School officials hope to list finalists for superintendent by early next year

Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Jul. 17, 2013

Boston Public Schools officials are hoping to have a new superintendent in place by early next year, a time frame that would have finalists for the position in place in January or February, shortly after the swearing-in of the next mayor.

Soon after Mayor Thomas Menino announced in March that he would not be seeking a sixth term, Superintendent Carol Johnson, who had held the job for six years, said she would be stepping down. In May, the School Committee chose John McDonough, the school system’s chief financial officer, to serve in the role as the School Committee and a search panel seek out the next Dr. Johnson.

“For the next leader, we want someone to keep us going in the direction that we’re headed,” said Michael O’Neill, the School Committee’s chair.

O’Neill noted that school administrators are implementing an overhaul of the system’s student assignment plan that was agreed to earlier this year, upping quality in Level 2 and Level 3 schools, and putting together teacher and principal evaluations. “We don’t envision a dramatic change for the district,” he said.

School officials hope to hold a series of community meetings later this summer, gathering input on a host of policy issues and seeking input on whether they’re on the right track, and what key characteristics the next superintendent should bring to the job.

The seven-member School Committee, in consultation with the mayor’s office, will then name a search panel, likely made up of nine individuals, including several committee members. A half-dozen people have already volunteered to be on the panel, O’Neill said.

Then school officials will hire a search firm, which will post the job and vet the potential candidates, who are likely be senior leaders in other school districts.

Boston isn’t the only district going through a search: According to a list put together for the School Committee, other systems include Atlanta, Baltimore, Clark County in Nevada, Indianapolis, Memphis, Oakland, Prince George’s County, and Richmond, Virginia, among others.

O’Neill said the committee envisions the job being posted in early October or November, a time when the two top finishers in the Sept. 24 mayoral preliminary will be slugging it out, with Election Day slated for Nov. 6.

O’Neill, who lives in Charlestown and works at Savings Bank Life Insurance, said he’s hopeful that the search panel will narrow the pool of candidates by early next year, as the next mayor takes office. “That’s a rough timetable,” he said.

Several mayoral candidates have raised concerns that a superintendent will be appointed before voters select a new mayor. But City Councillor At-Large John Connolly, who chairs the Council’s Education Committee and has made education a central part of his mayoral campaign, says he doubts anybody would take the job without knowing who their next boss will be.

“I think it’s really important that the next mayor be able to pick the superintendent and I find it highly unlikely that a high quality candidate would take the job before the next mayor is in place,” Connolly said. “They would want to know they would have the backing of whoever the next mayor is.”

O’Neill said the committee is cognizant of that, noting that a superintendent-to-be would want certainty in whom he or she will answer to. By the time the committee and search panel identifies the finalists, the name of the next mayor, and the direction of the city, will be clear, he said.