BOSTON Nearly two years after Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson announced her retirement after almost six years on the job, city schools are about to get a new leader.
The Boston School Committee votes Tuesday night on the new school superintendent from four finalists. All four are men — two are Latino, one is Black and one is Asian.
They all tout track records of tackling tough issues with challenging school populations. And they all list closing achievement gaps, improving graduation rates and programs for English language learners as top priorities for the Boston schools.
The only candidate with any experience in the Boston Schools is Guadalupe Guerrero. He is currently a deputy superintendent in San Francisco. He worked in Boston for 10 years, first as a teacher and then as the principal of the Dever School in Dorchester.
Guerrero says his dream is to become a school superintendent, and that finding the right timing to pursue this dream has been a major part of his decision to apply in Boston now.
“I’ve had a very deliberate career, traditional pathway of successive leadership roles. I’m trained to be a superintendent, I intend to be a superintendent,” he said. “The issue for me has been, when is the right situation? When is the right time?”
Guerrero left Boston in 2008 to return to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he grew up, but says he has remained connected to Boston.
“I [came] back to the Boston area, I have for the last several years, just because I’m a doctoral, I’ve been a doctoral student,” he said.
Guerrero’s application had said he was on hiatus from a doctoral program at Harvard University’s graduate school of education. But Harvard says Guerrero was terminated from the program. The online application now no longer mentions the doctoral program.
Guerrero lists improving English language learning as a top priority for schools, and candidate Tommy Chang says such programs are a particularly strong concern for him.
“As an English learner, I went through a difficult time transitioning in this country, because I did not know the language,” Chang said.
Chang is an area schools superintendent in Los Angeles. He came to this country from Taiwan.
“I’m an immigrant. I came here at the age of 6 because my parents believed there were greater opportunities for my brother and I,” he said.
In Los Angeles, the former biology teacher has developed special schools for students with the greatest challenges, including those with language barriers and physical disabilities.
“In terms of students with disabilities, I have seen too often students segregated in school settings because of their disabilities,” he said. “It is a travesty that students who could be in the general ed setting, safely and productively, it is a travesty seeing them segregated.
“That inclusive environment was not only better for kids with disabilities, but for all students on campus,” he said.
Another major concern for Chang is the technology gap in Boston schools.
“Imagine the power of students in Boston if they all had access to technology so they could weigh in on the issues that matter most to them,” he said.
The technology gap is a concern shared by superintendent candidate Dana Bedden, who is currently superintendent of schools in Richmond, Virginia. Of the final four, he is the only candidate who is a sitting superintendent.
He sees Boston as fertile ground for mining resources to help public schools.
“Most people would tell you that in our industry, we see Boston has a lot of opportunity with its infrastructure. It has a lot of opportunity with the resources around it, with your higher ed, your business community,” he said. “There is a desire to be innovative.”
Bedden has been an education professional for more than 20 years. He was a regional superintendent in Philadelphia, before heading school districts in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas. He has only been in Richmond for about a year.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and top education officials in that state are urging him to stay. Bedden says he’s only thinking of changing jobs so soon now, because it’s Boston.
“The tilting of the scales was because of what the position and where the position was, and the rarity of the opportunity in Boston,” he said. “Because I don’t come into the situation thinking it’s going to be easy. It’s not going to be a piece of cake.”
The final candidate is a man with a name that’s beloved among sports fans here. Pedro Martinez says he’s used to people associating him with the soon-to-be Red Sox Hall of Fame pitcher.
For example, at fundraising events for the Catholic archdiocese of Chicago, Martinez said his name was frequently recognized.
“We always had pre-seating so people knew who was coming,” he explained. “So it was a lot of big donors from the community, and they would see the name ‘Pedro Martinez,’ and they’d look at me, and then they’d be disappointed. You know, I always took it in stride.”
Martinez has never been a teacher nor a principal. With degrees in accounting and finance, he began work in the financial industry and then became chief financial officer with the Chicago Public Schools system. He later became a deputy superintendent at two school districts in Nevada before becoming superintendent of the Washoe School District — a position he held until last year.
Martinez values performance metrics for schools, and he said he wants to see big improvements in Boston.
“When I look at a graduation rate that’s 67 percent, [with a] 1 percent gain over three years,” he said. “When I look at 36 percent of our children that are proficient at third grade, the low results for AP compared to Reno, Nevada, I see myself.”
By that, Martinez means he sees himself and many children in Boston living the life of the inner city kid, where education makes a difference.
His goal for Boston is to gain a graduation rate of at least 85 percent in a district where all students are proficient in third grade.
The school committee makes its selection at a special meeting Tuesday night at 6 p.m. Committee members say they’re carefully weighing public comments from meetings last week, as well as comments left on the BPS website.