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OPINION

A new day for Boston Public Schools

A new superintendent equipped with a clearly defined blueprint to improve longstanding issues represents a remarkable opportunity for BPS to turn the page.

Newly appointed Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper spoke at a press conference on Thursday outside TechBoston Academy in Dorchester. Skipper once was principal of TechBoston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

This has been a hugely consequential week for Boston Public Schools. And for all the brinkmanship, frayed nerves, and last-minute politicking, the city is now in a better position than it has been in years to deliver the quality education for all students that families deserve.

On Monday, after more than a month of negotiations, the city and state education officials finally agreed on a systemic improvement plan for BPS, just in time to avert an “underperforming” designation for the district. The document lays out specific policy changes that the school system must execute within ambitious deadlines.

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And on Wednesday night, the School Committee named Mary Skipper, currently the superintendent of the Somerville Public Schools, as the new leader for the Boston schools.

Taken together, the two outcomes represent a clear opportunity for the Boston schools to turn the page from the “entrenched dysfunction” that has hobbled it for too long, as a recent state audit put it.

Skipper, a Dorchester resident, knows the district well and will not face the same learning curve as the last two permanent superintendents, who were both hired from out of state. She worked at BPS for nearly 20 years before taking the Somerville job in 2015. While at BPS, she was a Latin teacher at Boston Latin Academy, the founding principal at TechBoston Academy, and eventually a network superintendent overseeing 34 high schools with a collective enrollment of nearly 20,000 students.

Skipper’s selection might have felt a bit anticlimactic, given the persistent rumors that she was Mayor Michelle Wu’s pick all along (Wu has denied that she had a favorite). The local NAACP had asked the School Committee to reopen the search process because of the lack of Black or Latino finalists, but the vote went ahead as scheduled. School Committee chair Jeri Robinson put it best the night of the vote. “The work with the [state] is serious,” Robinson said. “To get the work done, we need a strong leader who has worked with [the state] and who has been a superintendent.”

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Among the policy changes agreed upon with the state: The district must achieve a district-wide bus on-time arrival rate of at least 95 percent each month and report those rates to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education beginning in August; have a robust and improved system to respond to complaints from parents by mid-August; implement an inclusion policy for special education students by early November and hire a senior leadership team with special education expertise by mid-November; and complete a plan for multilingual learners by mid-August, as well as other measures.

Crucially, by mid-August, the city agreed to have an independent auditor hired by DESE in place to analyze BPS data regularly, a significant step to restore trust in a department marred by data collection lapses and inaccurate records. Last week, when state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley announced his intention to declare BPS as underperforming, he wrote in a memo to the state’s board of education that negotiations broke down over the city’s refusal to have DESE hire the auditor. “The City/BPS proposed to hire their own data auditor; however, this is insufficient as numerous such audits have not prevented ongoing inaccuracies with data,” he wrote.

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Though who would hire the auditor was a point of contention, the hiring of an independent auditor has an upside for the city and for Wu. Numbers coming out of the district should be more credible now, and if there’s genuine improvement, there will be trustworthy data to prove it.

Some of the deadlines in the joint agreement will have to be met before Skipper assumes her role. As the Globe’s Bianca Vázquez Toness reported, Skipper is apparently not available to assume the Boston role full time until late September — that is, after the deadline to meet 10 of the 24 policy changes required by the agreement. Drew Echelson, who is currently BPS’s deputy superintendent of academics, will be the acting superintendent until then.

Still, Skipper will be in charge of overseeing the more comprehensive action steps. Though the process over the last few weeks has been bumpy, the bottom line is that the city now has a good plan and a good leader, and both deserve the community’s support in the months and years ahead.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.