Dr. Steve Jenkins is clearly leaving a job he enjoys in a town he loves.
Jenkins, superintendent of Winthrop schools for six years, has announced that he will be stepping down from his position on December 31.
“It’s just the time [to leave],” said Jenkins. “Many mentors told me that you will know when it’s the time for you to not be in the location that you’re currently in,” said Jenkins in an interview at his office. “And it’s really the time for me not to be the superintendent of the Winthrop public schools.”
Jenkins, 61, said when he started his tenure in January, 2005, “I felt I was the right match, and in July, 2010, I figured I’m not the right match.”
Jenkins is leaving at a time of major turnover on the School Committee with two longtime members, Gus Martucci and Pat Milano, having resigned this year. Some observers believe that a decision by the Town Council to remove $240,000 from the School Department budget irked committee members and the school administration and prompted school officials to take a closer look at the town’s commitment to the schools.
“All I want to say that based upon the recommendations of the School Committee, the Finance Sub-Committee of the Town Council, the Citizens Finance Committee, and the Town Manager, to the Town Council – I feel that the $240,000 should have remained in the school budget,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins showed his sense of humor and timing when he was asked to cite his accomplishments during his tenure as superintendent.
“Didn’t have any,” he said, smiling broadly.
But in fact there were several accomplishments as Jenkins tried hard to maintain the same level of services in the school system and maximize the educational experience for Winthrop students during tough financial times and cuts in local aid.
“One of the accomplishments was that there is a stabilization and continuity in the leadership team, meaning the principals, the director of pupil personnel, the curriculum coach, the business office,” said Jenkins. “I think that’s a key to running a successful organization.”
Jenkins said he worked in a positive fashion with the Winthrop Teachers Association (WTA), adding that he had open lines of communication with presidents Mary Alice Sharkey, Rob O’Leary, and Jen O’Connell. “We were able to settle a previous contract – and research says that school systems with very few grievances, especially that reach the school committee level, are school systems that are functioning with a good sense of employee satisfaction.
“I think the teachers, under the financial conditions and the uncertainty about budget reductions that we had faced, continue to perform admirably,” said Jenkins. “And our principals have done an excellent job as well.”
Jenkins said the school system, under his administration, has done a better job of aligning its curriculum with the state standards, and creating common assessment quarterly, mid-year, and end-of-the-year, especially at the high school, was “a tremendous academic improvement.”
The fact that all sophomores and juniors, through generous donations, are given the opportunity to take the PSATs free of charge, will eventually show improvement in SAT scores. A pilot program for eighth graders to take algebra courses has been well received.
“This September, all eighth graders will be taking algebra,” said Jenkins. “There is also an opportunity for high school students to take more math courses. We’ve changed the science curriculum, so freshmen, instead of taking a general science course, can take a biology course in their freshmen year.”
The number of advanced placement (AP) courses at the high school has doubled since 2005. “This year, tenth graders will be able to take an AP Statistics course,” Jenkins noted.
Though Jenkins has concerns about the MCAS scores in the lower grades and there is a constant effort to improve those scores, “the end result is that students who are graduating from the high school are finding the right match of colleges” for their academic needs and professional interests. “And our students are succeeding in and graduating from those colleges.”
A former coach himself and a trusted mentor and friend to NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, Jenkins has been a strong supporter of the high school athletic teams. His son, Mark, was a multi-sport athlete at the high school and will be heading to Bridgewater State College in the fall. An older son, Adam, played football at Harvard University.
“As a superintendent, I’m very cognizant of what athletics and extracurricular activities bring to the table as dropout prevention programs,” said Jenkins, a former three-sport athlete at Boston English High School and freshman football player at UMass/Amherst. “Athletics and school activities keep students connected to the school. I also think Viking Pride is an outstanding organization that has offered time, energy, effort, and funding to assist with academic, extracurricular, and athletic programs to benefit our students and staff.”
Jenkins said he has come to love the town of Winthrop. He and his wife, Linda, bought a home here two years ago and they will continue to reside in the community.
“I’m going to miss being superintendent in Winthrop,” said Jenkins who has worked in the field of education for 38 years. “I love the town, its smallness, its comfort, and certainly the views. I walk my dog and looking at the ocean and the skyline in Boston, it’s really a gorgeous vantage point to look at the city. I see a lot of positive things in the town and what its people are trying to do. There is no reason to leave Winthrop.”