Waiting for a Super Man

Who will be the next superintendent of the Boston Public Schools (and who really gets to decide???)

waitingIt’s a bird. No–it’s a plane. No–it’s actually snow. Why it’s snowing men, reader! Four men to be precise, each of whom longs to lead the Boston Public Schools. But first these *he’s* must make their way through a gauntlet of challenges: like using *innovation* three different ways in a sentence, putting the best spin possible on a veritable closet full of edu-skeletons, and engaging in a marathon’s worth of glad-handing with *stakeholders.* So who is to be our Super man? Full disclosure: I have no idea, but I suggest that we meet them quickly as a decision is imminent.

There’s this guy
GuerreroOK, so it’s probably not going to be this guy, one Guadalupe Guerrero, but let’s at least tip our tri-cornered hats in the direction of San Francisco, from which he now hails. Rumored to have been the mayor’s Super man, Guerrero is the only mandidate with Boston experience. Alas, that experience consisted of leading a school that has since been taken over by the state. There is a metaphor lurking here somewhere, reader, but before I could come up with one, the news broke that Guerrero had been, gasp, kicked out of a doctoral program at Harvard… Bold prediction: Guerrero leaves to lead another day.

And this guy
And so we move onto to Tommy Chang, who I’m pleased to announce is my kind of guy, by which I mean NOT my designated choice to lead the Boston Public Schools, but the *kind of guy* to whom I have devoted so many words on this page. A former Teacher for America, Chang’sChang meteoric rise catapulted him out of a Compton classroom and into the principal’s office of a Green Dot charter high school, then into a three piece suit as an *advocate* for the California Charter Schools Association. But wait–he still had further to soar. In 2011 Chang was made special assistant to LA’s then superintendent, the ethically embattled Dr. John Deasy, who then further elevated Chang to a special position overseeing LA high schools in need of special attention. I will pause here lest you are feeling vertiginous.

Still with me? Good. Because it is at this point in our story that gravity begins to work her inevitable force. Remember last fall, reader, when students at Boston’s Madison Park High School walked out because they had no schedule weeks into the school year, a scandal over which the headmaster would ultimately resign? Now imagine if that situation had dragged on for months, leaving students to languish in state of such outrageous neglect and incompetence that the students not only protested, but sued, winning a temporary restraining order and forcing the state to intervene. Um, so this is precisely what went down at LA’s Jefferson High School, which Chang oversaw, and whose principal he removed before a replacement was found, producing even more chaos. In fact, the scandal was so scandalous, that it contributed to the ouster of Chang’s boss, Dr. John Deasy. Note: for *visual learners* I’m helpfully including a link to a video of a special LAUSD Board hearing on what happened at Jefferson, including testimony from students and parents and pointed questions from Board members to Chang regarding his role.

What would be a good analogy here? Ah–I can think of one. It would be as if the humbled former headmaster of Madison Park was now in the running to lead all of Boston’s schools. Bold prediction: Despite being the fave candidate of the Boston Foundation, et al, Dr. Chang and his meteor will not alight in Boston.

And this guy
Congratulations, reader. You’ve made it to the half-way point. Shall we pause briefly in order to freshen our beverages? Next up is Pedro Martinez of the Martinezstate recently voted most likely to run out of water the most soonest. Alas Mr. Martinez too is not unencumbered by what we will delicately refer to here as a *backstory.* His journey to Boston began last summer after a nasty break up with his then school board in Washoe County, NV over the fiercely urgent question of whether he was was or wasn’t he a licensed CPA. Since this misunderstanding does not involve a degree from Harvard, let us speed right along. The incident seems to have left Mr. Martinez with a decided distaste for school boards, and perhaps that whole democracy thing, as evidenced here in a live chat about his current job, which entails establishing the democracy-free-zone to be known as Nevada’s Achievement School District.

But who is Pedro Martinez, other than a former CFO to Arne Duncan in Chicago and proud graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy? He is what is known in the parlance of Fifty Shades as a dominant, reader–something that was on full display in his *stakeholder* interviews. And while his tough talk thrilled back in Reno, and set the more business-minded of his interlocutors a-tingle, Martinez also seemed to parry a lot of questions about his, ahem, management style. Bold prediction: Could likely end up on top before it all ends in tears.

And finally, this guy
BeddenAt last we’ve reached the last of our would-be Super men. And I’ve saved the best for last, meaning that Richmond, Virginia’s Dana Bedden actually seems to have the qualifications to do the job. Also he is the only one of our candidates who is the subject of a grassroots petition drive urging him to stay in Richmond, and a hashtag campaign: #betterwithbedden. As the hashtags accompanying the other would-be Super men seem to be more of the #goodluckwiththisguy variety, I took it upon myself to do a little grassroots journalism and actually talk to some of the people in his district. *We hate him,* one parent and former teacher told me. *For leaving.* And after watching one of Bedden’s interview sessions this week, I can see why. In an era of reform-speak and jargonics, Bedden comes across as refreshingly human. In fact, having developed a bit of an educrush, I’m recusing myself from further commentary on this candidate, except to make a Bold prediction: Should get it, still could get it.

Who will it be????
Now for a brief note on process, or prōcess as we would still be prōnouncing it had democracy not taken root here four score and seven years ago. Oh never mind. The point is that while the process of selecting the Super man is public, meaning that a great many people have gotten to ask questions and express opinions, it is not democratic, meaning that the final decision rests in the hands of the mayor, after he accepts the pre-decision of the appointed School Committee next week. And here is where things get interesting. You see, everyone who is anyone who is also an elite is *highly aligned* on where the Boston schools are headed: to a system of choice in which the majority of schools choose their students and the remaining district schools are for those students who have no choice.  Except that this vision is not particularly popular with the constituents upon whom Mayor Marty Walsh must depend to choose him at the polls when he runs for re-election. Another big city mayor learned that lesson the hard way this week…

Send tips, comments and bold predictions to tips@haveyouheardblog.com.

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20 Comments

    1. I’ve heard from people who can’t stand Martinez and others who really like him. I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world to end up with a superintendent who advocates for English Language Learners. Thirty percent of Boston’s students fit this description and they’ve fared really poorly under the various efforts to choice-i-fy the system.

      1. But at what cost? From my linked article:

        “Basically, the schools would start over,” according to former Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who the governor tapped to draw up the Achievement District with officials from the Nevada Department of Education.

        Their goal: Convince lawmakers and the public that drastic times have called for drastic measures. If the Legislature doesn’t change state law this year granting takeover power to the Achievement District, it won’t even exist.

        “There are going to be a lot of questions,” said Seth Rau, policy director for educational advocacy nonprofit Nevada Succeeds, advising state officials during planning of the Achievement District.

        He anticipates a lot of new teachers at these schools and almost universal replacement of school principals and their administrators as charters make sure the people match their missions.”

  1. seems like some are concerned that bedden doesn’t stick around long at each job

    1. I thought Bedden’s answers to questions about this were refreshingly candid: Boston is tier 1. But people in Richmond really are pissed that he’s leaving. The city conducted a big national search and now even if Bedden doesn’t get the Boston job, he’s let it be known that he’s on the market.

      1. that sounds good, but what if LA or NYC or Chicago comes up? Isn’t that the next logical leap for someone who seems to be climbing?

  2. The movement of the corporate “nuts” in the giant shell game of corporate reform…

  3. With these finalists, it’s hard to accept the decision
    to not develop and promote from within the system.

  4. As a public school teacher from Southern California, it is frightening to see Tommy Chang on the short-list of candidates for consideration for the very important job of Superintendent of Boston’s Public Schools. He built his career not as a public educator, but as a man on a mission to privatize our schools. After a brief stint with Teach for America – a program that places elite college students with little training instructing our most needy populations – he was instrumental in LA’s charter school movement – an effort to shift public monies to schools while lacking public oversight. Time spent in the public sector? Brief and fraught with mayhem. The school he was sent to turn around – Jefferson High School – still fraught with scheduling snafus which have reached national scrutiny and was part of the downfall of ex-LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy who was ousted last fall. Boston, please vet your candidates thoroughly. In my opinion, selecting a candidate like Chang is a vote for the profiteers who are ruthless in trying to gain market share of our public school funds. Given too many opportunities for their public/private hybrids to outperform public schools, they’ve failed in almost every instance. Do the research for yourself.

  5. None of them are qualified to be Superintendent in Boston. Why are they the final candidates? Who made the cuts? This is pathetic. I’ve worked with graduates of the Boston High Schools that couldn’t subtract and didn’t know the alphabet. Just pathetic.

  6. Very nicely done, Ms. Shyster, though I think you underestimate the power of the Boston Foundation and its legion of bow-tie-sporting commandos. In addition to support from the Foundation, Dr. Chang also has the virtue of not being as threatening to the Mayor’s glow as some of the other candidates. I fear him as much as I fear the best right-handed pitcher in the past five decades.

    I cringe when I hear people talk about Dr. Bedden as the “safe” candidate. Since when was I on the side of safe? But there I am, right along side you, thoung still not suffering the educrush.

    1. Greetings imperfect pal – no doubt you are correct. I DO tend to underestimate the bow-tied commandos, if only because I find them so dreary. Whoever gets the nod the system is still a mess and the voices of y’all as they say in New Orleans from whence I am typing this will be more important than ever. My disinclination towards Dr. Chang has to do with one of my biggest complaints re Education Reform, Inc – that one can only fail up. And Bedden only looks like the safe candidate because he hasn’t effed up enough to be considered risky… We will see soon enough!

  7. I hope you know Guerrero was unfairly targeted. He of course was the candidate that made the most sense for Boston. Unfortunately he did not have the kind of backing that Chang and Martinez had. In the end, the Mayor and the Boston Foundation played the whole BPS community, but especially the Latino community….

  8. Well it’s a good thing I don’t bet money: Tommy Chang is the new BPS superintendent. From today’s Boston Globe:

    “Boston matters,” he said in a statement. “As the birthplace of public education in America, it needs to serve as the model for what public education can be, not only in the United States but the world.’’

    Chang added that he shared Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s desire “to spur innovation and support innovation in every neighborhood. . . . I believe the innovation starts with schools, and I ask all Bostonians to partner up with schools to create beacons of academics, culture, and innovation in every neighborhood.”

    1. And it’s a good thing I don’t have money to bet as my prediction turned out to be somewhat, ahem, off the mark. And I can’t help but notice that Chang uses innovation three times in the same sentence in this quote…

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