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opinion | Marcela García

Winners, losers as BPS gains a new superintendent

Tommy Chang was named the new superintendent of Boston Public Schools.
Tommy Chang was named the new superintendent of Boston Public Schools.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe staff/file)

The 18-month search for the new chief of Boston schools concluded Tuesday night with the School Committee choosing Tommy Chang from Los Angeles as the next superintendent in a 5-2 vote. “It was an exhilarating process,” Michael O’Neill, committee chairman, told the crowd before the vote. More than anything, the process was exhausting — and bewildering at times. Here are the winners and losers.

Winners

Richmond City Schools. Going into the final phase of the search for a new superintendent, it was clear that Dr. Dana Bedden had been singled out as the favorite — many students, parents, and union members had expressed their full support. But Bedden withdrew as a candidate less than an hour before the committee meeting was slated to start, announcing he had decided to stay in his current position as superintendent of Richmond Public Schools in Virginia. Bedden’s candidacy for the Boston post had caused the community in Richmond to mobilize; a petition named “Better with Bedden” was launched to keep him there, and almost 1,000 people signed it. Richmond, you win.

Interim superintendent John McDonough. In almost two years at the helm of the Boston Public Schools, McDonough demonstrated clear leadership and deep insight into the district’s psyche. Many — including the Globe editorial page — had advocated for him to stay permanently as chief of the schools. In tonight’s meeting, McDonough’s short tenure as superintendent was celebrated many times, and he received a standing ovation. He leaves a lasting legacy.

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School Committee member Regina Robinson. Throughout public forums with the four finalists, Robinson emerged as an energizing voice. Her questions were thoughtful and refreshing, and in tonight’s session she joined Miren Uriarte – the only Latino member of the school committee – in a passionate drive in support of Pedro Martinez, the Latino candidate who was also endorsed by the Greater Boston Latino Network. Both teared up as they spoke about Martinez’s cultural sensitivity and his potential to motivate and inspire Latino students, who at 41 percent comprise the largest ethnic/racial group in the Boston schools. Uriarte and Robinson were the only committee members who voted for Martinez. Robinson was named to the school board by Mayor Walsh in December, and has already left a positive impression.

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Losers

A vocal fraction of parents, teachers, and students. Representatives of these key stakeholders in the Boston schools participated as panelists in the public forums – probing, asking questions, doing background research. In the end, they threw their support behind Bedden, in whom they saw the leader BPS had been waiting for. But he withdrew his candidacy, and their school savior was gone.

Greater Boston Latino Network. A relatively new coalition of 11 Latino-led nonprofits from the region, the Greater Boston Latino Network has already started to elevate its collective voice to advocate for Latinos in Boston. They publicly endorsed Pedro Martinez as the next superintendent. “The Latino community is loudly demanding that Martinez be chosen. He has inspired us and given us hope for the first time in many years,” a Latina mother told the school board before the vote. Another attendee spoke of the importance of bringing Latino leadership to a district that’s becoming increasingly Hispanic. And yet, the Latinos’ endorsement was only able to muster two committee member votes.

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The “public process.” I have never been one to argue against transparency. Including the voice and feedback of the community at-large in the superintendent search should be applauded. But there is a downside in opening up the process too much – it scares away candidates who get turned off by being exposed as job seekers. In the end, Boston may have lost in the tradeoff between transparency and candidate quality.

Marcela García is a Globe editorial writer. Follow her on Twitter: @marcela_elisa.

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