New school committee chair says aim is to close achievement, opportunity gaps

Michael Loconto, joined by his daughters, signed a city register as part of a ceremony marking his swearing-in as the new chairman of the Boston School Committee. Photo by Isabel Leon/Mayor’s Office

Marking the Boston School Committee’s first leadership change in five years, Michael Loconto, of West Roxbury, was unanimously elected by his colleagues last week as the new Boston School Committee chairman. He replaces Michael O’Neill, who decided against running for the office again.

Loconto, a 39-year-old attorney and father of three BPS students, is an in-house legal counsel for Curry College and one of Mayor Martin Walsh’s first appointees to the board, which was established in 1992. His election on Wednesday came on the same day that the mayor re-appointed him and fellow member Hardin Coleman to the board for another four years.

The new chairman thanked the mayor in his remarks at the committee meeting, saying that Walsh’s “commitment to this city and the district are an inspiration to me and a model for public service,” he said. “This committee shares his vision for the Boston Public Schools as a place that provides sterling educational opportunities for all students.”

There was concern by some in the school community over the prospect of Loconto as committee chairman given his response to the bell time changes that were proposed and then tabled last month. Under the proposal, which was approved by the board but will not be implemented this year after pushback, his three daughters would have kept their 8:30 a.m. start times at the Beethoven and Ohrenberger schools in West Roxbury while other schools would have faced dramatic changes with start times, leaving some elementary schools with times as early as 7:15 a.m.

Some parents booed Loconto and other committee members at a Dec. 13 meeting where Superintendent Tommy Chang defended the policy. For his part, Loconto said at the meeting that he knew many of the attendees and understood their concerns, but added, “this is good policy and it’s founded on something that we created over an extended period of time with an awful lot of public comment and an awful lot of public input.”

He also faced blowback in a December meeting on the proposal in West Roxbury. As reported in the Globe, a woman asked Loconto if the committee would delay the plan, to which he said no. He did not respond when the woman accused him of not caring about the new schedule’s effect on parents because his children attend schools where the times would not change.

Parents have weighed in on social media in the wake of Loconto’s election as chairman, amid discussions of the potential value of making the School Committee a publicly elected body, rather than one filled by mayoral appointment. Jamaica Plain mother Jane Miller suggested on Twitter that “electing Loconto despite parent concerns” might constitute a “mindless rubber stamp” on the part of the committee.

In the coming term, the committee will grapple with grade reconfiguration across the district, the budget, reviewing the results of renewed outreach and feedback on bell times, and negotiating a teachers’ contract.

Coleman, re-elected Wednesday as committee vice chairman, said that Loconto “will put the heart, the time, and soul into the job.” As chair, Loconto said, “we look forward to working with Mayor Walsh and his administration to continue to close opportunity and achievement gaps and make Boston Public Schools the first choice for parents in the city.”