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BOSTON, MA – June 23: Somerville School Chief Mary Skipper interviews before the BPS School Committee for the superintendent job on June 23, 2022 in , BOSTON, MA. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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Questions about race and language were recurring themes Thursday as Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper, one of two finalists for the job of running Boston’s schools, faced three panels and the school committee.

Committee member Stephen Alkins asked what strategies she had used that had resulted in successful outcomes for Black students.

Skipper said she thinks making sure staff is diverse is “key.”

Data, she said, is also important to determine what the gaps are in students’ performance.

“Literacy was a big one,” Skipper said.

As superintendent, she brought in a program called Calculus Project to help raise math test scores and students’ confidence enough that they could see themselves as mathematicians.

Skipper said when she came to Somerville, the leadership at the district was almost all white.

“I recognize that is a very big problem, given that a majority of our students speak a language other than English as their first language, or are students of color,” she said. “So one of the things I did was to start to develop a pipeline to get our talented educators of color … and to build that up.”

Today, she said, her team ranges between a third to a half people of color.

“That has, in my mind, made all the difference in the world in our being able to walk the walk with the community,” she said.

Skipper also was asked by a parent in Spanish through an interpreter whether she speaks more than one language, and she answered,

“No … that is my deficit.”

Many of Somerville’s job postings, however, now are for positions where bilingual is required rather than simply preferred.

Aisha Francis, a BPS parent and president and CEO of Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, Boston’s only technical college, asked how Skipper would improve the graduation rates of BPS “without going back to the drawing board.”

“The ultimate goal is that students can persist in and where they are, and by doing that, we need to make sure they’re prepared,” Skipper said. Teachers and principals need to identify students who are struggling and then build a menu of additional programming to address their needs, she said.

On Friday, the other superintendent finalist, Tommy Welch, BPS’s Region 1 K-12 superintendent, will follow the same schedule and answer the same questions, drawn from both the panelists and the public’s responses to a superintendent search survey. Questions may also be chosen live from the public via the question-and-answer function in Zoom.

The interviews will be conducted in the school committee chambers in the Bolling Building in Dudley Square in Roxbury and streamed on Zoom and on Boston City TV.

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