School & District Management

Boston Mayor Menino, Who Helped Transform City’s Schools, Dies at 71

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — October 30, 2014 1 min read
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Guest post by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Thomas M. Menino, the popular mayor of Boston who had authority over the city’s schools throughout his 20-year tenure, died Oct. 30 of cancer. He was 71.

Mr. Menino took office in 1993, two years after the 57,000-student district came under mayoral control. He announced last year that he would not seek a sixth term as mayor, opening the door to a potential shift in education policy for the city.

The mayor handpicked the Boston school committee, which oversees the city’s schools, and, over two decades, Mr. Menino entrusted the school system’s leadership to just two permanent superintendents. Both Thomas W. Payzant, who served more than 11 years, and Carol Johnson, who served nearly seven years, presided over systemic changes and steady improvements that helped propel Boston’s reputation as a model for urban districts.

Under Mr. Menino, Boston avoided the upheaval of widespread school closures and, because of state law, did not experience the speedy pace of charter school growth that marked other mayoral takeovers of districts such as those in New York City and Chicago.

“Mayor Menino was my teacher,” Ms. Johnson said in a statement on the district’s website. “He never let anyone forget that, as public servants, our obligation is to serve every child as well as we possibly can, without exception.”

A commemorative page on the district’s website credits the mayor with leading the transformation of the school system “from a failing school district to one of the most renowned urban public school systems in the country.” It lists the district’s achievements under his leadership, including the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2006, as well as gains in graduation rates and national assessment results.

Mr. Menino was diagnosed with advanced cancer in February 2014, shortly after leaving office, and announced Oct. 23 he was suspending treatment and a book tour so he could spend more time with family and friends, according to the Associated Press.

Photo: Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino reads to Boston-area elementary schoolchildren during the kick off of the back-to-school All Books for Children Book Drive in 1999. The drive benefitted literacy groups in the city. (William Plowman/AP-File)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.