Commencement 2017: Biographies – Jean McGuire, G63

Jean McGuire, former executive director of METCO, the nation's longest continuously running voluntary school desegregation program is awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service during the Phase I ceremony of Tufts University's 161st Commencement on Sunday, May 21, 2017.
Photo by Alonso Nichols/Tufts Photography


Your life’s work has been to champion educational quality and opportunity. Born and raised in Boston, you became a teacher in the city’s public schools—and gained a master’s degree in education from Tufts. You then went on to guide the growth of the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (“METCO”) for more than four decades. Because of your efforts, what began as a grassroots effort to send students from Boston’s resource-strapped public schools to wealthier schools in neighboring suburbs has now allowed thousands of Boston children to attend some of the most highly rated public schools in the United States. Your tireless work as an advocate extended to your service as the first African-American woman on the Boston School Committee. You have never lost sight of the conviction that first led you to teaching—that every child deserves a chance to shine. “We all have the ability to do something good,” you once said. “We just need the proper resources to help make our goals and abilities possible.” In recognition of your indomitable efforts to open doors of opportunity for children, Tufts is pleased to award you the degree of Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa.


When JEAN McGUIRE, G63, was interviewed in the late 1980s about her work on the award-winning television documentary Eyes on the Prize, about the civil rights movement, she observed, “We all have the ability to do something good. We just need the proper resources to help make our goals and abilities possible. ”

McGuire made sure tens of thousands of urban schoolchildren had those resources as executive director of METCO, the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, which is the nation’s longest continuously running voluntary school desegregation program.

For more than four decades, she championed METCO’s vision to provide students in underfunded Boston schools the enriching education afforded by wealthier suburban school districts. She was also the first black woman to win a seat on the Boston School Committee, in 1981.

McGuire grew up in the Boston area, and then went to Washington, D.C., to attend high school. She attended Howard University for three years before getting married, and later earned a B.S. in education from Boston State College (it merged with University of Massachusetts Boston in 1982). She earned a master’s degree in education from Tufts in 1963.

As a young teacher in the Boston public school system, she found herself in the midst of turmoil. The Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act of 1965 catalyzed the desegregation of the city’s public schools, a mandate that ignited strong opposition. At the same time, pressure from black parents, frustrated with the Boston public schools and the Boston School Committee, gave rise to METCO, a grassroots program launched in 1966 with funding from the Carnegie Foundation.

METCO offered a different approach to school desegregation: the voluntary transfer of students to other school districts. METCO aimed to expand opportunities for students in underfunded school districts, increase diversity in suburban schools, and give all students an enriching, integrated learning experience. In its first year, seven Massachusetts school districts (Braintree, Lincoln, Arlington, Brookline, Lexington, Newton, and Wellesley) began accepting Boston public school students.

McGuire was on board. She had witnessed how predominantly African-American schools often lacked even basic supplies. She became METCO’s fourth executive director in 1973 and oversaw the voluntary placement of tens of thousands of students of color from Boston in 190 suburban schools.

She has served on the boards of organizations such as the Boston Children’s Museum, Community Change Inc., and the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts.

“She stood up for what was right, regardless of the ramifications, ” Barbara Fields, of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, told the Boston Globe. “She eats, sleeps, dreams, and works by what is best for children...She really is an icon and a legend and paved the way for those of us who came after her.”

After leading METCO for forty-three years, McGuire stepped down in 2016. For her dedication to closing the educational equity gap, she was named humanitarian of the year in 2004 by the Boston Ethical Community; in 2012, Community Change awarded her a lifetime achievement award.

Tufts will award McGuire an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.