Dozens of people are vying to be next Boston school superintendent
The search for a new leader of the Boston Public Schools has attracted more than three dozen candidates, including 12 superintendents, according to information released Wednesday.
The 39 candidates who have submitted resumes or other materials for consideration also include a dozen other administrators who have held senior school-district leadership positions, according to data requested by the Globe that offers the first glimpse of who might be interested in the post.
The rest of the pool consists of five nonprofit leaders, four higher education administrators and educators, three educational consultants, two school leaders, and one state education commissioner from somewhere in the United States. More than half of the candidates are black, Latino, or Asian, while women make up less than a quarter of the candidates.
The data was released two days after an 11-member search panel met behind closed doors to select semifinalists for interviews. Michael Loconto, chairman of the Boston School Committee, characterized the search as successful both in terms of the professional experience of the candidates and the diversity of those applying.
“I think the search firm was very responsive to the attributes identified by the public in the fall for the next superintendent,” Loconto said.
No information was released on the semifinalists. During the last hunt for a superintendent four years ago, about eight semifinalists emerged out of a pool of 75 candidates.
Concern has been growing in recent weeks about the pace of the search and the likelihood of landing an experienced leader in the next few months. Just this week, several parents and education advocates took to social media to criticize Mayor Martin J. Walsh after he told the Globe that Boston is “a great place to learn how to be a superintendent.”
His comments ran counter to a job description developed by the search committee with input from the public that expressed preference for candidates with at least five years experience as a superintendent.
Paul Reville, a former state education secretary who has been critical of the pace of the search, said he was encouraged by the number of candidates as well as their professional background and the diversity of the pool, except for the low number of female candidates.
“On the whole, it looks better than what I expected at this point, but it all depends on the individuals” in the candidate pool, Reville said. “It’s clear some sense of urgency is present, which is a good thing. Some of us were worried.”
The search committee is striving to have a new superintendent by July 1. The finalists are expected to be announced sometime next month and will be publicly interviewed, most likely after school vacation. The prevailing candidate will replace interim Superintendent Laura Perille, who stepped into the post last summer after Tommy Chang resigned.
The search got off to a slow start. The School Committee did not name a search committee until October and then didn’t bring a firm on board to administer the search until Dec. 19. Typically, superintendent searches nationwide court candidates in the fall — especially when vacancies occur early in the summer — with the goal of conducting interviews in January or February, followed by a job offer.
Isaacson, Miller, the search consultant firm, initially reached out to 150 potential candidates identified by School Committee members, the search committee, and the broader school community and “had substantive phone, video, or in-person conversations with 71 individuals,” according to a memo by the firm dated March 12.
Fifty-seven individuals ultimately expressed interest in being considered for the job, including 39 who submitted resumes or other materials by March 12. Some individuals who had submitted materials withdrew from the search, the memo said.
The candidate pool represents a wide variety of backgrounds and includes nine women and 30 men. Two are Asian, 18 are black, 15 are white, and four are Latino, according to a March 12 memo by Isaacson, Miller, which is based in Boston. Ten candidates work in Massachusetts, and two dozen have doctorates.
The interest level in the position appears to be slightly higher than national norms. Searches for large urban systems nationwide typically yield between 10 and 30 qualified applicants, according to the Council of the Great City Schools, a membership-advocacy organization representing the nation’s largest school systems.
The candidate pool, however, is about half the size of the search from four years ago, which might be due to the differences of the lengths of those two searches. This search has been in process for a fraction of the time of the previous search, which experienced several delays that resulted in an interim at the helm for nearly two years.
Boston has long been considered an attractive post because the School Committee is appointed by the mayor, eliminating political jockeying among board members seeking reelection and providing stability to board membership. Boston also is among one of the better urban systems nationwide with a wealth of nonprofit partners eager to help out.
But Massachusetts’ requirement that all finalists must be publicly named can deter applications from experienced superintendents who may not want to damage relationships in their current districts if they don’t prevail in the search.
And the dynamics between Walsh and Chang could give some potential candidates pause. The two appeared to be at odds at times, even though both insisted their relationship was solid. Ultimately, Chang resigned last June after talking with Walsh, taking the School Committee, which had given him positive reviews, by surprise.
Barbara Fields, who belongs to a coalition of about two dozen organizations representing educators, parents, and education advocates who would like a strong leader in place by next school year, questioned whether the pool was large enough.
“Based on the job qualifications calling for five years plus as a superintendent, they only have 12 qualified candidates at most,” said Fields, a retired Boston school district administrator who oversaw diversity hiring efforts. “I don’t know the caliber of the 12. But if they all have five years of experience and are strong candidates, [then] that might be fine.”