Editorial: Latham leaves a shining legacy

Lynn has great news to celebrate in its schools even before another academic year begins. New Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patrick Tutwiler is poised to bring experience honed in Lynn as deputy superintendent and as a headmaster in Boston Public Schools to bear on Lynn’s top job.

With that said, we pause to take a breath and salute the woman who preceded Tutwiler as superintendent: Dr. Catherine C. Latham. The career educator served as superintendent for eight years and presided over a school system that dramatically improved its academic standing as measured by test scores and the construction of the state-of-the-art Thurgood Marshall Middle School.

Latham applied her love for mathematics to push for improved performance in local schools and expanded science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

She was relentless in her passion for making Lynn’s students excel. She faced down her chronic detractors on the School Committee and challenged state education policies when those policies, in her view, slighted urban school districts like Lynn’s.

With a focused gaze and analytical mind, Latham could unravel the most complex policy problem. She stood strong on her convictions and greeted needling critics with steely replies that were short and to the point.

For students, she demonstrated love and encouragement. A wide smile would spread across her face when she had the opportunity to present academic awards to students honoring their accomplishments. Latham always made sure to invite the students’ parents to stand beside their children while the awards were conferred.

She did not suffer fools gladly but Latham during her tenure cultivated and promoted a select group of talented principals and education specialists who appreciate her penchant for data-driven education analysis but also share her love and compassion for children.

Latham knew the vital role principals play in schools and she oversaw Lynn Vocational Technical Institute’s resurgence under talented leadership and handed a host of new and talented principals the reins to schools such as Sewell-Anderson, Drewicz and Cobbet.

She picked school leaders who found ways to involve parents in education — not simply by reminding them to help their kids with homework, but by encouraging them to become active in their schools and to make home an extension of school.

Latham understood that the key ingredients needed to make successful schools aren’t cutting-edge technology and the latest lesson plans, but just enough love and enthusiasm to motivate a kid to ask, “How does that work?”

Latham relentlessly and thoroughly examined state comprehensive assessment (MCAS) scores and probably could recite from memory the MCAS scores for every grade in every school in her district.

She harnessed numbers and statistics to make vital arguments on behalf of Lynn’s schools and all urban schools. She challenged state education officials to understand and, in turn, to commit to providing the resources urban schools need to succeed and to make every student a success.

She demonstrated an equal degree of passion in her arguments challenging charter schools. Latham pointed out how charters compete for the extremely limited amount of available space in Lynn for new schools and noted how local public schools take any and every student into the classroom.

Cathy Latham has retired but her legacy will shine through in every Lynn public school and undoubtedly pave the way for a smooth transition for her successor and greater accomplishments for Lynn public schools and their students.

You have a tough act to follow, Dr. Tutwiler.

Thank you, Dr. Latham.

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