fb-pixelJoelle Gamere takes on role of BPS English learners department Skip to main content

Amid controversy over teaching English learners, Boston Public Schools hires new chief of multilingual and multicultural education

At Mattahunt Elementary School, Haitian American students have the chance to learn in both English and Haitian Creole. Joelle Gamere, director of the program, will now lead the Office of Multilingual and Multicultural Education, formerly known as the Office of English Learners.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools has hired a new chief of its troubled Office of Multilingual and Multicultural Education, about one and a half years after the department’s last administrator was forced to resign amid another controversy over the way students learning English are taught.

Starting in January, Joelle Gamere, assistant principal and director of the Toussaint L’Ouverture Academy at Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan, will lead the department, formerly known as the Office of English Learners, making her the seventh person to helm the office since 2019.

“I’m taking on this position not because I think I’m going to be able to come and save all the multicultural, multilingual students. I’m coming because I have a passion for education,” Gamere said in an interview with the Globe. “I just want to make sure that we are intentional in providing quality, high-level instruction for all of our students, but particularly for our multilingual and multicultural students.”

Gamere assumes her new role at a time of political and strategic upheaval for the district’s English learners programming. In October, BPS unveiled a new “inclusion” plan to overhaul its special education and multilingual programs, made as part of a deal with the state to avert a takeover of the district.


Under the plan, students learning English will be split up from their English-speaking peers only as needed for direct English instruction, rather than spending their entire days in separate Sheltered English Immersion, or SEI, classrooms. The plan will gradually take effect and by the 2026-27 school year, all English learners in grades K-12 will be taught in inclusive settings with at least some ESL instruction during the day.

Following the plan’s release, nine of the 13 members of the BPS English Learners Task Force quit their roles in protest, arguing that integrating English learners — who represent nearly one-third of BPS students — into general education classrooms where lessons are taught only in English would lead to worse academic outcomes. Spanish-speaking families have also begun circulating an online petition, demanding that BPS immediately postpone implementing the English learners component of the inclusion plan.


Gamere, who also worked as a central office administrator in the Office of English Learners, defended the inclusion plan because it will give students learning English more opportunities to go to schools of their choice, rather than limiting them to campuses that offer specific programs for their language needs.

“I think that’s progress,” she said, noting that when she attended BPS, multilingual learners were pigeonholed into attending specific campuses, even if there were schools closer to their homes.

Her office, she said, will have to think “outside of the box” in terms of how interventions are delivered to English learners in general education classrooms and ensuring their teachers can help them understand the content.

“These are all things that I need to work on and tackle as we’re moving forward because we want to make sure that our students are learning,” she said. “I’m not coming in with all of the answers, but I am coming in with the heart, the passion, because these students are my parents; they’re my cousins; I see them every day here.”

In 2017, Gamere launched the Toussaint L’Ouverture Academy, the country’s first pre-K Haitian Creole-English dual-language program at Mattahunt Elementary. At the academy, the teachers — all Haitian American — lead lessons in both Haitian Creole and English, and native English speakers and Haitian Creole speakers learn the curriculum side by side. The program has enrolled about 115 students, according to Gamere, including the Mattahunt’s highest-performing student on the state-mandated MCAS tests.


“When students are educated in their native language and they’re being supported, you yield higher results,” Gamere said. “We’ve seen that here.”

Gamere said she supports expanding dual-language programs, which are considered by researchers the gold standard of bilingual education, but currently serve just 7 percent of the district’s English learners. But she acknowledged, based on her own experience starting the Mattahunt’s Haitian Creole academy, the tremendous challenge of implementing these programs.

In a strategic plan submitted to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education last fall, the district said it would add 12 new bilingual programs in the 2023-24 school year, with a total of 25 new ones launched by June 2025.

But the district rolled back those specific goals in its revised strategic plan this October. In the updated plan, the district said it would explore opportunities for converting “language-specific” SEI classrooms to dual-language programs beginning this fall and start new dual-language programs in September 2025. The revised plan makes no mention of the 25 new dual-language programs the district had previously pledged to launch.

“Ideally I would like to have more dual-language programs, but we really need to see where we can support dual-language programs because I don’t want any dual-language program to be implemented the way that we had implemented the program here,” Gamere said. “We were always flying the plane as we were building it, and so I don’t want schools to feel that way.”


The multilingual office has been rife with turnover in the last several years. The last administrator hired to lead English learner education in BPS, Aketa Narang Kapur, said she was placed on leave in December 2021 after only weeks on the job and forced to resign because she complained the district was improperly steering students learning English into general education classes. BPS denied taking any retaliatory action against her.

John Mudd, one of the task force members who quit over the district’s direction of English learners education, said he was concerned about Gamere’s limited district-wide experience.

“That’s just a big, big leap from a school-level program to a system-wide managerial position,” Mudd said. “It’s a big, big job.”

In her new role as a member of the superintendent’s executive team, Gamere will be tasked with executing the office’s multiyear strategic plan for expanding bilingual education across the BPS, according to the district’s job posting. She will be paid a salary of $192,225 and report to Linda Chen, senior deputy superintendent of academics, who previously managed the office’s responsibilities.

In an email last week to staff announcing new hires, Superintendent Mary Skipper said Gamere and other new leaders will “be crucial in elevating the vision and mission in the transformative work we are doing for our families, students, staff, leadership and various constituents across the district.”


Deanna Pan can be reached at deanna.pan@globe.com. Follow her @DDpan.