Superintendent search committee hears from teens
BPS students weigh in on qualifications for next superintendent to lead system
Sitting at a table with high school students recently, Michael O’Neil posed one of the key questions he faces as part of the 11-member committee leading the search for a new Boston Public Schools superintendent.
“Do we want a superintendent who is good with operations, who can bring in a good academic manager, or do we want a superintendent who is academic and can bring in a good operational manager?” he asked.
“I think the operational skills are more important,” a student wearing a blue hijab answered. “If you give the students what they need, they can perform academically.”
O’Neil and other members of the search committee listened intently as students gathered in small break-out sessions and discussed their priorities and concerns about the School Committee’s search for a new superintendent. According to plan, the new leader would replace Interim Superintendent Laura Perille when the search process concludes in the spring of 2019.
The meeting, held last Tuesday, was one of five listening sessions the search committee has scheduled between Oct. 30 and Dec. 10. It was hosted by the Boston Student Advisory Council at the School Committee Chamber in the Bolling Building in Dudley Square.
O’Neil told the gathering of students that the committee is looking for a leader who can listen to students, teachers, school staff and parents and inspire school communities to do their best work.
“A superintendent sets the tone for the 10,000 employees in the district,” he said. “They take their cues for how the district will be run.”
A rocky start
The first superintendent hired under the administration of Mayor Martin Walsh, Tommy Chang, was lauded as an expert on instruction, but was widely blamed for what many saw as operational failures, including transportation difficulties at the beginnings of school years, a botched plan to change school start times that sparked widespread parent ire and an aborted plan to launch a unified enrollment system that would simultaneously sign students up for district and charter schools. Schools saw significant budget cuts during his tenure and he bore the brunt of the political fallout for politically unpopular policies. Chang resigned at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
Boston Latin Academy senior Sophia Kenneally said she would like the next superintendent to listen to and respond to students’ needs.
“I want somebody who puts students first,” she said. “I think Chang was trying to, but there were places where it didn’t go well.”
Perille last month announced plans to close three schools: West Roxbury Academy, Urban Science Academy and the McCormack middle school. The department has met fierce pushback on that decision from students and parents, including a sit-in demonstration at the Mayor’s office on Nov. 19.
BPS officials this week backed off plans to close the McCormack school, but will ask the School Committee to vote Dec. 5 on closing the other two schools.
Kenneally has advice for BPS officials as they move forward with the superintendent search.
“The motto of the Boston Public Schools is ‘Focus on children,’” she said. “A good first step is to make sure their voices are heard.”
The next search committee listening session will be hosted by the Boston branch NAACP on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 330 MLK Blvd. in Roxbury. The last will be Monday, Dec. 10 at the East Boston Social Center. It will be conducted in Spanish and hosted by the Greater Boston Latino Network.