Tommy Chang took over Wednesday as Boston’s new school superintendent, kicking off his tenure by listening to the concerns and hopes of student leaders from across the city.
Chang bounded into the packed room at School Department headquarters in Dudley Square and announced: “I’m no longer superintendent in waiting. I’m done waiting.”
The room cheered.
“I am super, super pumped,” Chang said.
Chang, 40, replaces interim superintendent John McDonough, who is retiring after four decades in the Boston public school system. Chang previously oversaw more than 130 schools in Los Angeles as an instructional superintendent.
His meeting with students Wednesday marked the final stop on his listening and learning tour of the district’s parents, students, and stakeholders.
Representatives from the Boston Student Advisory Council, the Mayor’s Youth Council, and the Boston-area Youth Organizing Project, as well as parents and other administrators, thronged the meeting.
Although this was Chang’s last stop, Ayomide Olumuyiwa, 18, a recent graduate of the O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science and member of BSAC and Youth on Board, reminded the new superintendent that it was “possibly the most important one.”
Chang shared his public school background with students, beginning with his first-grade dinosaur project and ending with his most recent role in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second-largest district. In that role, Chang gained a reputation for a quick mind, collaborative approach, and a strong conviction that schools should have the flexibility to experiment.
He then listened to the students’ assessments of Boston’s bright spots and areas to improve. Common concerns included what they said was an overemphasis on testing, the district’s strict disciplinary policies, and lackluster school lunch offerings.
Ian McSorley, 18, a student at Boston Day and Evening Academy, said it was “ridiculous” to base school curriculum off MCAS scores. McSorley said he prefers competency-based education, which he said allows students to learn at their own pace.
Many praised the district for taking students seriously when making decisions. At Chang’s urging, students brainstormed ways to continue having their voices heard.
“I’m going to push you in this way,” Chang said, “because I see myself as a teacher and an organizer.”
Chang quietly began his transition in April and he has mostly been working behind the scenes as he learns the district.
In an interview with the Globe after he accepted the position, Chang signaled what might be some of his priorities. He said he supports expanding pre-kindergarten classes, providing mainstream education for students with disabilities, and overhauling troubled high schools.
Chang will release his 100-day plan to the School Committee on July 15. The plan aligns with Chang’s vision to create equitable opportunities, high-performing schools, high-quality teachers, and autonomy with accountability, according to Michael O’Neill, School Committee chairman.
Members of the superintendent’s executive team will hold a conference next week to begin tackling these priorities.
As he takes the helm of the public school system, the new school chief faces a number of challenges, such as excessive testing and managing limited resources, said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union.
“Both challenges are surmountable, but both are very, very difficult,” Stutman said.
Additionally, Chang must manage the budget, which for the first time exceeds $1 billion. Next year, that involves negotiating the teachers’ union contract and deciding whether to champion elements of school reform, said Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
Achievement and opportunity gaps also persist in BPS, said Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, who singled these out as the biggest issue facing the district.
Chang already has lost one member of his executive team. Tanisha Sullivan, who was going to be an assistant superintendent of equity, unexpectedly resigned last Friday.
“It was a personal decision on the part of Tanisha,” said Richard Weir, a school department spokesman.
Sullivan had served as the school system’s chief equity officer for the last few years and was one of only a few high-ranking officials from the previous administration to land a post on Chang’s executive team.
Wednesday’s meeting ended with pizza and a cake to celebrate Chang’s first day.
“I think it went well,” Olumuyiwa said. “We’re students; we have a lot to say.”