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BPS superintendent discusses plans to boost graduation rates

Eliza Dewey
BPS superintendent discusses plans to boost graduation rates
Incoming BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper greets students at the Trotter School in Roxbury to greet students and faculty on her first day. PHOTO: ISABEL LEON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

 Superintendent Mary Skipper said improving student graduation rates will be a priority in her new role, kicking off her first official day on the job.

“I see dropouts as the adults failing the students … myself included,” she said during a press event at the Trotter Elementary School in Boston Monday morning. “Sometimes the student doesn’t see a path forward, and it’s helping the student to understand there is always a path forward.”

During Monday’s press conference, Skipper reiterated that the Boston school system was going “back to basics” after a rocky few months for the state’s largest school district. Skipper was selected on a 4-3 vote by the Boston School Committee in June, following former Brenda Cassellius’ resignation this summer after just three years on the job. Days before the vote, the school district avoided being placed in state receivership when Mayor Michelle Wu and city officials agreed to an urgent improvement plan to fix problems in the district.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has criticized the district for not reporting accurate graduation and dropout rates to the state, also citing chronic student absenteeism as a problem. DESE’s review found a lack of internal controls at the school and central office level.

The city agreed to hire and train more staff to make improvements and create a Data Working Group by Oct. 1 to recommend further improvements in data reporting and tracking.

Skipper said a strong attendance program in the schools will help boost the district graduation rate.

“And then you’re constantly working with the family, working with the students, figuring out what kinds of educational options might be available to that student to help them to get back on track.”

Skipper is the former superintendent of Somerville Public Schools and a former assistant superintendent of high schools in Boston. She has been credited with decreasing dropout rates and increasing graduation rates, and she pledged to do the same now that she has returned to lead the Boston district.

“It’s really knowing every one of your students,” she said. “And that’s the level of accountability that I held myself and my team to [in the past], and it will be the same here in the district.”

She emphasized that the school system’s mission was to nurture “the whole child,” an idea illustrated by the scene at the school shortly before her comments to press, when students and teachers gathered outside for their daily morning affirmations.

“I believe in myself!” the children chanted with gusto and smiles as they echoed a faculty member. “I am responsible! I am successful! I am productive! I am intelligent! I’ve proven myself! I love myself!”

Skipper also mentioned, the recurring problem of late school buses. “You saw the buses, they were here on time,” she said. “We’re not where we wanna be yet, but we’re moving in that direction. And really pleased with a lot of the data so far, particularly correcting a lot of the missed routes that were happening last year.”

She added that, despite the surprise 30-day shutdown of the Orange Line at the beginning of the school year, the district was currently “exceeding last year’s baselines,” and that there had been improvements with the “on time percentage and missed routes.”

Eliza Dewey is a producer with GBH News.

BPS, graduation rates, Mary Skipper