Boston Latin Academy headmaster to step down

Henninger

Troy Henninger yesterday announced his resignation as Boston Latin Academy headmaster at the end of this term next month, two years after he took the job.

His resignation comes a year after the headmasters at Boston's other two exam schools resigned - Lynne Mooney Teta at Boston Latin School after a year of intense scrutiny of racial issues and Nicole Gittens at the O'Bryant School after accepting a job as a deputy superintendent in Brookline.

In a letter to BLA staff, students and parents, Henninger wrote that after 28 years as an educator, he needed time to figure out where to go next, and that his resignation "is not due to any discontent" with being headmaster:

The ancient Roman expression, carpe diem, extols us to seize the day, capitalize on opportunity, challenge adversity, or simply make time to ponder different endeavors. I have not been one to fear change, the unknown, or the time and responsibility needed to pause for serious reflection. So I am pausing my twenty-eight gloriously challenging years in public education to take time to reflect on my career learnings, write a vignette or two from across my experiences, consult where the grace of time may allow, and of course, research to gain innovative perspective on the intersection of education, the pursuit of happiness and a civil society. I am seizing this moment of my prime years, fearlessly and without future regret.

BPS officials have yet to announce how they will replace Henninger. At BLS, a national search led officials to Rachel Skerritt, a Washington, DC school administrator who was a Dorchester native, BLS graduate and past BPS administrator.

At the O'Bryant, Superintendent Tommy Chang appointed Tanya Freeman-Wisdom, who had been serving as interim headmaster - and who had graduated from the O'Bryant.

Henninger's complete resignation letter:

Dear Boston Latin Academy Students, Parents & Families:

After a period of considerable thought, I shared my decision to resign as Head Master of Boston Latin Academy with Superintendent Dr. Tommy Chang recently. My resignation is effective at the end of this academic year and is not due to any discontent with being Head Master, working with our faculty, staff, and the Boston Public Schools leadership, and notwithstanding my wonderful relationships with so many of you.

I never imagined when I accepted a role on BLA's leadership team supporting the work of the English and History faculty that I would be in this esteemed position today. I have learned a lot since then about what makes BLA truly special. From appreciating the school's long storied history as the third oldest public high school in the country, to working with our dedicated faculty and staff, to learning about the careers and pursuits of BLA alumni, I have tremendous respect for the proud academic tradition BLA represents. Yet, my responsibilities for and daily interactions with so many of you students, parents and concerned caregivers is the single most humbling reminder that BLA enrolls, educates and empowers a remarkable blend of students. It has been an honor and privilege to serve as your Head Master.

During my tenure, I have tried to restore the luster of BLA's academic tradition, renew the school's highest academic expectations, and foster a culture and climate for engaged interactions between faculty, students, parents and staff. For your part in this effort, I extend a heartfelt thank you to you students who worked hard to avail yourselves of all BLA has to offer in advancing your academic pursuits. To all of you parents and family members who have invested your time and energy helping us create a better educational environment for your students, you have my personal gratitude. As I depart my experience working with you in the halls of Townsend Street, I have the utmost confidence that the school is on a solid foundation - BLA now has terrific momentum for continued progress and achievement.

The ancient Roman expression, carpe diem, extols us to seize the day, capitalize on opportunity, challenge adversity, or simply make time to ponder different endeavors. I have not been one to fear change, the unknown, or the time and responsibility needed to pause for serious reflection. So I am pausing my twenty-eight gloriously challenging years in public education to take time to reflect on my career learnings, write a vignette or two from across my experiences, consult where the grace of time may allow, and of course, research to gain innovative perspective on the intersection of education, the pursuit of happiness and a civil society. I am seizing this moment of my prime years, fearlessly and without future regret.

I will miss this marvelous adventure known as Boston Latin Academy, and you, our upwardly achieving and dauntlessly determined students. Every early morning, it was my pleasure to welcome you to school; you made me smile. I will miss you all dearly.

Fondly,

Troy P. Henninger, Head Master

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Comments

Sad. It would appear

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that Boston's public exam schools, all with excellent reputations, are being systematically ruined. It would also appear city hall doesn't give a f***.

Appearing to

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or at least feign the attempts at systematically undoing the"Good ole boy"network is what ruffles his feathers.

School Principals Resign All The Time

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There is a limited pool of applicants, given the responsibility versus compensation and the public accountability of the profession. That means that better offers are always welcome.

Throw in the stress factor, and you get a labor shortage that is national in scope and has nothing to do with the Mayor.

all the time

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We've lost three principals of our three exam schools during the mayor's first term. It's worth understanding why.

It's also worth knowing if BPS is a good place to be a principal or a teacher because when you pay for good ones, and we do, they are expensive to replace.

I used to think Walsh knew what he was doing when it comes to Boston Schools. I don't anymore. He priorities are cost-efficiency and neoliberal ed reforms. He doesn't listen to parents and students. It's hard to tell who he listens to. My best guess is BMRB, BostonFdn and Boston Compact.

Marty Walsh is not an intellectual, he is a pol. I'd take Menino over Wlash on education any day of the week.

Why?

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Read the story.

One took a deputy superintendent job, which is a promotion.

Another one retired.

The third was Teta-Mooney, and we all know that story. Would Tito had kept her?

Walsh is as much an intellectual as Menino was. Good politicians read situations and respond.

Exam school headmasters in impossible position

Any honest liberal has to question the continued purpose of the exam school system in Boston's public schools. The racial disparities in admissions and outcomes have been approached from eleven different angles yet remain somehow.

Conservatives, crypto-racists, and those liberals who have done well by the present system say it's due to hard work. They may express sadness about the plight of those who don't get in, but the way they put off change until their kid has reaped the benefits make it clear that they have no confidence in the school administrators, and any change will be for the worse. Alumni who get oohs and aahs around Boston in here.

Parents who would like to get their kids through these schools just hope it works out for them, so they keep their mouths shut and have the kids take the test prep. They don't want to send their kids to a regular BPS high school if they don't have to. Who can blame them?

The childless white left brings all its weapons to the attack. Poverty, segregation, discrimination against teachers of color and so on.

If your kid doesn't make it or gets bounced then you and your kid are losers so out you go from the discussion.

A scarcity of decent options leaves everyone with their rhetorical guns on hair trigger in case my best outcome is threatened. So racial questions are dealt with in the most divisive way possible, tried out on kids and their ferociously resistant parents.

Left unexamined this is whether the education is worth all this fighting over!

Respondents demand I say what I would do. There's no simple solution but here are some things I have observed from my own experience as a parent and from the experience of close relations (some of color nyah!):

1. The tests and admission procedures sort primarily for good behavior
2. Behavior and safety are better in the exam schools but slide downwards
3. The education is incomplete, delivery is inconsistent among teachers
4. Harvard admission is used as an excuse for otherwise poor offerings and a weapon against dissatisfied students and parents
5. Curiosity not really rewarded
6. The sorting for exam schools is the same sorting which Harvard uses: good behavior, social sensitivity, lacking any interest which might divert attention and result in a C in a more boring course.
7. Outcomes for both are unusually safe, successful and bland

As I've always said with Harvard, they get what they want. Maybe BLS gets what it wants! Maybe sorting students this way is actually the best thing to do, it's possible. Or it might be better if we didn't treat the school like it was the only game in town. Continually calling it the BEST makes it impossible to do otherwise though. As long as it's the BEST it will always hog the attention.

It's pointless, but I'll take a crack at this

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The exam schools admit kids based on their grades and ISEE exam score. There is no racial component to deciding who gets in. Most Boston parents know, almost from the moment their kid is born, that if they study hard and get good grades and score well on the ISEE they can go to an exam school. As such, they encourage their kids, all the way through their childhood, to get a good education.

The exam schools are not a secret. There is no special way to get into them. If you study hard and are smart, you'll probably get in.

There are complex and perhaps intractable reasons why the exam schools have a different racial profile than Boston elementary schools, but it is not because the admissions process is inherently unfair or racist.

The problem with your explanation is...

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That, yes, there are no racial factors influencing who gets in to the exam schools. However, if minority children don't have the same home life and advantages that middle-class white students often have from a very early age, it puts them at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to testing. Giving a prep class in 5th grade for the ISEE is too late for those who didn't have the best start to begin with. In general, but not always, it is the black and Hispanic students who are left behind. I've seen this at my daughter's school that after 6th grade, the number of white students almost disappears, while the majority who stay for 7th and 8th are minority (non-Asian). All the free ISEE prep classes won't change this.

Yeah, but ...

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White kids DID get the free test-prep classes and the minority kids didn't. That, I have to admit, was one of the things that really infuriated me during the BLS thing last year - that the BLS Association was paying some guy to let kids know about the free test-prep classes and he wasn't doing anything, which in practical terms, mean kids at schools like the Kilmer got told about and took one of the classes (raises hand as a parent of one such kid) while kids in places such as Roxbury and Mattapan had no clue. At least that was one of the things that changed last year - parents and their kids all over are now being alerted to the free classes.

They won't change this?

Per Tommy Change (today's Glob, p. B4), the free Exam School Initiative last year resulted in 62 percent of black students and 68 percent of Latino students who attended being admitted to an exam school.

You are 100% correct

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EastieGirl: The answer is to solve the problems you mentioned, not to get rid of all the exam schools.

Eh

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At least you admit you have no solutions or suggestions just observations after calling out BLS parents for not fighting for some unspecified improvement.

I agree the focus on BLS vs BPS is excessive. Less than 1% of the kids in BPS go there. It get less money per student from BPS than most of the high schools in the city so it is not sucking up resources out of scale. I think you're plain wrong with your assessment that people think it's the only game in town. Lots of kids chose BLA, Obryant, top charter high schools, etc... I'd say 1/2 of the kids I know put BLS # 1 and 1/2 didn't on their applications. There is no scarcity of better options for good students.

It's a big fat target for people who want to make arguments about race (Tito) or elitism (you) and while those arguments aren't entirely without merit, the failure of BPS to figure out how to make English or West Roxbury High a good option should be a much bigger topic than BLS. However, to solve those issues one must then solve the actual underlying issues of poverty, social fabric, etc... which shouldn't be reasonably laid at the feet of BPS administrators and yet are. So it's easier to yell about what's happening at one high school because you can pretend you're fighting the good fight instead of doing any actual hard work.

BLS spending

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It get less money per student from BPS than most of the high schools in the city.

Yep! It may be one of the best public schools in the country, but it's not because the city pours tons of money into it.

On the other hand, BLS has something unique in Boston: An endowment and alumni who are willing to give generously. That doesn't pay for teachers, but it does pay for a lot of other things. Would be great if the BLSA could help other schools figure out how to raise funds (apologies if, in fact, they are spreading their knowledge).

But I don't recall Jackson saying shut down BLS or anything close to that; he was more along the lines of let's figure out how to get more black kids enrolled there. Not quite the same thing.

Tito

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I agree Tito wasn't saying BLS needed to be shut down but there was, in my recollection, more people on his side of the debate if not Tito himself trotting out the idea that BLS needed to reflect the demographics of BPS specifically. BLS should maybe better reflect the demographics of the city population, not BPS.

As far as the alumni network effect at BLS, I think we should just accept that as a common good that allows BLS to offer more to the kids of Boston without taking resources from schools that need it more. It's a windfall for the city, not an issue.

Replying to THIS to highlight this comment

I'm glad you made this post. It encapsulate the thoughts in my mind but word it much better than I probably would and probably a quarter of the time to write it.

EM Painter, how does questioning BLS does any good in your hand-wringing of a post? A post full of concern and a pedantic list of "problems" that is nothing unique to BLS but somehow it's more of a problem there then in education and society in general. How do you claim that it hogs the "attention" while it uses the least amount of money per student? How do you claim that without quantifying how the attention translate to anything substantial versus resources and money?

Then the points specifically to exam schools like "the test and admission are sort primarily by good behavior". A claim that you ran with all the implications without asking how you know that the ISEE would test their behavior more than their knowledge? Or that a well-behave student likely go-hand-in-hand to having the knowledge sufficient for the test. Or the thought that maybe having well-behaved kids together is a ultimately a good thing.

You want to question BLS, but how about ask more questions about what is closer to severing good to the most people.

Translation:

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WAHHH I'M NOT SPECIAL AND MY KID ISN'T SPECIAL! WE CAN'T BE EXPECTED TO WORK TO GET THINGS! REVERSE RACISM! WAHHHHHHH.

Poor little snowflake needs a safe space!

Rear view mirror

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Having had my kids go through BPS system from K-12, including BLS, BLA, a charter school, early learning center, one kid with IEP, 10 different schools in all, in retrospect I can say we did pretty well by the experience. My kids have a healthy appreciation of all races and cultures, have a decent foundation for further scholarship and are otherwise none the worse for wear. It wasn't easy for us or them, in order to benefit, you have to be a good self advocate (tough to do if you're a non-english speaking or not well educated yourself), but it worked out. Dismantling BLS/BLA in the name of equality feeds into the anti-intellectualism that's tearing this country apart, rather, lets focus on making more "exam" schools, centers of excellence that promote achievement, and let's address the systemic failures in the lower grades that produce race/econ disparities when it comes to exams school admission rates. Every kid should aspire to an excellent secondary education that meets their needs. Exam schools, like Harvard, aren't very good...but they're the best there is.

Thanks, Mr. Heninger

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Although only headmaster for two years, Mr. Heninger had previously taught and served as a department head at BLA. As a parent I found him to be responsive and engaged with the community. He greeted students every morning, enthusiastically supported and attended student events, and worked collaboratively with parent groups. He'll be missed.
As for the comments focusing on issues of exams schools and lumping BLA in with BLS, BLA stands on its own and is one of the most diverse high schools around. The BLA student body is almost evenly made up of students who identify as white, black, Hispanic and Asian. 70% of kids qualify for free/reduced lunch. Research says students who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds should not achieve academically as well as their peers, but BLA students disprove that theory. It's a great school thanks to committed teachers and administrators.
Vita Tua Sit Sincera