Boston's most prestigious single-sex Catholic high school has accepted a woman — but not as a student.
The board of Boston College High School announced Thursday that Grace Cotter Regan would come aboard as its first female president.
She comes to BC High as something like royalty. Her father was an alumnus and football coach for 50 years before he passed away in 2010, after a struggle with ALS. Her son, Bartley, was a quarterback at the school before he graduated in 2012.
Still, Regan was surprised when she learned she got the job.
"I never thought it would be a possibility to be the president of BC High. I never thought honestly that they would consider a woman," she said.
In a letter, the search committee cited Regan's past success in school leadership and her commitment to Catholic education, as well as her family ties to BC High, as their reasons for choosing her.
As the first female president, Regan might be expected to find it a bit lonely at the top. The school remains all-male after a controversy that divided the school's board earlier this year. But Regan, who went to the all-girls' Notre Dame Academy, doesn't see that as a problem.
"I'm the product of single sex, and my boys are as well — both of my sons, my husband," she said. "I really like single-sex education."
Not everyone agrees, however. Sociologist Paul LePore grew up in Boston and conducted a study of single-sex Catholic schools 20 years ago. He says even then, it was clear that the arguments for single-gender schools were not supported by the data.
If test scores are higher at schools like BC High, LePore said, it may be because of selective admissions and higher household incomes rather than sexual segregation.
"The students are different to begin with," he explained. "They come from more advantaged backgrounds. There wasn't a sense that single-gender schools were doing much for male or female students."
But Regan says a single-gender school doesn't have to be homogenous — and that she is committed to seeing the school grow in others kinds of diversity under her leadership. She says she wants her president to reflect where she's coming from.
For the past five years, Regan has been head of St. Mary's of Lynn, a co-ed Catholic school where citydwellers, low-income and immigrant students make up a large part of the student body.
"What an amazing experience to have a truly diverse school where some students are blessed and some are not in the same way, but they're all on the same level playing field," she said. "And I feel that that's as important at BC High."
She says she will ask donors to see some students as "mission kids" worth admitting with scholarships: low-income students and immigrants not from Ireland or Italy, as many of the school's earliest students were, but from Central and South America.
"Now we have a whole other population of, again, those who are blessed and those who are less blessed," she says, "but we have to make that commitment, from a justice perspective."
Regan will replace the outgoing president, William Kemeza, gradually, but she expects to be settled in and working on her own mission during the next school year.
This segment aired on August 25, 2017.