The corner office in City Hall – and the head of the Chelsea Public Schools – will have a new look and some new ideas now that incoming Supt. Almi Abeyta has taken her place as the leader of the schools, ready to welcome faculty and students on Aug. 27 for their – and her – first day of school.
After a public process last spring, Abeyta was chosen by the School Committee after a close vote, but in deciding fashion, and she reported to work on Aug. 12. This week, with former Supt. Mary Bourque still on the job to help with the transition, Abeyta has been meeting with staff and learning all about Chelsea after having left her position this summer at Somerville High School.
“I’ve just been listening a lot so far – getting to know people,” she said. “It’s one thing to read about a district – a plan – but it’s a whole other thing to see it in action. What I was reading about online and hearing about in the interview process – now I’m seeing it play out and it’s refreshing to see there is alignment between the two. In education, there is theory in action and theory in use. I’m seeing both working together in Chelsea Public Schools.”
That was a refreshing take from the new leader of the schools as she accompanied Bourque around the district – meeting with teachers on Monday for professional development sessions at the Early Learning Center.
Abeyta comes to the district with a great deal of experience in and around Chelsea, living in Revere and having taught in leadership positions at East Boston and Somerville.
“This process was for me a long time coming,” she said in a recent interview. “I just couldn’t pass up Chelsea. I drove through Chelsea every day to Somerville from Revere. I really wanted to serve a community like Chelsea. When I saw it was open, I said I have to do this. I felt it was a perfect step for me professionally and personally…Having been in East Boston, Chelsea felt like home to me. It is me. It feels right and where I am supposed to be.”
Abeyta grew up mostly in New Mexico in a military family, having spent time in various places around the world before settling there. After attending public schools all her life, she eventually made her way to the East Coast and went to graduate school at Harvard University. During that process, she had interned at the Donald McKay Elementary in Eastie. Intending to move on after that, she was heavily recruited by the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to take the principal job at the McKay – and she served there for four years before taking a role in the central administration of the BPS.
“I took the job because I fell in love with the people of East Boston, and I just really liked that neighborhood,” she said. “I was happy in Boston and everything I wanted to do professionally I was doing. Then I got a call out of the blue.”
That call came from Sante Fe, New Mexico, where her hometown was recruiting her to come back and be a key deputy superintendent during a transition time in the system.
That was a job she couldn’t pass up, she said, having wanted to be home for such a long time. However, Boston was calling her, and she soon accepted a job as deputy superintendent at the Somerville Public Schools – which is where she has been.
Abeyta has been a rising star in the education world in Boston and New Mexico for several years, but said she has not taken the step for superintendent before due to her family obligations. This year, her daughter graduated from school in New Mexico and is headed to Boston to go to college. Abeyta said she had never wanted to take on the demanding role of superintendent until her daughter was in college.
“To be superintendent, I feel like you have to be completely committed,” she said. “I always said I’d be ready for that step in my career when my daughter went to college and I was more of an empty-nester.”
Coming into the district – and able to keep a pretty good conversation in Spanish – Abeyta said she feels like she can take the system to the next level.
“I see a district where there are already systems and structures in place,” she said. “People are working hard on instruction. There is so much energy. That’s exciting and attracted me when I applied. It was a great place where I didn’t have to go in and rebuild. That’s a gift…There are a lot of good things happening already. My role is to build on those great things and take them to the next level. That next step will depend on what I hear and see in the data. I will take that next step with the community.”
School starts in Chelsea on Weds., Aug. 27, for students across the school system.