BU Today

In the World

In our new series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their field, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.

They talk about how they got to be where they are, mistakes they’ve made, and what they’ve taken away from those mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.

This week, our featured alum is Mary Bourque (SED’99,’08), superintendent of schools in Chelsea, Mass. She says that taking on her current role has been a homecoming. Bourque was educated in the school system she leads, from Prattville Elementary School and Williams Middle School through Chelsea High School. Her BU doctoral research probed how student mobility in urban Massachusetts schools affects the schools’ accountability under the 2001 No Child Left Behind act. After finishing her student teaching at Chelsea High, she worked in a South Boston school before circling back to jobs in various Chelsea classrooms.

In 1998, she helped open and lead a new middle school in Chelsea and also oversaw a district-wide realignment of the curriculum. She held several jobs in the superintendent’s office before being tapped for the top job in 2011.

  1. BU Today: What is important to consider when contemplating whether a career in nonprofit or public sector work is right for you?

    Bourque: It is important to consider that it is not about what we receive in our career, but it is about what we give back. At the heart, it is about transformational change work—of the system and/or the individual. Ultimately, it is the joy in knowing you contributed to the collective impact on humanity.

  2. Are there certain qualities you look for in the people you hire?

    I look for people who understand that public education, urban education, is about social justice. I look for passion, commitment, a relentless spirit to make a difference no matter how small or large.

  3. What kinds of questions do you ask during an interview?

    I start by asking about the person. I want to know who they are and what makes them get up every morning. I ask them about their educational experience and why they have chosen to become an educator. I then tell them about the long hours and dedication it takes to be an urban educator. I ask them if they have the stamina and perseverance to commit to our students.

  4. Given your years of experience as a teacher and school administrator, tell us what it takes to be a good teacher.

    Good teachers are people who:
    1) Love children and love spreading the joy of knowledge and learning.
    2) Are reflective and have a growth mind-set about themselves and their students.
    3) Understand that teaching and learning are about social justice and opportunities for all.

  5. What mistakes have you made during your career, and what lessons have you learned from them?

    Oh, wow, I have made all kinds of mistakes, big and small; but the mistakes are not where I focus. I focus on learning from the mistakes. I want to make a mistake only once. If I make the same mistake more than once, then I have my evidence that I didn’t learn. I never want to stop learning.

  6. What advice would you give for the first day on the job? For the first six months?

    Be observant, be reflective, be a good listener. Bring your best, each and every day. I heard this once and it stayed with me: commit to being better today than yesterday, but not as good as tomorrow or next week.

  7. Who’s had the greatest influence on your career? And why?

    My parents. My father grew up in the Depression and served his country in World War II. His love and desire for his children to have a college education was what drove my mother and him. My siblings and I were first-generation college-goers in my family. Later, he became the town historian, all self-taught. He has never stopped learning and he is 94 years old. From my mother I received confidence to do whatever I set my mind to do.

  8. How did you come to work in teaching and education?

    I love learning. I love sharing with others what I have learned. Education is a joyful and communal experience at every layer. I also know that it was a door to opportunity for my family and me. I want to share the door with every generation.

  9. When you attended BU, did you know what your career path would be?

    I attended BU for my master’s degree and doctorate. I was already an educator, but I was looking to become an administrator who made a difference and impacted urban education. At the time, I envisioned myself as a school level administrator. Eventually, I became a district-level administrator and a superintendent. The desire to impact students and their future at a larger scale continues to drive my work to this day.

Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at orourkej@bu.edu.

Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.

1 Comments

One Comment on Jump-start Your Job Search: Chelsea, Mass., School Superintendent

  • Jack Leonard on 12.02.2015 at 8:00 am

    Great picture! Proud to be working with you. (And I am also a BU alum)

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