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Activists set conditions for BPS superintendent search

Groups call for diverse candidates, transparent process

Catherine McGloin
Activists set conditions for BPS superintendent search
Mayor Martin Walsh, here at Boston International/Newcomers Academy, has not yet opened a search for a new school superintendent. Photo: Mayor’s Office photo by John Wilcox

Education, civil rights and community organizations are demanding that Boston Public Schools Interim Superintendent Laura Perille not be considered for the permanent position, and that a timeline be set to find her successor from a diverse range of experienced candidates.

Eleven groups, including the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts (BEAM), the Boston Branch of the NAACP, the Boston Network for Black Student Achievement and Citizens for Public Schools, have three main requests for the upcoming search to replace Perille, who was nominated by Mayor Martin Walsh and voted into the interim superintendent position by the Boston School Committee July 2.

“It is imperative that the process is one that will generate the most highly qualified educational leader, and that the process is an inclusive and transparent one,” said the groups’ joint statement released Wednesday Sept. 12, pointing to the impact this future appointment will have on more than 50,000 students and families across the city.

Activists’ first specific request is for the school committee and the mayor to publicly state that Perille, ex-president and chief executive of Boston education nonprofit EdVestors, would not be considered for the permanent job.

“Without a definitive statement regarding the interim superintendent,” said the groups’ statement, “strong candidates may conclude that the search is not a serious one, and they will decline or be reluctant to apply.”

In a sit-down with journalists earlier this month at BPS headquarters, Perille would not confirm or deny if she would apply for the permanent role, stating instead, “My job is to focus on the task at hand, and it’s more than enough to keep me busy.”

At-large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, chair of the council’s Education Committee and a former BPS teacher, agrees with the civil rights and education groups’ position that Perille should not be considered for the job.

“I am a strong believer that the next superintendent should be a classroom teacher,” she said. “For me, ideally, that classroom experience should have happened in Boston.”

Advocates’ second petition is for haste. They want a hiring timeline secured and a permanent superintendent in place in time for the 2019–2020 academic year. Delays, they fear, will discourage talented candidates and be detrimental to educational stability for BPS students.

Walsh, who said he hopes to start the recruitment process next month, has stated that he does not currently have a candidate for the job in mind.

“I think that Boston is one of those places that people want to be part of and I don’t necessarily think we’re going to have a problem finding candidates to apply for the job,” said the mayor, adding, “We want to make sure that we get the best-qualified candidates to apply for the job.”

Thirdly, the groups want to see the implementation of a transparent hiring process that allows space for authentic community engagement.

“The critical choice of a new Boston School Superintendent must not be made behind closed doors,” they wrote in their statement. “All stages of the process, including decision making, must include diverse student, parent, educator and community members.”

The first step will be to form a search committee, the mayor said.

“I’m talking to the school committee members individually just to hear what they have to say and understand what I’m trying to accomplish here,” he said. “And then we’ll take the next step after that.”

The composition of the search committee has yet to be revealed, but activists stated in their letter that they will offer further recommendations on this as the job hunt goes underway.

The education and civil rights group have given the school committee until Sept. 26 to respond to their current requests.

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