State appoints ex-BPS head as receiver for Dever school

Rachel Skerritt, the headmaster of Boston Latin School (left) with Michael Contompasis, the school’s former headmaster, last year.

The state has appointed a new receiver for the Paul A. Dever Elementary School: former Boston Public Schools commissioner and Boston Latin School headmaster Michael Contompasis.

The long-struggling Dever is a Level 5 underperforming school on Columbia Point that has been in state-mandated receivership for years. Contompasis replaces Jeffrey Riley, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who, in turn, had just replaced temporary receiver Tommy Chang, who stepped down as superintendent of the public school system earlier this year.

In a letter announcing the appointment, Riley said Contompasis “will work closely alongside” the Dever’s principal, Todd Fishburn. “I am confident in their combined ability to build upon the progress Dever has already made and address student’s needs,” Riley wrote.

The Dever has had a rocky few years in receivership, with the K1-5 school currently in its fourth year of Level 5 turnaround.

Chang took over the post in July 2017, after the Newton-based nonprofit Blueprint Schools Network did not renew its three-year contract for the role. The turnaround school saw some academic improvement under the nonprofit’s oversight, including a boost in math scores.

In August 2017, the state determined that the Dorchester school would remain in “chronically underperforming status,” and the turnaround plan was renewed for three years. A letter renewing the plan touted improvements in “student learning and achievement” leading to a more positive school culture for students and staff. But, it also noted, “student performance on English language arts (ELA) and mathematics state assessments are not yet showing a consistent positive trajectory.”

Students at the Dever school are largely non-white, according to state data. About 25 percent are African-American, 61 percent are Hispanic, 6 percent are Asian, and 5 percent are white. Of the student body, about 57 percent speak something other than English as their first language and 47.5 percent are English Language Learners.

The Dever serves a large population of vulnerable students, with 80.6 percent of the student “economically disadvantaged” and 91 percent of the students classified as “high needs.” About 14 percent are students with disabilities.

Chang amended the turnaround plan in his time as receiver. The school’s calendar did not align with the broader district, resulting in 10 to 20 percent less student attendance for Dever students on days when BPS was not in session. The state approved Chang’s move to reduce the number of student days from 186 days to 180 and increase the length of the student day by 10 minutes each day.

Contompasis has a long career with the Boston Public Schools, beginning as a biology and chemistry teacher at East Boston High School and later teaching at Hyde Park High School and Boston Latin School. He was headmaster at Latin from 1976 to 1998. Before serving as superintendent of the school system from 2005 to 2007, he had been the chief operating officer for the BPS for about seven years. He returned as interim headmaster of BLS in 2016, after serving in the non-profit sector for a time as a senior field director of Mass Insight Education.

(Editor's note: This story was updated on Aug. 20 with earlier coverage on math improvements.)

Jennifer Smith can be reached at jennifer.smith@dotnews.com, or follow her on Twitter at @JennDotSmith