Some call Austin, Texas the liberal haven of the south. It’s a beautiful southern city with dusty streets and a chic rock and roll nightspot never out of eyesight. It’s not exactly how one would describe Wellesley, Mass., but, according to Wellesley’s new school superintendent David Lussier, there are comparisons to be made.
“It’s actually a lot like Wellesley,” he says from the Texas capital. “People are passionate about their schools. It’s why I’ve been here six years.”
Lussier, currently the executive director for the Office of Educator Quality in the Austin, Texas Independent School District, certainly brings translatable skills. The Wellesley School Committee saw fit to unanimously vote him into the position Tuesday, and there is something to be said for managing a high-profile education office in a district with 125 schools and 87,000 students.
Though he’s spent the past six years educating in Texas, he spent his entire life prior to 2006 in Massachusetts.
Lussier, 42, was born in Lowell and grew up in nearby Dracut. He got his undergraduate degree at University of Massachusetts – Lowell in 1991 and earned a dual Master’s degree – teaching and history – from Boston University soon thereafter. From there, he enrolled in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.
He taught at Andover High School from 1994 to 2000, earning the distinction of Massachusetts Teacher of the Year for academic year 1999-2000. After six years serving as Associate Director of Domestic Policy in the Clinton and Bush administrations he found his way to Austin.
Six year’s later, he’s found his way home, not just for the comforts, but also, for the logical next step in his already impressive career.
“I was looking to return home, but even more important than that I was very much looking for a smaller district,” he said. “It’s challenging in a district of [Austin's] size to be as intimately involved, to be as visible as you’d like. You really have to parcel out your time and make choices.”
Lussier is aware of the troubles in Wellesley’s School Department this past year. The department was racked by missteps, including allowing School Business Manager Ruth Quinn Berdell to walk away with , signing a contract with food vendor Chartwells which has had , and turning a blind eye to several former cafeteria workers who in the process.
He says the town impressed upon him the idea that it was moving forward.
“My early sense is that the school district moved very quickly to correct some of those issues as they arose,” Lussier said. “Folks are ready to move on from that.”
Lussier has never served as a superintendent or even a principal, but he says the superintendent position is perfect for him. It marries his two passions: policy writing and teaching. And though there is a disparity in size of district he’ll now manage, Lussier says good leadership looks the same everywhere.
“I don’t think school leadership is easy on any scale, whether it’s a small New England town or a large urban district,” he said. “Providing a high quality education…requires support, a common vision that’s shared not just by a superintendent but…all the way down to those classroom teachers as well as throughout the community.”