Lynn’s new school superintendent embraces history as he eyes the future

Lynn Deputy Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler will take over his new role as superintendent on Aug. 1. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — When Lynn Deputy Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler becomes the city’s new superintendent of schools on Aug. 1, the occasion will mark a time of change for the city.

On the heels of Stephen Archer becoming the city’s first African-American fire chief earlier this year, Tutwiler is believed to be the first African-American superintendent of schools in Lynn.

Tutwiler, a Chicago native, said he comes from a long line of educators and activists, including many family members who were active in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, and realizes that he’s standing on their shoulders.

He embraces that he may be the first in Lynn with a degree of humility and understanding of what that means, but said he now has to focus on doing a good job, knowing that another student will stand on his shoulders one day.

“I thought about it for a moment and that was nice, and now it’s important for me to make sure I’m able to create that sort of opportunity for other people by doing a really good job,” Tutwiler said.

Tutwiler has been deputy superintendent of the Lynn Public Schools for nearly three years. He previously spent two years as headmaster of Brighton High School and six years as principal of Wayland High School. His 18-year career in teaching and administration began in 2000 with a four-year stint as a history teacher in Brighton.

Tutwiler said he’s focused on improving the performance and meeting the needs of the district’s two lowest performing subgroups, English Language Learners (ELL) and special education students — ELL students are most at risk of dropping out in the district.

Tutwiler, who is replacing retiring Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham, said he wants to do a deep data dive with a tighter eye to the outcomes of those students, and begin to structure some meaningful approaches to meet those students’ needs for the upcoming school year.

Tutwiler, 43, said a targeted approach could include simply engaging with those ELL students, who often enter the district and are placed in the ninth grade at 17 or older with a sixth grade education.

“Let’s talk to them,” Tutwiler said. “Let’s find out what their needs are and sort of build a program around that feedback, in addition to harnessing the expertise of those educators here and some of the best practices of what research tells us.

“I really feel like that particular event is the hallmark of the kind of leadership that I intend to put forth. We need to be feedback rich and feedback responsive. We need to create opportunities for multiple voices to be heard, multiple fingerprints on the final makeup of initiatives.”

In Lynn Public Schools, 87 percent of staff is white, 8 percent is Hispanic and less than 3 percent is black. But of the district’s students, 60 percent are Hispanic and 10 percent are black, according to data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Tutwiler said that’s a national phenomenon, and one that’s not unique to Lynn, but one that a lot of districts struggle with. To address the disparity in Lynn, he said there needs to be stronger partnerships with schools of education — there’s not a lot of candidates of color, but the district needs to be intentional about conveying to all potential candidates of color that Lynn seeks to hire diverse faculty.

This could be done through a job fair for candidates of color, a strategy he said has been undertaken in Boston.

“I don’t think there’s any mystery, when you look at the most at-risk groups, which are your black and brown boys, as to why they’re the least represented in the teaching force,” Tutwiler said. “It’s because their schooling experience doesn’t reflect the kind of experience they want to come back to and work in.

“That’s sort of a theory, but I think the extent as to how we’re providing more culturally competent connected experiences for our students, the stronger the likelihood that those who want to pursue a teaching career would come back here and work in this district.”

He also plans to focus on expanding the district’s social emotional learning initiative, which is tied to trauma responsive classrooms and trauma informed instruction.

Tutwiler said there are some strengths in the district that he wants to stay the course on, citing a strong foundation around curriculum, access to technology and a strong sense of togetherness, or commonality, in the school system.

Tutwiler doesn’t expect a difficult working relationship with the School Committee, the board that hired him earlier this month.

“I think I can work with anyone and I think what will be really important between myself and the School Committee is to establish a really substantive tie that binds around meeting the needs of the students and families in this district and what that looks like,” he said.

“I think no matter what the disagreement may be, as long as we have that foundation, then there’s a place to retreat to where conversation can be had.”

Tutwiler, an Andover resident, will become the first non-Lynn resident in many years to hold the position of superintendent — city and state officials approved a home rule petition this year, which eliminated the residency requirement for the superintendent.

“I worried about that and I guess I understand the perception out there that if you don’t live here, then you might not care on a level that one would if he or she lived here,” Tutwiler said. “With the exception of Boston, I’ve not lived in any district where I’ve worked, but no one ever questioned my commitment to the work, to give my all to the students.

“No one ever questioned my love, which is deep, first and foremost for the students, and for the work and that will remain the same here. Not living here doesn’t play a role at all in my commitment or love for the community or for the students.”

Tutwiler, who moved around a lot as a kid, said it was important for him and his wife of 16 years, Claire, to anchor their three children’s experiences in one school district, where they’ve already made friends.

Tutwiler grew up in Champaign, Ill., and lived in Texas for five years while his mother earned a doctorate from the University of Texas. He spent his high school years in St. Paul, Minn.

He said he wouldn’t consider the moving around a traumatic experience, but it was hard. But he said he has a tremendous amount of respect for his mother, who in a single-parent household raised two successful boys.

In fact, he drinks from a University of Texas mug everyday to celebrate his mother.

Tutwiler settled in Massachusetts in college, first earning his bachelor’s degree at College of the Holy Cross, where he played basketball, and a master’s in education from Harvard University. He has a doctorate of philosophy in curriculum and instruction from Boston College.

Although there were a lot of superintendent postings he could have applied to, he was only interested in the Lynn job.

“I really love it here,” Tutwiler said. “I love the people. I love this community. In some ways … (there’s) something about Lynn — it’s much smaller, but it reminds me of Chicago, which is home. When you find that place, you don’t want to leave it.”

Tutwiler’s salary has yet to be negotiated.

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