Boston Public Schools (BPS) superintendent Mary Skipper described her career in education as a series of forks in the road—with faith guiding her through the unknowns of the future.
“The thing about a fork is that you can’t see around the bend,” Skipper said. “That’s why we need to discern. That’s why in some cases, we take leaps of faith.”
Skipper delivered a lecture at Boston College on Tuesday afternoon, where she reflected on her 35 years as an educator and the decisions she made to arrive at her current superintendent position. Skipper said she looked to God throughout her career journey.
“It really does strike me that it’s been a career that is very much about walking with God and developing as a public servant,” Skipper said.
Skipper emphasized that her journey as an educator began when she was a student herself. She said she remembers how her teachers focused on developing the whole child—an idea that has become essential in her formative education approach today.
“They invested in me socially and emotionally,” Skipper said. “They cared about me. We developed deep relationships with meaning, so they really were instrumental in shaping my childhood.”
After graduating from Tufts University in 1989, Skipper got her first teaching job in BPS at Boston Latin Academy (BLA) teaching seventh and eighth grade students.
“I was with students who—like me—had the kind of experience who needed people to invest in them,” Skipper said.
After three years at BLA, Skipper received a message from the school’s principal that her position had been removed. According to Skipper, packing up her boxes in her classroom was devastating, and she was afraid she would not be able to return to teaching.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is it—I’m never going to have that opportunity to teach again,’” Skipper said.
Skipper said soon after she was released from her job, Bill Kemeza—president of Boston College High School at the time—called Skipper and offered her a position as a classics teacher. She said she did not hesitate and immediately accepted the offer.
While teaching at BC High, Skipper said she learned about the Jesuit ideas of teaching kindness, cura personalis, and discernment.
“I was in love with everything Jesuit because it made sense,” Skipper said. “The idea of students being active agents and investing—for the first time all that clicked.”
But according to Skipper, she still longed to return to her teaching roots at BPS. In 2001, she received a call from the BPS superintendent asking if she wanted to join the design team of a new public school in Boston called TechBoston Academy (TBA).
Skipper joined the project, and her team members at TBA were kindred souls who shared the same goals for BPS, she said. Amid this project, Skipper was diagnosed with breast cancer but continued to work at TBA.
“We opened the building in September with 75 students, and I started chemotherapy that following Thursday,” Skipper said. “God gave me the strength every day to go to work.”
Skipper explained that during this period of uncertainty, she also turned to her husband Pete for support.
“Pete said, ‘There’s no guarantees in any of this, but the one guarantee is that your heart has always been in Boston,’” Skipper said.
Skipper became superintendent of BPS in September of 2022. According to Skipper, there are over 49,000 students in BPS. One in every three students is multilingual, one in two students speaks a language other than English at home, and one of every four students has a disability, she said.
“For too long, we put people who have something different than mainstream as less,” Skipper said.
Skipper said she hopes to uplift marginalized students in BPS and provide an education that focuses on supporting the whole child.
“As a society, we have to wrap our arms around the kids in BPS, wrap our arms around schools and school leaders, and give them every possible chance to succeed,” Skipper said. “Those students are the citizens that will be the solutions for the world.”