Superintendent Thomas Anderson.
Photos by Henry Claudy

NEW BEDFORD — This Thursday, New Bedford Superintendent Thomas Anderson will visit Newton Public Schools and interview for the superintendency of that district as one of two finalists for the position.

Anderson has run New Bedford's district of more than 12,000 students since 2018, and has worked to extend many of the reforms started under his predecessor, Pia Durkin, who was tasked with turning around the district in 2013 as it teetered on the brink of a state takeover.

If offered the position, Anderson would find himself in charge of a district with one of the state's wealthier and higher-performing student populations, after almost five years at the helm of a largely low-income and low-performing district.

However, Newton has been without an “official” superintendent since David Fleishman resigned from the position in early 2022, stepping down as the district was facing budget shortfalls of close to $4 million. Those financial woes have grown, and Anderson's visit will come before next month's city-wide election to increase property taxes — an effort designed in part to rescue Newton's school's budget.

If Newton's tax override isn't approved, their School Committee projects that 50 educators' jobs will be eliminated and the district will lose its ability to offer one-to-one computing for all students.

Anderson, however, wrote to the Newton School Committee that his experience as a teacher, coach, principal, and superintendent have “primed me for this challenging and timely opportunity to lead the Newton Public School System.”

In his application, Anderson highlighted the improvement to New Bedford's graduation rate — 90% at New Bedford High School in 2020, which he says was its highest ever mark — and his leadership overseeing a $215 million budget.

While New Bedford teaches more students and employs more staff, Newton's current budget is larger, at $265 million, though it seeks additional revenue to remain afloat.

The other finalist, Dr. Anna Nolin, is the current superintendent of Natick Public Schools, a smaller district also located in the MetroWest region. A third finalist, Peter Light, superintendent of Acton-Boxborough's regional district, dropped out last week, citing a desire to remain in his current role.

Anderson remains under contract with New Bedford Public Schools, where he currently makes $215,000 per year, but School Committee members have indicated they would let Anderson out of his contract, and expect that he would take the Newton job.

"Of course he'd take it," said Bruce Oliveira, New Bedford School Committee member. "And we'd work with him and wish him the best."

Anderson is slated to receive annual raises that would see his salary rise to more than $230,000 before his contract expires in just over three years. But the Boston Globe predicted that the Newton job would likely pay in excess of $300,000.

The succession planning in New Bedford has not yet started, according to Oliveira, and there are no plans to begin a search until the School Committee knows whether Anderson has the Newton job.

Because of this year's retirement announcement of deputy superintendent Karen Treadup, a 30-year veteran of the New Bedford Public Schools who began as a substitute teacher, there is not a clear candidate to assume New Bedford's superintendency.

Oliveira said the School Committee would likely look for internal promotions as well as conduct an external search.

Anderson's five-year tenure, if coming to a close, will be most notably marked by the coronavirus pandemic. New Bedford ran a hybrid program that, in 2021, had 9,000 students return to in-person learning, making it the largest in-person district in the state at the beginning of last school year, school officials have said.

During this period, wraparound and family engagement services have expanded, but the graduation rate at New Bedford High is what Anderson (as well as Mayor Jon Mitchell) often points to as the best evidence of the district's improvement; it has jumped more than 23 points from 2013 (66% graduation rate) to 2020 (90% graduation rate).

However, student performance on state assessments continues to drag near or at the bottom of the state, and some of the highest gains in the graduation rate came during years when testing requirements for graduation were suspended due to the pandemic.

The expansion of the English Learner program has been another area of continued improvement, as the district now employs 109 English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers for the district's over 3,300 EL students – whereas 10 years ago there were zero ESL teachers.

However, the federal Department of Justice found this year that there were insufficient services for speakers of K’iché, an indigenous Mayan language spoken by hundreds of New Bedford students who hail from Guatemala, warning "that school staff [should] not assume K’iché speakers are native Spanish speakers based on their country of origin.”

The challenges of supporting New Bedford's 80.5% of students categorized as "low-income" and 26% as "English Language Learners" will be markedly different from Newton, where only 13% of students are low-income and 6% are English learners.

Anderson's interview before the Newton School Committee will take place at 7 p.m. in the Education Center at 100 Walnut St. According to that committee, in-person attendance is welcome and a recording will be made available afterwards.

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