School & District Management

Boston Selects New Superintendent of Schools

By Denisa R. Superville — March 04, 2015 4 min read
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The Boston School Committee has chosen Tommy Chang, an instructional superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District, as its new superintendent, capping off a lengthy, nearly two-year search for a new schools chief.

Chang, 39, will start on July 1, though the details of his salary and the rest of his compensation package are still to be negotiated. He received a 5-2 nod from the school committee and had the backing of Mayor Marty Walsh.

“Dr. Chang will provide the leadership that our school system needs and I am confident that his innovative views on education will move our students forward,” Walsh said in a statement. “We need a transformative leader and that is Tommy Chang.”

Chang was one of four finalists in the running to lead the 57,000-student system. Other finalists were: Dana Bedden, the superintendent of Richmond public schools in Richmond, Va.; Pedro Martinez, the former Washoe County, Nev., superintendent who was appointed in January as Nevada’s superintendent-in-residence to oversee the state’s lowest-performing schools; and Guadalupe Guerrero, the deputy superintendent of instruction, innovation, and social justice in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Bedden, who, according to The Boston Globe was the favorite among many teachers, students and parents, pulled out about an hour or so before the school committee made its final decision on Tuesday night. The Richmond school district, where Bedden has been at the helm since last year, did not want to see him go. The community mounted a campaign, “Better with Bedden,” to convince him to stay. Nearly 800 people had signed an online petition by the time it closed at the end of February.

The Boston superintendent search process was public and exhaustive. Last week, finalists participated in public interviews with the school committee and community forums, answering questions from teachers, students, and parents. All of the finalists’ applications were posted online, and the community was encouraged to send in their feedback to the school committee.

Notably, three of the finalists were English-language learners in school. Bedden, who was never an ELL, had worked in districts with high populations of second-language learners. (At Boston Public Schools, 44 percent of students speak a first language other than English at home.)

Chang will take over from John McDonough, the district’s longtime chief financial officer who has been serving as interim superintendent since former superintendent Carole Johnson left in August 2013.

In a profile of Chang in the run-up to the selection, The Boston Globe said that the Los Angeles administrator had built a reputation for having “a quick mind, collaborative approach, and a strong conviction that schools should have the flexibility to experiment.”

In Los Angeles Unified, Chang runs the Intensive Support and Innovation Center, where he oversees 135 of the district’s low-performing and pilot schools. In that capacity, he worked with parents who used California’s “parent trigger” law to transform one of the district’s failing schools. That attitude was a welcome departure from the pushback such parents face in other districts, Gabe Rose, chief strategy officer of Parent Revolution, told The Globe.

He said he believes in giving schools freedom and setting high expectations for students. He also focuses on special education students and narrowing the achievement gap—all of which are areas of emphasis for the district.

WBUR said that Chang, who was born in Taiwan and came to the United States when he was six years old, focused on developing programs for children with disabilities and who faced language barriers.

Chang, who was a biology teacher at Compton High School early in his career, told The Boston Globe that he considers himself foremost a teacher.

“You need an intense focus on instruction,” he said. “If you don’t change what’s going on in the classroom, things aren’t going to change.”

Chang has an undergraduate degree in religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Doctorate in Education from Loyola Marymount University. His experience spans both regular public and charter schools—from his time teaching in Compton to serving as a principal of a charter school (part of the Green Dot Public Schools network) in Venice, Ca.

“I have devoted my career serving urban communities and believe that I am uniquely prepared and positioned to lead and inspire a school district to become a model of urban education in our country,” he wrote in his application. “I believe deeply that Boston Public Schools can be the proof point for the rest of the nation for how to provide a world-class education in a diverse community so that every youth graduates college and career ready to contribute to American democracy and to a global society.”

Photo: Tommy Chang, the newly named superintendent for the Boston school district. Courtesy of Boston Public Schools

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