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Former Boston Public Schools superintendent Thomas Payzant, who led the district for more than a decade and has been credited with drastic improvements in student achievement and increased test scores, has died.

Payzant, who was Boston’s top school leader from 1995 to 2006, “believed that a high quality curriculum grounded in high expectations, coupled with a committed, developed, and supported teacher, forms the baseline of all learning,” Brenda Cassellius, the district’s current superintendent, wrote in a statement Monday.

He was “a fierce champion for all children and a deep believer in the potential of every student,” Cassellius wrote.

Payzant, who was born in Boston and raised in Quincy, died Friday.


Cassellius said Boston students are still benefitting from the “sharp focus on curriculum and instruction” that Payzant pioneered and that countless students are “thriving due to his vision for public education.”

“Tom’s leadership was instrumental in moving our schools toward high quality education and narrowing opportunity gaps,” Acting Mayor Kim Janey wrote in a tweet. “He will be deeply missed.”

Payzant was a lifelong educator, serving as the superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools from 1979 to 1982 and San Diego Unified School District from 1982 to 1993, and as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the Clinton administration. Payzant, who received his doctorate in education from Harvard University in 1968, also served as a superintendent in Oregon and Pennsylvania. He launched his teaching career at Belmont High School in 1963 after going through the Harvard-Newton summer intern program. He was awarded the Massachusetts Superintendent of the Year award in 1999 and was a finalist for the national award that same year.

“Tom Payzant was a tireless advocate for urban public education and a relentless warrior on behalf of urban children and he will truly be missed,” Ray Hart, executive director of education coalition Council of the Great City Schools, said in a statement.


Under his leadership at BPS, students in fourth and eighth grades showed the largest improvements in math scores in 2003 to 2005 compared to their counterparts in urban school districts nationwide, according to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. In 2006, after four years as a runner-up, Boston won the Broad Prize for Urban Education, the top urban school prize in the nation, netting $500,000 in scholarships for low-income high school seniors who improved their grades.

After leaving BPS, Payzant worked as a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Wellesley Superintendent David Lussier also tweeted about Payzant’s death, writing that he ‘supported many of us on our path toward the superintendency.”

“An exceptional educator, who led with such grace and wisdom,” he wrote.

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.