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BuildBPS recommendations to be unveiled this fall

Interim Superintendent keen to kick-start schools master plan, asks for community feedback

Catherine Mcgloin
BuildBPS recommendations to be unveiled this fall
BPS interim Superintendent Laura Perille (center) attends the first day of school at Boston English High School with (l-r) Boston Teachers Union Vice President Eric Berg, BTU President Jessica Tang, English High Headmaster Caitlin Murphy and Mayor Martin Walsh. Photo: Mayor’s Office photo by Isabel Leon

Back-to-school for Boston Public Schools Interim Superintendent Laura Perille means getting BuildBPS, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s 10-year, $1 billion master plan, back on track.

“[BuildBPS] is about the school system we need and want for the future, one that will meet the needs of all of our students,” Perille told journalists at a sit-down last Wednesday morning at the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) headquarters in Dudley Square.

To move ahead with this vision, the interim superintendent plans to release initial recommendations for school restructuring, renovation and brand-new construction this fall.

Announced in March 2017, BuildBPS was designed to modernize many of the 124 schools in Boston. But, after initial rounds of data collection and community engagement, plans have stalled in recent months.

Emphasizing that BuildBPS “is a multi-stage, multi-year move,” Perille, former president and chief executive of Boston education nonprofit EdVestors, said this initial two-to-five-year roadmap will be overarching, but will include some details about more immediate action scheduled for the short term.

Eliciting feedback and fully disclosing BuildBPS data is vital to the process, said Perille. As well as traditional forums and town halls, the interim superintendent plans on “taking our conversation to the community” and using faith-based partners and community advocates to host meetings and gather reactions.

“The right thing to do is to put [recommendations] out there clearly and then take feedback on the real hard choices and their implications,” said Perille, who was voted into the role on July 2 by the Boston School Committee, five days after the abrupt resignation of former superintendent Tommy Chang. “We don’t know those unless we put something out on the table that people can poke back at.”

Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang thinks this is the right approach.

“We are hopeful about having a process as described. We look forward to learning more about these proposals and being a partner in the future of BuildBPS,” Tang said.

Recalling mixed past experiences with BPS central office communications, Ruby Reyes, Boston Education Justice Alliance (BEJA) director, is more skeptical.

“I hope this process is authentic, that they do take in feedback and implement it, and that it’s not just a label,” said Reyes.

Perille’s “hard choices” will include deciding where funds are allocated, which schools are closed, which are remodeled and where new educational facilities are built. She said she realizes some people will be unhappy with the outcomes, but she hopes that a transparent process will ease their disquietude.

Transparency is precisely what Reyes has called for. She told the Banner that BEJA has advocated that future school closures be postponed until an open consultation process involving all community members, “not just the usual voices,” is achieved.

“I hope that in her leadership she is being thoughtful and committed to community engagement,” said Reyes, who wants to see a more diverse selection of parents and community members involved in BuildBPS discussions. Low-income families, parents working multiple jobs, those are the voices that are often lost in these negotiations, said Reyes.

Tang has faith that difficult decisions can be justified, if solutions ultimately benefit all students. “We need to think about access, equity and opportunity for all, including our highest-needs students,” said Tang, echoing Reyes’ concerns about inclusion.

As a mother of two former BPS students, Perille said she has “a unique lens” on parent-teacher-staff relations, which she hopes will improve with more “transparent and authentic” communication out of central office. To facilitate the inclusion of all interested groups in conversations this fall, Monica Roberts has been appointed chief engagement officer.

After more than a year of surveys, data collection and community engagement, Perille is keen not to wait any longer to execute BuildBPS, despite not knowing how long she will be in the job and who might continue her work if and when she leaves.

“My job is to focus on the task at hand, and it’s more than enough to keep me busy.” said Perille, who would not confirm or deny that she will be applying for the permanent position.

“Right now my focus is on pushing the change that needs to happen,” said Perille. “I don’t think anyone wants this interim year … to be viewed as marking time.”