Teachers at Boston Latin Academy overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in their head of school this week, following more than a year of escalating tensions over teaching, learning, and working conditions.
Gavin Smith appears to have little support among faculty at the academy, one of the city’s highly regarded exam schools. More than 85 percent of the 109 faculty members who took part in the vote approved the no confidence measure, according to a copy of the voting results obtained by the Globe.
“Families, educators, and students have been organically and increasingly raising concerns about general and specific teaching and learning conditions at BLA,” the faculty senate said in a statement Friday. “Educators at BLA are hoping this most recent step will lend further urgency to addressing the challenges raised and spur discussion on key concerns voiced by families, educators, and students.”
Smith couldn’t be reached for comment.
Superintendent Mary Skipper called the no confidence vote disappointing in an e-mail she sent to staff and families, but added Smith intends to stay.
“I fully support Mr. Smith in his decision,” she said. “The past few years have been incredibly challenging for our school leaders, educators, and staff, especially those at the beginning of their teaching and leadership journeys. As a new school leader, I appreciate Gavin’s efforts to lead through these challenging times.”
Smith is a first-time principal and has been leading the 1,700-student school since 2021. He has been working in education for more than a decade, including stints as an assistant principal at Fenway High School and a science teacher at the O’Bryant School of Math and Science.
A number of his supporters gave passionate testimony on his behalf to the Boston School Committee Wednesday night. One former student, Grace Tsoi, talked about how as a teacher Smith inspired her and other students to do better in school, and that motivation has stuck with her in college.
“He has made personal connections with every student, which makes it easier for his students to trust him and feel safe,” she said. “He takes time out of his day ... to help students.”
Latin Academy, which serves students in grades 7-12, is one of the top-performing schools in Boston and is highly sought after by families. It originally opened as Girls’ Latin School in 1878 and then changed to its current name in the 1970s, when the school began accepting boys.
BLA has had turbulent leadership over the last decade, with six different people leading the school. In 2014, faculty raised a number of concerns about school leadership regarding evaluations, retaliation, and overall academic direction of the school, prompting an investigation by the school department.
Student and staff safety has also been an issue at the school since in-person learning resumed after the closure of school buildings during the pandemic. In January, a student was sent to the hospital after a fight broke among a few students. In May 2022, a small plastic bag of bullets was found at the school.
The faculty senate didn’t provide specific details about their concerns around teaching and learning conditions. The no-confidence vote followed two surveys conducted by the faculty senate, and a range of conversations with BLA leadership, families, students, and the BPS central office this school year. The faculty senate stressed it was working on behalf of everyone’s best interests.
“Educators will continue to receive input from all stakeholders in hopes of achieving improved teaching and learning conditions at the school, for the benefit of the entire school community and especially for students,” the statement said.
Skipper said she and her leadership team will work with Smith, the school’s leadership team, and educators “to find common ground with a goal of moving forward in the most productive way, always with the focus on what is best for a healthy school culture and climate for students.”
“First and foremost, we want to assure everyone that our collective priority is to ensure our students are being served at the very highest level,” she said.