Charlestown High Principal Tapped for Leadership in Hyde Park, Dorchester

Long-time Charlestown High Principal Will Thomas has been picked by Boston Public Schools to transfer to Boston Community Leadership Academy in Hyde Park on July 1, a position that will eventually lead him to heading up a massive effort to start a new high school pipeline on Columbia Point in Dorchester.

Boston Public Schools announced the decision late last week its five-year district-wide plan and the allocation of the $100 million committed by Mayor Martin Walsh in January to the schools. That plan has shuffled school leaders, especially at the high school level all over the City.

Apparently, Supt. Brenda Cassellius saw Thomas’s leadership as a valuable commodity to get the new Dorchester middle school/high school pipeline off the ground in the 21-22 school year.

“Will Thomas will be leaving Charlestown High School at the end of the school year to lead both New Mission High School and Boston Community Leadership Academy (BCLA), both housed in the former Hyde Park High School educational complex,” read a statement from BPS. “BCLA and McCormack Middle School (on Columbia Point) have been approved to merge in the ‘21-22 school year. Will Thomas as an experienced administrator has agreed to help in that critical planning and transition.”

While Charlestown High in modern history has been a bit of an island in Charlestown, with only about 10 percent of its students coming from the neighborhood. Thomas came in 12 years ago and helped to turn the school around, adding a key partnership with Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) that allows students at Charlestown High to pursue as Associate’s Degree in several “pathways” – such as business, IT or healthcare. That trailblazing program has been hailed by Gov. Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin Walsh and many others, and the first flashes of success have shown over the last two years as students begun to graduate with significant college course credit and experience under their belts.

Meanwhile, Thomas has also been a key ambassador in trying to knit Charlestown High back into the community, appearing at community meetings and supporting the Bunker Hill Day festivities and igniting the sports programs again. He has also appeared at many public meetings, and was just in the initial phases of starting to plan for a reorganized Charlestown High where a middle school would be added and it would become a good option for parents in the Town who don’t wish to pursue the Exam School route. Unlike some previous principals of the high school, he had become well-known and well-revered in the Town for his work there.

Thomas confirmed he was leaving on June 30 and said he would miss the school and the community.

“My time at Charlestown will come to an end on June 30 and my time at New Mission and BCLA will start on July 1,” he said over e-mail. “It has been a great 12 years at Charlestown and I’m truly going to miss this wonderful community.”

Already, the district has announced the hiring of a former Exam School principal, Joel Stembridge, who had left BPS to lead Newton South High School.

Stembridge was the former headmaster of the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science and left for Newton South 11 years ago. He has now decided to return to BPS and lead the new Charlestown High configuration. This week, he was unavailable for comment as he is still meeting faculty and staff at the school.

Councilor Lydia Edwards said it was simply a case of Thomas being talented, and needed to get very important – and critical – initiatives off the ground in other parts of the city.

“They need his leadership,” she said. “I credit him for the work he did in Charlestown and what he did in Charlestown was turn that school around and allowed kids there to enroll in community college and get college credit before leaving the school, which is an amazing thing for the students there. I know a lot of people are going to miss him. We’re getting an exam school principal who went out to Newton South. That’s not a bad thing. I want to thank Will Thomas and welcome our new principal. I think we’re going into a new place.”

For the $100 million five-year plan, much of the first-year investments are directed to 33 of the lowest-performing schools. BPS began high school redesign planning this fall with headmasters and the process will continue through the next school year with full engagement from our school communities. Charlestown High is part of the BPS 33-school transformation strategy, which will begin a year earlier than the district’s other high school redesign efforts.

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