Four men emerged as the finalists to become the next school superintendent of Boston, as a yearlong search for a new leader enters perhaps its last phase, city and school officials said Thursday.
The candidates are racially diverse and come from school systems many miles away: two from California, one from Nevada, and another from Virginia. One candidate had worked for the Boston school system for more than a decade.
The finalists are Dana Bedden, superintendent of Richmond public schools in Virginia; Tommy Chang, a local instructional superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District; Pedro Martinez, a former superintendent who began working last month for the state of Nevada on a school overhaul effort; and Guadalupe Guerrero, deputy superintendent of instruction, innovation, and social justice for the San Francisco Unified School District. Guerrero was also a teacher and a principal in Boston from 1997 to 2008.
The School Committee, in consultation with Mayor Martin J. Walsh, is expected to choose the winning candidate on March 3 after an interview process.
Walsh said he was impressed with the lineup chosen by the 12-member search committee. “Any one of them could be a game-changer in how we do education in Boston,” Walsh said, “and anyone of them could turn the Boston schools into a world-class education system.”
The four finalists are one African American candidate, one Asian, and two Latinos.
Meg Campbell, a School Committee member, said she was troubled that the search was unable to produce a woman, particularly in a field such as education that is dominated by women.
“I think this does give us pause,” Campbell said Thursday evening. “We want to be sure that the message is clear that Boston is a place where women leadership is valued.”
Walsh, who has met with each candidate, said he expressed concerns Thursday to School Committee chairman Michael O’Neill that the slate did not include a woman. But the mayor added, “You can’t hit every demographic when you come to the finalists” and noted the search committee included five women.
The candidates will arrive in Boston next week. Each will have a daylong interview with a variety of panels consisting of School Committee members, students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community partners. Each candidate will be interviewed on a different day between Monday and Thursday, and each will sit down with Walsh for a second interview.
The choice will cap a nearly two-year process to replace Carol R. Johnson, who announced in April 2013 her intention to retire a few months later. Since then, John McDonough, the school system’s former chief financial officer, has been serving as interim superintendent. McDonough decided against seeking the post permanently.
All the candidates have extensive administrative experience, but two ran into problems with their school boards during previous posts as superintendent.
Bedden resigned as superintendent of the Irving Independent School District in Texas in July 2013 after a series of elections during his three-year tenure tilted the membership of the school board to one critical of his leadership.
According to The Dallas Morning News, when a majority of the board favored Bedden, they rewarded him with a hefty pay raise and two contract extensions, sparking a public outcry. He also gained detractors because of his approach to bilingual education, the paper reported.
But school officials in Richmond considered themselves lucky to have landed Bedden in December 2013, said Kristen N. Larson, vice chairwoman of the School Board. She said the system will fight to keep him.
“He has a proven track record and is not afraid to take chances,” Larson said. “We really need him here.’’
Bedden declined to comment through a school system spokeswoman.
Martinez, another finalist, clashed with trustees at the Washoe County School District, which includes Reno, last summer when he was serving as superintendent. It was his first time running a school system.
The board moved to fire him in July under an inaccurate belief that he had falsified his credentials as a certified public accountant. A mediator sided with Martinez but ordered the school board to part ways with him because the relationship was so damaged, according to press reports.
“Sadly, there was a huge misunderstanding,” Martinez said of the dispute Thursday night.
Through it all, Martinez maintained the support of a key ally, Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada, who recruited him last month to create a state-run school system that will consist of underperforming schools statewide. The work is expected to last six months.
Martinez, who is credited with boosting graduation rates in Washoe, said he very much would like the opportunity to lead Boston schools.
“There is a lot of challenge in the district,” Martinez said, adding that the city’s school system should have a much higher graduation rate.
But he also said, “There are great resources in the community, including world-class universities and colleges. I don’t see what will stop Boston from becoming one of the best urban systems in the country.”
Guerrero, too, has encountered professional difficulties — in Boston. For six years, he served as principal of the academically struggling Dever Elementary School in Dorchester, leaving in July 2008.
Two years later, the state declared the Dever “underperforming,” based mostly on MCAS performance during Guerrero’s leadership. The school is now in state receivership and Walsh has vowed to never again allow another school in Boston slide into the state’s hands.
Guerrero could not be reached for an interview, but in an e-mail he said, “I am honored that the Boston Public Schools has named me a finalist and I look forward to meeting with the community this coming week.”
Chang apparently has garnered less media attention. In an e-mail Thursday night, he said he was “humbled” by his selection as a finalist.
“My belief in doing whatever we can to help all young people achieve is what drives me,” he said. “I am looking forward to sharing my ideas next week with the School Committee, students, parents, teachers and others about how together we can build the world-class education system the youth of Boston deserve.”
The candidates are among approximately 10 individuals who interviewed for the job during the past few weeks. It is unclear whether Matthew Malone, the former Massachusetts education secretary who was aggressively pursuing the job, was among that group.
O’Neill said that all four finalists had unanimous support from the search committee and that public disputes were part of being a superintendent.
“There’s no senior person in public education who has not upset a parent, teacher, or community member, particularly when you deal with elected school boards,” O’Neill said. “These people are highly experienced, very thoughtful, and are positioned to be a leader in this district.”
James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.