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In LA, Boston's New Superintendent Seen As A 'Hands-On' Administrator04:27
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Tommy Chang will begin as superintendent on July 1. Here he is with students at a graduation ceremony at Ánimo Venice Charter High School, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. (Courtesy of LAUSD)MoreCloseclosemore
Tommy Chang will begin as superintendent on July 1. Here he is with students at a graduation ceremony at Ánimo Venice Charter High School, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. (Courtesy of LAUSD)

There's an iconic photo from the 1993 retirement celebration of Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird that shows him pulling open the jacket of his Los Angeles Lakers rival and longtime friend Magic Johnson, revealing a Celtics jersey underneath.

That photo now adorns the Twitter page of Tommy Chang, who is leaving his gig with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, to become the next Boston Public Schools superintendent.

Recently selected after a months-long search, Chang this week signed a five-year contract with a starting salary of $257,000.

Chang's Leadership In LA

"Tommy Chang has a leadership style that is very similar to mine. He doesn't micromanage," said Tommy Welch, principal of the Nava College Preparatory Academy in South Central Los Angeles.

Tommy Chang (Courtesy of BPS)
Tommy Chang (Courtesy of BPS)

Welch's school is one of several Chang oversaw as an instructional superintendent.

"He worked with some of the intensive support schools, schools that are struggling the most, as well as the innovative schools like mine," Welch said. "His geographic territory was the entire district. So with that, he has to be able to navigate the different neighborhoods."

In LA, Chang was in charge of 135 schools serving around 100,000 students. Boston has 128 schools and about 57,000 students.

In Boston, kids of color account for 87 percent of students. According to Monica Garcia, a member of the LA's Board of Education, in Chang's former district kids of color make up 91 percent of students.

Garcia says Chang's own life experience — his struggles as an English language learner who came to the U.S. with his family when he was 6 years old — shapes his work.

"I think that because of his experience as an immigrant child, there is an honesty and urgency about the way he considers academic achievement."

Monica Garcia, Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education member

"I think that because of his experience as an immigrant child, there is an honesty and urgency about the way he considers academic achievement," she said.

Under Chang, Struggling Schools Improved — But Challenges Persisted

During his time in LA, Chang faced several significant issues.

This school year, Jefferson High in South Central Los Angeles had its own version of the scheduling debacle that delayed the start of classes at Boston's Madison Park High School last fall.

Students spent weeks in the auditorium while their class schedules were sorted out.

And Garcia said that while struggling schools have largely improved under Chang's tenure, at least one school in Chang's district couldn't be fixed.

"There is one school in my district that he recommended that we shut down, and we did because there were many levels of trying to support that school and we just were not getting to the goals," she said. "He, with faculty and with others, recommended that we sunset that school and start again."

This time a year ago, Chang was also embroiled in a controversy over the removal of a respected science teacher, just as students were preparing for AP exams.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the teacher was removed "after two students turned in science projects that were designed to shoot small projectiles," which administrators deemed dangerous.

Parents protested, and there were petition drives.

"My impression was that any kind of publicity that would reflect negatively on the district, not surprisingly, was frowned upon by the district. And in that capacity, Mr. Chang was representing the district in not reacting positively with that protest group," said Joseph Kleinman, whose daughter was a student at the school during the controversy. "We wanted to get it resolved sooner rather than later."

Efforts to reach Chang for comment on the teacher's removal were unsuccessful.

A 'Hands-On' Educator Who Seeks 'A Clear Vision' For Schools

Nava College Prep Principal Welch said Boston should be ready for a big picture thinker. He sees Chang as a person who challenges traditional models and embraces innovative ideas.

"What is your school going to look like three or four years from now?" he said. "He really challenges us and expects us to have a clear vision of where we are going to go."

And Welch said Boston students and teachers should also be prepared to see a lot of Chang.

"He's hands on in the fact that he's not one of these guys in the office," Welch said. "He's going to go to the school site."

This segment aired on March 13, 2015.

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Delores Handy Twitter Reporter
Delores Handy was formerly a host and reporter at WBUR.

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