Robert R. Spillane

Robert Richard "Bud" Spillane (October 29, 1934 – July 18, 2015) was an American school administrator who served as superintendent of Boston Public Schools 22 and Fairfax County Public Schools.

Early life

Spillane was born on October 29, 1934 in Lowell, Massachusetts.[1] He grew up in Hartford, Connecticut where his parents worked at the Pratt & Whitney plant. He graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University, where he was a member of the school's basketball team.[2] He later earned a master's degree and doctorate from the University of Connecticut.[3] While at ECSU he met his future wife, Geraldine Shea. They would have 4 children together.[2] During his early years as a teacher, Spillane also owned a Dairy Queen franchise. Although he earned more money from the restaurant than he did from teaching, he decided to remain in education as it was something he was passionate about.[3]


Early career

Spillane began his career as a fifth-grade teacher in Storrs, Connecticut.[1] In 1958 he became the teaching principal at Chaplin Elementary School in Chaplin, Connecticut.[2] The 25-year-old Spillane was the youngest principal in the state.[1] After working in Trumbull, Connecticut and Darien, Connecticut, Spillane got his first superintendent job was with the Glassboro Public Schools in Glassboro, New Jersey. He then worked as superintendent of schools of the Roosevelt Union Free School District in Roosevelt, New York. Spillane described the district as "all-black...and a dumping ground for Nassau's social service cases". He unsuccessfully sought to have the district disbanded.[2]

From 1970 to 1978, Spillane was superintendent of the City School District of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, New York. He inherited a $2 million deficit and trimmed the district's budget in order to avoid deficit spending. Spillane was known as a disciplinarian and developed programs for troubled students.[2]

Spillane left New Rochelle to become New York state's deputy education commissioner for elementary, secondary and continuing education. In this role, Spillane had jurisdiction over 3.5 million students and oversaw 83 divisions and a budget of $11 billion.[4]


In August 1981, Spillane was hired to replace the fired Robert Coldwell Wood as superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. In 1982 he was given a 4 year contract extension.[5] During his tenure in Boston, Spillane had to make budget cuts due to shortfalls caused by Proposition 2½. He also worked to improve the district's financial management, implemented new curriculum and promotion standards.[6] In 1982, Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. ended his court's monitoring of desegregation in Boston Public Schools.[7]

Fairfax County

In 1985, Spillane left Boston to become superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools. The job offered a higher salary and was located in a more affluent school district.[6]

Spillane attracted national attention by starting a merit pay for teachers. The program, which was considered a model for other districts, was suspended in 1992 due to budget cuts and eliminated the following year.[8] Spillane also gained attention for lengthening the school day for secondary students by adding a half-hour and a seventh class period.[9]

In 1987, Spillane ordered that a 5-year-old student with AIDS be sent home pending a review on whether she was a danger to other students. During the controversy, Spillane was quoted as saying that the student didn't need a lawyer because she would "be dead in a few months". Spillane denied using those exact words. The school committee voted to readmit the student.[10]

Academic performance improved under Spillane. By 1996 over 66% of high school students graduated with advanced studies diplomas, up from less than 50% when he took over. Average SAT scores among Fairfax students rose as well, however, the average SAT scores of black students were stagnant, and the scores of Hispanic students dropped.[11] In 1995 Spillane was named superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators.[12] Fairfax County had seen a sharp increase in minority students, growing from 12% in 1980 to 37% in 1995. Spillane reduced the pupil to teacher ratio in majority-minority elementary schools from 25 to 1 to 15 to 1 in an effort to improve academic performance.[10]

Spillane was a finalist for New York City Schools Chancellor in 1989, 1993, and 1995 and Texas commissioner of education in 1991.[13][14][15][16]

In 1996, the Fairfax County School Board voted to give Spillane a one-year contract extension through the middle of 1998. However, they informed him that this would be his last contract and they would begin a search for his successor.[17]

Later life

After leaving Fairfax, Spillane joined the United States Department of State, where he oversaw American schools in Europe. In 2006 he became the vice president of the Center for Education at CAN Corp. Spillane died on July 18, 2015 from complications of pulmonary disease at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He was 80 years old. At the time of his death he was residing in Pawcatuck, Connecticut.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Baker, Peter (July 21, 2015). "Robert Spillane Dies at 80; Retooled Boston's Schools". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c d e Feron, James (July 9, 1978). "A Tough Educator With Firm Plans". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b Christy, Marian (April 10, 1985). "Robert Spillane: 'In there slugging' for education's sake". The Boston Globe.
  4. ^ Kindleberger, R.S. (June 1, 1981). "The 3 Finalists for Superintendent". The Boston Globe.
  5. ^ Cohen, Muriel (March 6, 1982). "Spillane will keep school job, 4-1". The Boston Globe.
  6. ^ a b McCain, Nina (February 22, 1985). "Spillane says he'll quit July 1: Will head Fairfax County, Va., schools". The Boston Globe.
  7. ^ Boston Public Schools, "Desegregation Era Records Collection"; accessed January 3, 2018.
  8. ^ Brown, DeNeen L. (March 12, 1993). "Fairfax County School Board Abandons Merit Pay System". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ Baker, Peter (January 21, 1991). "Spillane Bows Out on Texas, Says He'll Stay in Fairfax". The Washington Post.
  10. ^ a b "Three Educators Waiting for One Chancellorship". The New York Times. September 21, 1995.
  11. ^ O'Harrow, Robert Jr. (July 13, 1997). "No Apologies From Fairfax's Spillane". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ "Spillane Wins National Education Honor". The Washington Post. February 11, 1995.
  13. ^ Baker, Peter (September 19, 1989). "Fairfax's Spillane A Finalist for N.Y. School Job". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ Brown, DeNeen L. (June 27, 1993). "Spillane Falls Off List For N.Y. Education Post". The Washington Post.
  15. ^ "Spillane Says Quest for Top Job In N.Y. School System Is Over". The Washington Post. October 2, 1995.
  16. ^ Baker, Peter (January 11, 1991). "Spillane Is a Finalist For Top Texas Position". The Washington Post.
  17. ^ O'Harrow, Robert Jr. (July 12, 1996). "For Fairfax, Spillane Era Ends in '98". The Washington Post.
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Superintendents of Boston Public Schools