Acting Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education

Massachusetts Watch Video

Dr. Russell Johnston has been named the acting commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He previously served as the deputy commissioner, where he managed the state’s accountability and assistance system to help schools and districts raise student achievement. He also oversaw the implementation of various initiatives to assess effectiveness, monitor improvement, and identify interventions.

Johnston, who began his career as a special education teacher and administrator, led the West Springfield Public Schools in Massachusetts from 2010 to 2014. Under his leadership, the district saw a 10-percentage-point increase in the graduation rate, a decrease in the annual dropout rate, and gains in student performance across grades. He worked to increase the depth and rigor of the district’s curriculum; create a collaborative process between school committee members, administrators, and the local teacher’s union; and engage families to address barriers to learning. Johnston also launched a Pathways to Prosperity program at the high school to enhance students’ college and career preparedness. Those enrolled in the program received coursework and training in precision manufacturing, a key local industry, both at the high school and through Springfield Technical Community College.

After graduating from DePaul University, Johnston served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as a language arts teacher in Phoenix, Ariz., and a special education instructor in Mobile, Ala. He then was an elementary special education teacher in Newton, Mass., for five years before heading the elementary special education department for the Wellesley Public Schools. Johnston earned a doctorate of philosophy and education leadership from Boston College. He is a member of the second cohort of the Future Chiefs leadership development program.