Boston Public Schools on Tuesday announced two finalists for the job of superintendent: Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper and Tommy Welch, a regional superintendent in BPS who oversees 15 schools in East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End.
The pair both have deep roots in the city school system and prevailed in a pool of 34 applicants.
Here’s what you need to know about each of the leading contenders.
Superintendent of Somerville schools
Skipper has been superintendent of Somerville schools since 2015, after spending nearly 18 years in BPS as a principal and an assistant superintendent for high schools. Last year, the Somerville School Committee rated her performance exemplary. The district is considerably smaller than Boston: it has about a dozen schools and fewer than 5,000 students, who are less diverse and more affluent than Boston, which has 49,000 students and 121 schools.
If Boston wants her back, the timing could not be better. Her contract with Somerville is set to expire June 30 and she is still negotiating a new deal with the Somerville School Committee. The School Committee plans to discuss negotiations on the superintendent contract in private on Wednesday night. In a letter to the Somerville school community Tuesday, Skipper said she would stay in the district into the start of the next school year to ensure a smooth transition.
Skipper grabbed the national spotlight in 2011 when President Obama delivered a major education speech at the high school she was leading, TechBoston Academy, which Skipper had transformed from a small program into a full-fledged school with money from the Boston Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At the time, TechBoston largely served Black and Latino students and had one of the highest graduation rates in the city, with 82 percent of seniors the previous year earning diplomas within four years, nearly 20 percentage points higher than the district.
The school placed a strong emphasis on using technology and hands-on projects in teaching math, science, and engineering, and the majority of students went on to college.
“You guys are a model for what’s happening all across the country. And obviously, at the helm is Mary Skipper, who is doing unbelievable work,” Obama said at the time.
But Skipper has struggled at times with ambitious innovation. Three years ago, she and then-Mayor Joseph Curtatone abruptly withdrew support for an innovative high school proposal, known as Powderhouse Studios, after securing hard-fought teacher union support, citing many issues, including the cost of running the school. The proposal had secured a $10 million grant in a national competition to launch the new school.
Skipper, a graduate of Arlington Catholic High School, holds master’s degrees from Harvard and Columbia universities, and a bachelor’s from Tufts University, according to her Linkedin profile. She began her education career at Boston College High School as a Greek and Latin teacher.
Regional superintendent in BPS
A longtime educator with roots in California — and ties to former superintendent Tommy Chang — Welch is a regional superintendent in BPS. Many of the schools in his region are among the better performing ones in Boston, and under an agreement with the state two years ago, the schools are supposed to be working with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as part of the Kaleidoscope Network to replicate best practices.
Welch, who is biracial and bilingual, joined BPS soon after Chang was named superintendent in 2015. The two men previously worked together in Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country with 600,000 students, where Welch made a name for himself as startup principal of a new, innovative middle school and high school, and Chang was the senior administrator who oversaw it.
Welch won accolades from parents in south central Los Angeles, who sought him out as a partner when they set out to start a new high school for their children. Discouraged by the lack of top-quality high schools in their neighborhood, they built a new pilot school from scratch, Nava College Preparatory Academy, modeled on the middle school Welch had already established.
According to a 2014 story in the Los Angeles Times, parents continued to play a vocal role in school affairs after the new campus opened, as Welch encouraged a culture of transparency and “constant dialogue” with families.
In Boston, Welch worked as an academic superintendent, overseeing the district’s high schools, before Superintendent Brenda Cassellius moved him into his current regional role in 2019.
Before he became a school administrator, Welch’s classroom teaching experience focused on special education in the elementary grades, and included 12 years as a teacher of multilingual learners — two areas singled out for attention in recent state critiques of BPS.
In a statement Tuesday, Welch acknowledged the challenges the city faces. “Boston, our country’s oldest public school system, has a legacy of both accomplishments and shortcomings,” he wrote. “I believe there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to organize resources, educators, and families to move our system forward for all children.”
Welch holds degrees from Occidental College, a liberal arts school in Los Angeles, and the University of California Los Angeles. He earned a doctoral degree from Boston College in 2020, and is the father of two children who attend public schools in Boston.
Christopher Huffaker and Bianca Vázquez Toness of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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