Ross Wilson: Innovating Teacher & Leadership Development in Boston schools

“Aspir(e)ing Profiles” is a series where we feature leaders in education, child and human development and health and wellness connected to the Wheelock College Aspire Institute. Look out for our monthly profile. You might be next!

Ross Wilson

Ross Wilson, Assistant Superintendent in the Office of Educator Effectiveness for Boston Public Schools, is in the midst of implementing a relatively new educator performance evaluation system that came to Boston through the national Race to the Top initiative and state regulations. His goal is not only to serve the city’s 58,000 students, but to effectively connect new teacher development, school leadership development and performance evaluation in a way that fosters professional growth and demonstrates a commitment to human capital across the district.

“I am excited to begin leveraging the educational reform happening to support student learning. Race to the Top is a historical initiative with paramount changes that we want to use to support teachers.”

Based on personal experiences in high school, Ross’s first career goal was to open a school for students with extreme disabilities. He began his career on the ground as a special education teacher in Shrewsbury, MA and came to Boston to be a first grade teacher and literacy coach. He moved into an Assistant Principal position on the North Shore and then went through a principal training program for a year before becoming Principal of the Healy Pilot School in Roslindale.

“My mission hasn’t changed that much, just the way I achieve it. I know being a teacher and school leader is incredibly hard and important work, and our role at central office is, first, to not impede their work and, second, to support them in meeting the needs of their students.”

Admirable goals, however, are rarely achieved without challenges along the way. The day we spoke was the same day the new evaluations were due, forcing BPS into an accountability role.

“BPS should be accountable to use this data, from the educator evaluation system, to drive teacher improvement. We should be held accountable for making sure that we support schools with structures and resources for student learning. We have a responsibility to help evaluators feel like it’s a prioritized part of their school improvement plan.” The long-term goal is to implement the system alongside other initiatives to ensure clarity and support throughout the year. This would make the process less stressful for teachers and school leaders and more useful for BPS.

“Nothing can replace the impact of adults problem solving together and the inclusive culture created by a high level of collaboration. This directly impacts teachers’, administrators’ and students’ belief that they own their school and have the power to influence positive change, despite challenges and pressures from the outside world.”

“I want to make sure that every child has access to a high quality education. We must ensure every child develop a voice and have the ability to choose their path in life.”

What Ross has found both working in and visiting dozens of schools, is that culture is what makes the difference. No matter what they do at a central office level, it won’t make a difference unless school leaders are able to use it to support learning and problem solving at the school. As a principal, he explained, nothing could replace the impact of adults problem solving together and the inclusive culture created by a high level of collaboration. This directly impacts teachers’, administrators’ and students’ belief that they own their school and have the power to influence positive change, despite challenges and pressures from the outside world.

Ross believes BPS should be developing tools and resources to improve a school’s ability to problem solve. “We don’t want to continue to provide isolated, one time professional development offerings, which keeps teachers and school leaders from learning together.” However, with such a huge range of schools, finding the right balance of services and support can be tricky.

The Aspire Institute is currently working with Ross’s team to develop a competency-based professional development model, which includes an interactive rubric that teachers, parents and administrators will be able to access online. This is just one example of how Ross hopes his office can begin to function more as a responder and broker of services rather than a provider of all services.

“The standards of effective teaching include a number of elements, such as differentiated instruction, that will hopefully help teachers better meet the needs of all students. We have a rubric on paper, but it’s unclear to a lot of people how to access the resources to improve their performance in that competency. The interactive rubric will be housed online and will actually show what good teaching and school leadership looks like through videos of actual BPS teachers and resources for teachers to delve into each competency. We hope that teachers and schools look at these videos together so that they can unpack and discuss the content as a community.”

BPS will launch the first draft of the interactive rubric at the end of summer featuring the filmed educators who exemplify the kind of teaching and school leadership they hope to spread throughout the district. With his children attending Boston schools next year, Ross is truly committed to the school system.

“We want to create the right conditions where our leaders, teachers and our students feel supported.”

1. What is your quote to live by?

“…education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.” – Sam Seaborn, West Wing.

2. What was the last movie you saw?

“Silver Linings Playbook”

3. What is your favorite place?

Florida – I met my wife there, and my kids love going there.

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