Interim Boston Latin headmaster vows to build harmony
Michael Contompasis, the interim headmaster at Boston Latin School, said Monday that the elite exam school will take steps to build stronger harmony on the campus to heal the racial rift that erupted earlier this year.
Contompasis, in his first public comments since he came out of retirement after former headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta abruptly resigned, told reporters that race dialogues among students would continue.
In addition, he said: The administration is reviewing the reports issued by the Office of Equity on its investigation into racial discrimination at the school; Boston Latin School would provide training to teachers to make sure they address infractions with the appropriate discipline and in a consistent way; and the school has hired a liaison to work with parent groups.
“Primarily it is really setting the tone at the start of the school year, that what has happened over the last six months is a lesson from which all of us can learn,’’ Contompasis said.
“We are responsible for bringing about a healing in this community and that means among all stakeholders — parents, teachers, and the alumni association, all of whom you can imagine have differing opinions,” he added.
Latin School, one of three Boston public schools that require students to pass an entrance exam for admission, has been embroiled in controversy since two students posted a YouTube video in January that described racial incidents at the school and inadequate responses from administration.
An initial School Department investigation in February found that administrators acted properly in six cases, but mishandled one case. The School Department then followed up with a more expansive investigation that examined 115 allegations dating back to 2012.
The findings of that investigation, released earlier this month, concluded that administrators had mishandled six complaints by “failing to appropriately investigate, document, and/or take steps to prevent recurrences of bias-based conduct” and that in four other cases teachers who had been accused of bias-based conduct toward students were found to have violated school policy.
Contompasis is expected to lead Boston Latin for the duration of the coming school year and heads up a leadership team that includes retired Boston school headmaster Jerry Howland, who will serve as second-in-command as associate headmaster; and Alexandra Montes McNeil who will become the school’s instructional superintendent. Contompasis and other members of his leadership team present for Monday’s interview said they believe relationships among students of different races are largely strong.
Al Holland, a special assistant to Superintendent Tommy Chang, who has been working with the Latin School over the past six months, said students at the school tend to self integrate. Holland noted, for example, that students of different backgrounds sit together at lunch instead of sticking with their own demographic group.
“I’ve been at other schools where students do segregate,” he said.
Montes McNeil said the steps school administrators would be taking were “not a one-year plan.”
Contompasis stressed that creating a welcoming environment encompasses more than racial relations. “We believe very strongly that the culture of this institution is critical, but what is also critical is that everyone feels, A, they belong, and, B, that they feel safe,” he said.
“Safe doesn’t mean safe on a bus or walking to school,” he added. “It’s when I walk in here I’m respected for what I bring to this school, and I’m not made the butt of someone else’s insensitive thinking. That goes well beyond race.”
Michael Curry, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said it sounded like the new administration was heading in the right direction.
“We are encouraged by headmaster Contompasis’ remarks, Curry said in a statement.
“We also hope that this interim administration, and the eventual permanent replacement, will consider external voices like the NAACP partners in this effort to make our standard bearing public school the continued model for academics, and inclusivity,” he added.
Contompasis, who once ran Boston Latin School for two decades and also served as the city’s school superintendent, said he has been enjoying his time back at the Fenway school. He welcomed seventh-graders Monday morning for orientation and has been popping into an exam school prep program for students interested in applying for a slot for fall 2017.
“The fun part is meeting the students,” he said.
Contompasis said he came out of retirement because of his devotion to the school and out of respect for Chang. Contompasis served on the search committee that recommended Chang and three other finalists, and Chang was Contompasis’ top pick. Contompasis said he was particularly struck by the superintendent’s deep commitment to diversity and equity.