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Boston Public School Superintendent Carol Johnson steps down

Howard Manly | 5/1/2013, 9:15 a.m.
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson has announced her retirement,...
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson has announced her retirement, citing the recent death of her husband. Johnson said she is proud of BPS’ progress, but “much remains to be done.”

In a tearful farewell address, Boston Public School Superintendent Carol Johnson announced last week that she was retiring at the end of this school year, citing the recent death of her husband.

Johnson leaves behind a record of many successes, ranging from improved MCAS scores, lower dropout rates and higher graduation rates, and several areas where she conceded “more work needs to be done,” the most significant of which is closing the achievement gap among whites, blacks and Latinos.  

“With a city full of passionate and committed educators and citizens who care deeply for our children,” Johnson said in a statement, “I am confident our schools are on a path to great success for every child.”

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino hired then Memphis School Superintendent Johnson six years ago and praised Johnson’s accomplishments during a period that saw a tumultuous overhaul of the city’s public school assignment process that begins in 2014.

“Dr. Johnson is one of the most compassionate, caring and talented superintendents in the United States,” Menino stated. “She continued the extraordinary transformation of our schools and from day one has focused on creating better schools and offering great classrooms for every child. I often say that she has one of the hardest jobs in the city and she has done it well. We are grateful for everything she has been able to accomplish for our city’s families.”

Johnson said she has informally suggested that the school committee appoint BPS Chief Financial Officer John McDonough as interim superintendent until a permanent replacement is found. McDonough stepped in to manage the 56,000-student-school system during days that Johnson traveled back to Memphis to care for her ailing husband. Committee members reportedly will begin officially searching for a temporary superintendent at their next meeting, on May 8.

Johnson, whose career in education spanned nearly four decades, earned about $267,000 annually and about $56,000 toward retirement plans. She will not receive any payouts for the remaining two years of her contract. Nor is she able to receive payments from the city’s pension program, because she worked for the city for less than 10 years.

Johnson cites among her accomplishments an increase in graduation rates to 65.9 percent, an increase of 14,000 more students participating in arts and music programs, and 30 percent more students taking college-level courses.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished,” Johnson said in her statement and video. “We have improved high school graduation rates and MCAS performance and reclaimed hundreds of students who had dropped out of school, moving us toward closing achievement gaps. We are proud to have helped more students enter and complete college. We have expanded academic support for our English Language Learners, arts and health and wellness activities across all schools and strengthened our parent outreach efforts.”

Gov. Deval Patrick was quick to applaud Johnson’s tenure. “I congratulate Carol on a job well done,” Patrick said in a statement. “She moves on to her next chapter having created lasting, meaningful improvement in Boston’s schools that has resulted in a brighter future for tens of thousands of young people.”

While others were effusive in their praise, Johnson readily conceded that she was unable to accomplish all of her goals.

“As proud as I am of our progress,” Johnson said, “much remains to be done. We must move forward to close persistent achievement gaps, improve quality and create more inclusive and dual language schools; upgrade our career/technical and vocational programs; increase gifted and talented services in every school; improve school facilities; and implement a new student assignment system that will connect quality and community.”

But, by most accounts, Johnson leaves the city school system headed in the right direction.

Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation, said that Boston owes “a great debt of gratitude” to Johnson. “Arriving at a district already considered among the best urban school systems in the nation,” Grogan stated, “she brought a vision that recognized the need to improve the performance of all students, and has acted upon it across the educational pipeline, from early education to high school and beyond.”