UMass Boston's Yvonne Spicer ‘04 uses skills from leadership in urban schools EdD to lead new city
Twenty-three years ago, in 1995, Yvonne Spicer ’04 was teaching photography in Framingham’s middle schools and just beginning work on an EdD at the University of Massachusetts Boston in leadership in urban schools. Today, she is talking about the work that’s beginning on a new middle school, making snow-closure decisions, and her goals for economic development as Framingham’s first-ever mayor.
“At the top of my list is always economic development and making sure that we’re thriving as a community, because if we don’t have businesses and places for people to go to work, then that doesn’t keep our economy moving,” Spicer said. “I really am targeting some energy on downtown because if we can anchor some businesses in downtown where people can walk to work and live in the community, that is going to say volumes about downtown.
“And also, thinking about how do we attract new business to make downtown Framingham a destination similar to a Waltham or a Hudson – creating that vibe in Framingham where people want to spend time in our community, they want to go downtown, and there’s something different than they’ll find on Route 9 or in the shopping malls,” she added.
In April 2017, citizens in what had been the largest town in New England voted to make Framingham a city, paving the way for Spicer’s election in November as its first mayor.
“The transition from the town to a city was a difficult place because it was evenly split in terms of making this decision, and so being a city let us be the best city that we possibly can be,” Spicer said. “I would have to say it’s more streamlined in terms of processes.”
This is not the first time Spicer has been a first in a role. Before November’s election, she was the vice president of advocacy and educational partnerships at the Museum of Science. At the time, it was a brand-new position in a brand-new division of the museum. She decided to earn her PhD in what is now UMass Boston’s Urban Education, Leadership, and Policy Studies Program because she saw school leaders weren’t always sensitive to a student’s cultural upbringing.
“I remember a kid getting into trouble because he observed a teacher doing something. He said, ‘In my neighborhood, you’d get hurt for doing that.’ She interpreted that as him threatening her, and he’s just relaying a factual situation,” Spicer said. “I watched this kid get suspended for something that was a poorly misinterpreted thing, and it frustrated me because it told me about the lack of lenses teachers had to look through and also how quick the administration was to act. And yes, this happened to be a child of color… . I looked at that and said, ‘They could have used my classes at UMass Boston.’”
Spicer says an exchange during a class on organizational leadership was particularly influential on her then and now.
“We were able to have a very difficult dialogue about white privilege and what it means to have white privilege, and that was something that was eye-opening, especially for some of our white classmates,” Spicer said. “We were able to move from that experience to say how we as leaders acknowledge that privilege and the power of institutional racism and what happens to people in those contexts. So we were able to open a dialogue a whole different direction. White colleagues were able to enlighten those of us of color about the lens that they saw themselves, which you don’t always get that.”
Spicer was in the first cohort of her program and says she and her fellow alumni still get together. Spicer did her dissertation on nine African American women principals in Massachusetts, many of whom came to see her dissertation defense. She completed her EdD in 2004 and walked in the 2005 commencement ceremony, held outside the Campus Center. She remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I have to say, that was the coolest graduation ceremony ever. I remember they had all of us doctoral candidates sequestered in a room and at one point they said, ‘We’re calling for the doctors.’ And so the sea of undergraduates just opened up and said, ‘Congratulations, doctors.’ It was just so cool,” Spicer said.