class. But the youngster, a recent arrival to the United States from Taiwan, did not speak English.
The teacher repeated the command several times, his voice rising in anger, Chang recalled at a public forum in Boston this week. But his words meant nothing. Finally, the gym teacher grabbed him by the arm and brought him to his classroom teacher, who quickly realized the situation and stood up for the boy.
That classroom teacher would prove a pivotal figure in Chang’s life, instilling a love of learning that took him to the Ivy League, a teaching position at a struggling Los Angeles high school, and a fast-track career as a school administrator. Now a finalist to become superintendent of the Boston public schools, Chang recalled the childhood story to illustrate his belief in the power of education and to personalize his commitment to students who face special challenges.
“I have lived that life,” he said at Tuesday’s forum.
Boston Superintendent Thomas Payzant handed Guadalupe Guerrero the toughest assignment for a freshly minted principal: Orchestrating the turnaround of one of the worst-performing schools in the system.
With a little coaxing, Guerrero, who was in his early 30s at the time, agreed. What he walked into at Dever Elementary in Dorchester in fall 2002 was a school in crisis. Chronically low test scores. Parents who distrusted the school system. Instructional programs in dire need of overhauls.
Despite efforts to steer the school in the right direction, MCAS scores would rise only to fall again, and performance in the fourth grade was down notably by the time Guerrero left the school in 2008. Two years later, the state designated Dever as “underperforming” — based largely on the MCAS scores generated under Guerrero’s watch — and the school is now in state receivership.
His six years at the helm of the school now hang over his candidacy as a finalist for the Boston superintendent job. In public interviews last week, he faced questions about his leadership there, while some education advocates, teachers, and parents wonder how he could accelerate achievement across an entire system when he could not save Dever.
The elementary school assignment was an oldie but a goodie: Come to school dressed up as your hero.
But the 8-year-old who showed up for class in Washoe County, Nev., dressed as Pedro Martinez was not wearing a baseball uniform. He wore a little suit and tie, a miniature version of the district superintendent’s typical attire.
It was this Pedro Martinez — the warm, impassioned man whose impoverished upbringing is all too familiar to children in city school districts across the country — who the boy had chosen as his hero.
Martinez, 47, is one of four finalists vying to lead Boston Public Schools. An immigrant from Mexico who arrived in Chicago with his family at age 5, Martinez’s unlikely path to the superintendent’s seat in Nevada endeared him to families for whom he resonated as a role model.