Governor-elect Maura Healey has tapped former Lynn Public Schools superintendent Patrick Tutwiler to serve as the state’s next education secretary, her fourth Cabinet pick as she works to fill senior executive branch positions ahead of her January inauguration.
“Our kids need results, and I know Dr. Tutwiler will deliver,” Healey said in a statement Friday.
Tutwiler is the first Black person appointed to the Cabinet which, under the Baker administration, had been majority white. Tutwiler will serve as Healey’s top adviser on education and help to shape the state’s education agenda, succeeding Secretary of Education James Peyser.
In a statement, Tutwiler said he plans keep his focus on the students, families, educators, and staff that make up Massachusetts’ robust education environment.
“Our office is going to be all about the people,” Tutwiler said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to build a strong team who will help us ensure that we have a high-quality, equitable, and thriving education system.”
On the campaign trail, Healey made promises to advocate for federal funding for early education and care, to recruit and retain educators of color, to expand early college programs, and to push to improve access to affordable higher education.
Healey also supports the Common Start proposal, which would make child care free for the lowest-income families and increase pay for early educators, among other things.
Tutwiler comes into the role at a crucial time for education, as schools struggle to address learning gaps and trauma stemming from the pandemic’s disruptions, said Paul Reville, a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor who served as secretary of education under former governor Deval Patrick.
Schools are grappling with staffing shortages while figuring out how to spend an influx of federal and state money wisely, among other challenges. Tutwiler also will face the challenge of trying to improve access to and the quality of preschool and child care programs, as well as addressing the affordability and funding schemes for higher education, Reville said.
“It’s an enormous job — you’ve got a great bully pulpit, but you have limited authority because anything you do has got to be done in conjunction with the Legislature, with the governor, with local school committees, and all the different constituents in education,” Reville said. “Education moves slowly, but the secretary is in a position to challenge the field to move strongly.”
Tutwiler is an alum of The College of the Holy Cross, and also received a master’s degree in education from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.
Before his role in Lynn, Tutwiler worked for 18 years in public schools in Boston, Wayland, and Westford. He joined the Boston-based Barr Foundation as a member of its education-focused team in August. (The Barr Foundation partially funds the Globe’s Great Divide team, reporting on educational inequities.)
In his current role, Tutwiler specializes in “developing new high school models that will have a positive impact across the entire school system,” according to Healey’s transition team. As Lynn superintendent, he led an effort that resulted in increased graduation rates, a more racially diverse faculty and staff, and the creation of the state’s second-largest early college program.
Many in the education space lauded the pick, characterizing Tutwiler as a leader who can bring an equity lens to the sector’s top office.
Mary Tamer, a former member of the Boston School Committee and now state director for advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts, called the hire a “historic and inspired choice.”
Beth Kontos, president of AFT Massachusetts, which represents more than 23,000 public school employees, said members who have worked alongside Tutwiler regard him as “a professional educator of the highest caliber.”
Sheila O’Neil, president of the Lynn Teachers Union, said Tutwiler worked alongside the union to ensure 12 buildings in her district got the new HVAC systems they needed during the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, he also maintained an e-mail for families, students, educators, or anyone else in the district to contact him with any questions or concerns they had. He responded to every single e-mail he received, O’Neil said.
“He’s a passionate educator who makes every decision with students in mind first and foremost,” she said.
Other say Tutwiler symbolizes representation for Massachusetts’ so-called Gateway Cities such as Lynn, Chelsea, Lawrence, and Worcester.
Roberto Jiménez Rivera, Chelsea School Committee member and onetime state House candidate, said he didn’t know Tutwiler personally, but was glad to hear that the governor-elect chose someone with roots in one of the Gateway Cities, former industrial powerhouses that are now home to large immigrant and low-income communities that often have different educational needs than the rest of the state.
”One of the big things for me is having somebody . . . who understands that when you have a more marginalized population, your results are going to look different,” Rivera said. “Having somebody who understands that — both from his lived experience and from his professional experience — is going to be hugely different from what we’ve seen and I’m hopeful that that will inform how he will move the department forward.”
Tutwiler also faces a thorny situation with Boston Public Schools, with the system on the brink of a state takeover last year. In June, state officials and BPS came to a last-minute agreement that averted a takeover but demanded immediate improvement.
Mary Skipper, the BPS superintendent, said she has known Tutwiler for many years, describing him as an “excellent educational leader who always puts the needs of students first.”
“His leadership will be an invaluable asset to the executive office of education,” Skipper said, “and I look forward to working with him in pursuit of our goal of providing every BPS student a quality education.”
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said she’s hopeful that Gateway Cities and urban schools will benefit from his perspectives and experiences, which she said are “sorely lacking” on the current Baker-appointed state education board. “This is a critical time where we need steady leadership,” she said.
Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said Tutwiler was well regarded by educators in Lynn and his colleagues within the association, adding that he’s a “brilliant choice” for the state’s next education leader.
Tutwiler also led the association’s urban superintendent network, helping other districts navigate challenges, Scott said. Tutwiler brought together educators who work with English language learners from different districts so that they could learn strategies from each other, Scott said. “He always kept students at the center of the conversation,” Scott said.
According to his bio on the Barr Foundation website, Tutwiler “spends nearly every second of his free time with his family” and “unashamedly brags on his barbecue skills and hopes to publish a handbook on the science of barbecue one day.”
In his LinkedIn bio, Tutwiler posted a quote from a mentor of his, saying that educators must be committed to the student, the teachers, and the craft of teaching.
“All decisions, strategies — every move I make is anchored in that philosophy,” he wrote.
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