Boston Public Schools reached within its ranks Monday to find a new leader for Boston Latin School, tapping a longtime elementary school principal with a record of closing achievement gaps and expanding educational opportunities for all students.
Jason Gallagher, who has led Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown for the past 11 years, will begin July 1. His ascension to the top job at Latin School represents a homecoming for Gallagher, a lifelong Charlestown resident. He graduated from BLS in 1991 and his two sons also earned their diplomas there in 2018 and 2021.
Gallagher will replace Rachel Skerritt, who announced March 11 she will be stepping down at the end of the school year. Skerritt made history when she got the job five years ago, becoming the first person of color to lead the nation’s oldest school, and is highly regarded among many faculty, students, and families.
Skerritt welcomed Gallagher back to the school on Monday, saying she has seen firsthand Gallagher’s commitment to equity and excellence at Harvard-Kent.
“He understands the foundations of rigor and uniqueness of the BLS curriculum, as well as the demands on today’s young people in these difficult times,” Skerritt said in a statement. “He’ll bring together all stakeholders in service of a BLS that prepares students for successful college studies and responsible and engaged citizenship, true to our mission.”
BPS wouldn’t make Gallagher available for an interview Monday and wouldn’t provide a written statement from him regarding the job.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said appointing a school leader is one of the most important decisions the district makes.
“Jason Gallagher has demonstrated over many years his commitment to educational equity and excellence, and I am confident he is the right person to lead Boston Latin School,” Cassellius said in a statement. ”I also extend my most sincere appreciation to Head of School Rachel Skerritt for her exemplary service to Boston’s students and her continued leadership to ensure a smooth transition.”
Gallagher will be making the leap from one of the district’s smaller schools — Harvard-Kent has about 350 students — to the district’s largest school. More than 2,400 students attend Latin School in grades 7-12.
He will take over as the district rolls out a new admission process for Latin School and the city’s two other exam schools — Boston Latin Academy and the O’Bryant School of Math and Science — in an effort to ensure that disadvantaged students have an equitable chance of getting a seat.
So far, initial results from the changes appear to be encouraging. At Latin School, for instance, the portion of seventh-grade admission offers going to Black applicants for next fall increased to 22 percent compared with 6 percent two years ago, while those sent to Latino applicants rose to 21 percent compared with 12 percent two years ago, according to school department data released last month.
But the policy changes have sparked controversy and racial tensions have flared at times. A group of white and Asian parents sued the district in federal court last year over a temporary plan executed at that time that distributed seats by student ZIP codes. Although a federal district court judge upheld that plan, which the district is no longer using, the case remains under appeal.
Mayor Michelle Wu said she was thrilled to work with Gallagher in his new role.
“I’ve had the chance to see Jason in action for many years as a leader in our school district and communities, as he worked to build community and create a rigorous and nurturing academic environment at the Harvard-Kent School,” Wu said in a statement.
A 21-year veteran of Boston Public Schools, Gallagher has never led a high school before or worked as an administrator at one. Before Harvard-Kent, he served as an assistant director in the district’s Office of Special Education and a classroom teacher at Harvard-Kent. He also was a history and special education teacher at Braintree High School.
Gallagher was vetted by a screening committee composed of BLS parents, alumni, faculty, and students.
“He’s made clear that he meets this moment with excellent preparation, intelligence, good judgment, and humor,” said Magda Hernandez, a member of the screening committee and co-chair of BLS School Site Council in a statement. “As an alumna, a BLSA trustee, and parent of two students, I’m thrilled for the community at large to meet him.”
Gallagher has achieved notable success at Harvard-Kent, a racially diverse school.
In 2019, the Boston nonprofit EdVestors recognized Harvard-Kent as a “School on the Move” for its sustained growth in MCAS scores and for narrowing gaps in achievement among students of different backgrounds.
At the time, Harvard-Kent had a larger portion of students living in public housing than any other BPS school. To deepen student engagement, the school placed a premium on building partnerships with outside organizations and the surrounding neighborhood.
The school also invested heavily in after-school programs in math and literacy that were tailored to address students’ individual learning needs.
“The most important thing we do every day is offer a safe and welcoming school to our students and families,” Gallagher said at the time after receiving the $100,000 award. “We want to make our kids feel like they are in the best school not just in Boston, but in the country. If you are a member of the Harvard-Kent school community, we want you to feel important, loved, and valued. And, we want you to become a proficient reader, writer, and mathematician.”
The school’s demographics have shifted since then, with the population of white students climbing from 20 percent in 2019 to nearly 30 percent, while the portion of students not fluent in English has declined.
Marinell Rousmaniere, president and chief executive officer of EdVestors, said Gallagher’s record of school improvement should be an asset at BLS.
“With Boston Latin accepting more English learners and students with special needs than in recent memories, Jason is equipped to lead a school that meets students where they are and will ensure they grow and succeed,” she said in an interview.
Gallagher holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Merrimack College, a master’s in education from Simmons College, and a master’s in educational leadership from Framingham State University.
Peter Kelly, president of the Boston Latin School Association, said he looked forward to welcoming Gallagher back and noted in some ways Gallagher is delivering on one of his departing messages when he graduated from BLS.
“In the quote next to his picture in the 1991 Liber Actorum, Mr. Gallagher wrote, ‘Thanks, everyone! I hope we can all do it again someday,’” Kelly noted. “Well, ‘someday’ has arrived.”
James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.