Incoming superintendent Tommy Chang is approaching leadership of the Boston Public Schools as he might the launch of a startup, importing the jargon and free-wheeling creativity of high tech into public education.
“Our job is not to just create innovations, it’s to create innovators . . . among teachers, and parents, and administrators,” he said Thursday in an interview, as he watched members of his diverse transition team create “empathy maps” of community concerns during a meeting.
The transition team, whose 35 members include Boston educators, parents, and advocates representing disparate constituencies and issues, gathered at the school department’s new Dudley Square headquarters for its second meeting.
Members considered procedures and goals for a “Listen and Learn” tour that will collect community perspectives to help shape a strategic plan for the first 100 days of the next school year.
“We want to experience everything,” he said.
“We want to truly understand the experiences of students first, and then teachers and administrators here in Boston. We will be having lunch with students. We will be supervising students on a playground with teachers. We’re going to do it all.”
Hearing from stakeholders is important, Chang said, but so is listening to creative solutions from such varied arenas as the automobile and health care industries.
“Often in education, we see ourselves as the experts of teaching and learning, but I do believe, especially in 2015, the institution of education has as much to learn from other fields as those fields have to learn from us,” he said.
Chang quietly began his transition a month ago, about 12 weeks before his first official day on the job, meeting with school leaders and assembling his team of stakeholders.
In his first year as superintendent, he will receive a salary of $257,000, but until that begins on July 1, he is being paid by the Boston Educational Development Foundation using privately raised funds, according to Matt Wilder, a spokesman for Chang’s transition.
Mary Driscoll, principal of the Thomas A. Edison K-8 School in Brighton, gave Chang high marks for his leadership style.
“The level of energy and excitement that has been expressed in the last two meetings is exactly what I was hoping for,” Driscoll said. “He’s bringing in ideas from outside, but he’s doing it very much as if this is a classroom and he’s one of the class leaders.”
Neema Avashia, an eighth-grade civics teacher at the John W. McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, said Chang asks team members to read articles on business and design, as well as education, that examine “organizational change and collaboration, and different concepts of evolving thinking and changing practices.”
“A lot of the things that we’re thinking about are, like, how do you think. . . . It’s very meta,” she said. “Instead of just jumping into making a plan, it’s like, how do you go about creating a plan?”
But some team members said they face challenges in engaging people who have had negative experiences with Boston schools.
Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, cautioned that building trust will sometimes be an uphill battle.
“It’s not something that’s going to be quick,” Janey said. “It’s really just going to take time, and it’s going to be key to build relationships.”
Chang said he believes that his diverse team of community stakeholders can reach even the most skeptical.
“We have to prove it’s possible,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an easy thing, but I am personally committed to it, and I felt today that this team is committed to that mission as well.”