Be Assured Chang(e) Is Coming: How Badly Will Superintendent Tommy Chang Change Boston Latin School?

() wisecatI mentioned that the suspect groups, the NAACP, The American Civil Liberty Union, and others have asked for and gained a federal investigation based upon a paucity of alleged racial incidents. I stated that any fair reading of the letter which they sent asking for that investigation would give rise to the opposite conclusion from the one that they sought to draw. It appeared to me that the Boston Public Schools (BPS) was doing a fine job in racial relations because so few  examples of racial problems could be shown.

I did mention that there was another aspect to the letter which concerned me more than the empty attack on the BPS as a whole. It seemed that the intent of the letter writers is to destroy Boston Latin School (BLS). I recall that back in the time when Judge Garrity cut a big scar into the BPS system the same people who now complain sought then to undermine BLS.

The present Boston school system has a new superintendent, Tommy Chang. He has been on the job since last July. He’s a forty-year old man who was not born in the United States. He was unfamiliar with the BPS system until he took his job having worked mainly on the West Coast prior to this time. If he has any understanding of the dreadful busing days it would only be in passing since most of the wounds inflicted on the system have healed.

He recently sat down with a Boston columnist to discuss this recent tempest about BLS in what the columnist described as “the school department’s nearly empty headquarters.”  Chang appeared shaken. It is reported that he said: “My honeymoon lasted five months. Then: Boom! It’s been an article every day. It’s incredible.”

He went on to say, according to the columnist, “that the issues at Boston Latin reflect a lack of inclusion that he hoped to tackle at some point in his tenure.” It was difficult to understand what he meant by that but that was the columnist paraphrasing him. A lack of inclusion means someone is being excluded but who would that be at a school where admission is by report card and examination?

Then he was quoted so that rather than hearsay we could read what he actually said: “It’s a compelling story and I think it can be a very simplified story if you want to make it one. But it’s a deep story. It’s not just a story about these incidents. It’s about a school that does not reflect the diversity of the rest of the city. It’s a school that rests on an island separate from the rest of the city. All of that is playing out at the school.”

The columnist added: “From the day Chang took the job he was concerned about the inherent elitism of Boston Latin, a school that bears almost no resemblance, educationally or socially, to the rest of the system in which it resides.”

Chang again was quoted: “My sense is a little bit less attention has been placed on the issue of race, identity, what you bring to the table as a person of color, or as a person of alternative sexual orientation. That hasn’t been as embraced. And you see it play out from an adult to student level, student to student, and probably from adult to adult.” 

Asked about Mayor Walsh he said: “He knows I’m new to the city and he wants to be my coach in the city. We communicate constantly. I think the mayor is deeply passionate about wanting to see the school system change.”

None of this augurs well for the future of BLS. Having attended BLS in the 7th and 8th grades (yes, I was promoted into 4A) I can tell you one thing. It is a far from elitist school. In my time it has mostly poor kids studying hard to get ahead. I checked to see any association between the word elitist and BLS. I found this:

Latin School has often suffered from those who suggested it was an elitist institution. Those of us who love the school would certainly agree that it is, but unlike most other prestigious educational institutions, the only elitism at Boston Latin School is the elitism of the mind. No large contribution can influence the admission process. There is no sibling preference. There is no boost given to applicants because a father, or more recently, a mother, was a graduate. In that sense, it is extraordinary egalitarian, as it always has been. Phillips Brooks wrote in 1885: “Side by side on its humble benches sat the son of the Governor and the son of a fisherman…The highest learning was declared at once to be no privilege of an aristocratic class, but the portion of any boy in town who had the soul to desire it and the brains to appropriate it.”

It seems the mayor and superintendent Chang do not appreciate BLS. Chang is concerned it does not reflect the city’s diversity, that it sits on an island, and that it pays no attention to race or to alternative sexual orientation. In other words what it is set up to do which is to treat all comers equally and admit those who have the potential to be the highest achievers is something that is wrong. That he plans to change. It will be a sad day for Boston if he does.


  1. “It’s about a school that does not reflect the diversity of the rest of the city. It’s a school that rests on an island separate from the rest of the city. All of that is playing out at the school.”

    I am so very sick of this particular lie. In fact, BLS is the public school that most _closely_ reflects the diversity of the city of Boston. It’s the rest of BPS that doesn’t.

    There’s a massive problem in BPS as a whole in terms of reflecting the diversity of the city, but BLS is not where the problem is. How can you have a city that’s 52% white and a public school system that’s 13% white and not see there is a problem? Why don’t they fix the part that’s broken, and leave the part that works alone?

  2. Thank you, Matt. Your post today is required reading for anyone involved in any way with BLS, or BPS for that matter, especially Messrs. Chang and Walsh!

    Does Chang need to be told what an exam school is, or maybe even told about the concept of merit?

    • GOK:

      Good questions — I’d suggest the answer will come soon. He is a young guy relatively speaking, a stranger to intrigue, in his first high profile job who seems to have that Achilles heel of trying to please through which the poisons of those willful people who like to tear down may flow. There are some who recoil at the idea of merit since it separates those who work hard from those who loll around with their hands out looking for goodies to be handed to them.