School & District Management

Rochester, N.Y., Schools Chief Picked for Top Job in Boston

By Catherine Gewertz — October 03, 2006 3 min read
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The Boston school board is expected this week to formally tap Manuel J. Rivera, the Rochester, N.Y., schools chief, as the district’s next superintendent, a move many hope will shift the focus from a difficult search process to planning for the city’s children.

At its Oct. 4 meeting, the Boston School Committee was scheduled to hear—and was widely expected to accept—its search committee’s unanimous recommendation to hire Mr. Rivera, who would be the district’s first Hispanic leader. The co-chairs of the committee would then begin negotiating a contract, which would need school board approval.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who appoints Boston’s school board and counts the superintendent among his Cabinet members, announced on Sept. 22 that Mr. Rivera was the search committee’s choice to succeed Thomas W. Payzant, who retired in June after nearly 11 years. In Rochester the same day, Mr. Rivera announced his decision to leave for Boston in July 2007.

The announcements cap a tumultuous period that put the 57,000-student district in the national headlines both for its celebrations and its frustrations. Last month, the district won the Broad Prize for Urban Education. But over the summer, four respected educators—including Mr. Rivera—declared they were not interested in running Boston’s schools after The Boston Globe identified them as finalists for the job. (“Schools Chief Search Off Schedule in Boston” July 26, 2006.)

Mr. Rivera said he had agreed to advise Boston on its search, but did not wish to be considered a candidate. Elizabeth Reilinger, who chairs Boston’s school board and co-chairs its search committee, said in an interview last week that Mr. Rivera was the committee’s top choice “from the get-go,” so the members kept pressing him to reconsider.

Willing to Wait

The Rochester superintendent said last week that the panel’s willingness to wait until next summer was pivotal to his decision because he wanted to complete the school year in his current district, where major initiatives, such as opening new small high schools, are under way. Personal factors also influenced his decision: His mother lives in Connecticut, and he has grandchildren in Massachusetts.

Mr. Rivera, 54, has worked in the 34,000-student Rochester district for most of the past 30 years, as a teacher and administrator, and, since 2002, as its superintendent. He has drawn national praise for improving student achievement and engaging the public. The American Association of School Administrators named him the National Superintendent of the Year in February.

The original search process in Boston envisioned that several finalists would engage in public forums. Some community groups were reportedly disgruntled that in choosing only one finalist, the search committee left the public with little role in the choice.

Mindful of those sentiments, Mr. Rivera met with key education activists in Boston last week. He said some of those present “clearly made their point” that they would have preferred being able to talk with multiple finalists, but didn’t let that concern get in the way of a “great discussion” about what needs to be done in the Boston schools.

Caprice Taylor Mendez, the director of the Boston Parents Organizing Network, said her group is ready to move forward to focus on ways to sustain public engagement, an area in which some experts viewed Mr. Payzant’s otherwise strong record as relatively weak.

Mr. Rivera said he would use the coming months to study the district top to bottom, and said he considers it a given that parents, teachers, principals, union leaders, and others will be partners in the work ahead.

“That’s just the way I operate,” he said. “It takes times time and energy, but I’m ready for it.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 04, 2006 edition of Education Week as Rochester, N.Y., Schools Chief Picked for Top Job in Boston

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