School & District Management

The Appeal of the Boston Superintendent’s Job

By Denisa R. Superville — October 13, 2014 2 min read
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New England winters can be terribly, terribly brutal. And if you’re not a Red Sox or Patriots fan, life might be pretty lonely.

Even still, there are a number of reasons why someone might want to leave, say, Florida, and move to Beantown to run the 57,000-student school district.

In Boston, world-class universities abound; some of the best medical research centers are located there; it’s one of the most educated cities in the country; and the entire metropolis is steeped in history. Perhaps most enticing for any aspiring Boston superintendent—the city’s school district is among the most stable urban systems in the country.

At last count, 41 people (including 23 superintendents, three principals and a brigade commander) have expressed interest in running the Boston district—America’s original public school system. Some of the would-be schools chiefs are already used to cold winters (New Hampshire and New Jersey are well represented in the group, with five candidates hailing from each of those states, and a couple of candidates from Minnesota), but other prospects would be trading in the warmer climes (and mild winters) of Texas, Florida and Georgia.

But the downside (for some) of Boston’s cold winters are more than made up for in other ways. Here’s a selling pitch, of sorts, from Lee McGuire, the district’s chief of communications:

“Boston has an excellent reputation as a national leader in urban education,” he said. “On the [National Assessment of Educational Progress] NAEP, our students tend to score among the highest of any urban district, and, at the same time, we are also among the most diverse in terms of the percentage of students with disabilities, as well as our large population of English-language learners.”

McGuire goes on: “We believe this puts Boston in the unique position of being a district that has enormous potential for innovation and excellence,” he said. “Boston is home to some of the best public schools in the nation, as well as leading colleges and universities and a philanthropic community that is deeply invested in student success.”

As urban systems go, Boston has mostly avoided the more recent bouts of drama and politics of say Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. And unlike Chicago and until recently New York City, where many view mayoral control of schools as very top-down and heavy-handed, Boston mayors—including Mayor Martin J. Walsh—have given the schools superintendents wide latitude to implement reforms and run the schools.

By any measure, the number of candidates who’ve signaled they want the job is not entirely out of the ball park for a large city. (Recall that the Orleans Parish School Board in New Orleans, which directly oversees six schools and 10 charter schools, had 63 persons express interest by summer, though the search there has been ongoing for two years.) McGuire described the interest as “healthy” and said that, according to the search firm helping with the superintendent search, the number is slightly above what was expected at this point. The search is still continuing, so the number could grow until the committee narrows down the list by the end of January.

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