Mastery Charter names a former Philly principal and assistant superintendent as its new CEO - Mastery Charter School

Mastery Charter names a former Philly principal and assistant superintendent as its new CEO

The Philadelphia Inquirer
by Kristen A. Graham

The Mastery Charter network is getting a new chief executive officer, a veteran educator who currently leads public schools in Lowell, Mass.

Joel Boyd, who previously worked as a principal and assistant superintendent in the Philadelphia School District, will succeed Scott Gordon, founder of the sprawling Mastery Charter system.

Mastery educates 14,500 students in 24 charter schools in Philadelphia and Camden.

Boyd, whose hiring was announced Thursday, worked in Philadelphia from 2008 to 2012, first as principal of Woodrow Wilson Middle School, then as an assistant superintendent. He left to become superintendent in Santa Fe, N.M., then worked in Boston public schools before moving to Lowell, a district of about 15,000 students.

Boyd was chosen after numerous community conversations and a nationwide search, and hailed by Mastery board member Sulaiman Rahman as a “bold leader” with a track record of improving students’ academic success.

Mastery wanted someone who had experience leading a large organization, and someone who could navigate the sometimes-complicated Philadelphia charter scene, Rahman said. And though Boyd’s charter experience is limited — he was an administrator at a Lehigh Valley charter school early in his career — Rahman is confident that Boyd is the right pick to lead Mastery forward.

“What we found in Joel was someone who wasn’t your traditional superintendent, someone that we feel shares our philosophy, our culture, who will be in a position to exercise more efficiency, more freedom to innovate,” Rahman said, adding that Boyd is “someone who has the emotional intelligence to work in different communities.”

Boyd hold both a master’s and a doctoral degree from Harvard University, but he comes across as down-to-earth and accessible — Rahman said those qualities were evident in conversations with board and community members. The new Mastery CEO knows firsthand about some of the struggles some Mastery families deal with in the nation’s poorest big city, Rahman said:

Boyd was one of four children raised by a single mother who relied on government assistance. He struggled in school, but eventually found a refuge in sports, and went on to earn a degree in education from the University of Delaware.

For his part, coming to Mastery feels like a homecoming of sorts. Boyd said he always wanted to land in Philadelphia, close to his family in Delaware and his wife’s in Bethlehem, Pa. (And yes, he grew up a Philadelphia sports fan and never lost those allegiances, even as he moved around the country.)

“Mastery is a really unique and extraordinary leadership opportunity for anyone in urban education,” Boyd said.

Virgil Sheppard first met Boyd when Boyd was principal of Wilson Middle School. Sheppard was so impressed by Boyd, whom he called a “visionary leader,” that he came to work for him as an assistant principal.

“His focus was on equity even before it was a hot topic,” said Sheppard. “We had a pretty significant achievement gap, and he really challenged the status quo, making sure that all his students got what they needed to be successful.”

The Boyd announcement comes nearly a year after Gordon announced he was leaving Mastery, which he founded as a single charter school in 2001. On Gordon’s watch, Mastery has attracted significant national attention — President Barack Obama publicly recognized the organization — and funding, with Oprah Winfrey awarding $1 million to the system.

“Mastery has been honored to partner with parents and amazing educators to create great public schools in the communities that have been historically underserved by public education,” Gordon said in a statement. “It has been my privilege to serve our families, and we are all lucky to have Dr. Boyd’s depth and breadth of experience leading Mastery into its exciting next chapter.”

Boyd will work the rest of the school year in Lowell, and will take over the reins at Mastery July 1.