Rachel Skerritt: The First POC Headmaster of the Country’s Oldest Public School

Boston Latin School (BLS), the oldest public school in the United States, was opened in 1635. Despite being around for 383 years, with 28 headmasters, 2017 was a significant year for BLS. The school board hired Rachel Skerritt, the first person of color to be headmaster at this historical high school.   

I was fortunate enough to interview Skerritt on her experience as headmaster and her perspective on being the first POC headmaster. 

Skerritt is a BLS alumna. She is also a 2006 Crystal Apple award-winning English teacher at her alma mater, having taught from 1999-2006. Upon receiving guidance from the then Headmaster Kelly, Skerritt moved onto leadership roles within education. Skerritt served as headmaster at Another Course to College and as chief of staff to Superintendent Johnson. 

She also worked in DC as principal at Eastern Senior high school and deputy chief of leadership development for DC Public Schools before coming back to Boston to serve as headmaster for BLS. 

When asked about how being headmaster compares to her previous roles as teacher and student at BLS, Skerritt spoke of her focus in the school. As a teacher, your focus is solely on your class and your students. She was thus able to build close relationships with her students. As headmaster, on the other hand, her focus is on the school as a whole, so she doesn’t have the opportunity to build close relationships with students. 

With this in mind, Skerritt focuses on visibility and transparency. Open communication between her and the students, the families, and the community partners is very important to her. This is why she attends all three lunches each day and uses them as informal office hours. 

On January 18, 2016, two BLS alumnae — then seniors, Meggie Noel and Kylie Webster-Cazeau —posted a video discussing the environment at BLS for Black students. This started the movement “Black” at BLS, aimed at improving the racial equity and equality at the school. This controversy and movement made Rachel Skerritt’s hiring more significant. 

When asked how the controversy with Black at BLS and her identity as a black woman affected her view on the job as headmaster, she said it is the hardest question to answer. Regardless of her race, Skerritt’s view on the job as headmaster was affected by Black at BLS. This controversy enforced her emphasis on open communication. She wanted to increase responsiveness to people’s concerns as well as foster a culture of trust. 

Skerritt said that her identity as a black woman is so much a part of her that it’s hard to consider who she would be and what she would do if she weren’t a black woman. Also, Skerritt emphasized her other identities important to her. 

As a child of Caribbean immigrants, Skerritt believes it’s important to celebrate the contribution of immigrants, not only to BLS, but to the country as a whole. She emphasized how people coming from different backgrounds are able to bring different things to the table. BLS is home to people from all over Boston and many different countries of origin. Skerritt wants to celebrate everyone’s ability to contribute something different. 

Skerritt is also a single working mom of a young child. Her new identity as a mom has influenced her perspective on BLS a lot. She views BLS as a place her child may attend someday. Due to this, she really wants to improve the community within the school to be a place she hopes her child would feel comfortable and happy to be a part of.  

Overall, her goal as headmaster is to prepare her students for life after high school. In the BLS mission statement, it states that BLS seeks to prepare students to be “responsible and engaged citizens.” Skerritt emphasizes the importance to help BLS students be leaders within their community. 

The diploma from BLS is a privilege that many people don’t have because BLS gives its students so many opportunities and resources. So, it’s important to prepare students to use these resources to make a change within their communities and support those around them. 

Skerritt wants to create a supportive community. Not only so that her students are supported, but so that her students can learn to support each other and their communities. 

 

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