More parent input would have helped BPS superintendent search
The process of replacing Tommy Chang as Boston Public Schools superintendent is ending the way it began: hurriedly, secretively, and with little apparent consideration of either the desires of the BPS community or for the requirements of this job. The superintendent will directly impact the lives of tens of thousands of Boston’s next generation.
At the start, Superintendent Chang was summarily dismissed by the mayor with no notice or even participation by the Boston School Committee, never mind community input. He was replaced with an interim superintendent again by the mayor with no notice and took a media tour with the mayor before the school committee had a chance to even ratify the fait accompli.
Once on the job, Interim Superintendent Laura Perille was vague in responding as to whether she would be applying for the permanent position. After community pushback, she announced in an editorial, she would not. The search committee then began. It lacked the voice of a black parent, not employed by the district. None of all the three finalists had the experience as specified in the job description, which community groups advocated to require at least five year’s previous superintendent experience. Despite all of this, the process moved forward.
Interviews of the three finalists were announced during school vacation week. The interview panels, which had no authority, were missing representation by the Citywide Parent Council, the district’s own space for parent voice. The Boston Education Justice Alliance (BEJA) requested questions from members via email, which were then submitted to candidates using the 21st century learning methods of the district — via a handwritten index cards. The winner was voted in a week’s time.
Despite all of these barriers and the terrible process, BEJA decided to support Brenda Cassellius. Cassellius did not meet all the job description requirements, however, she clearly outshined the other two candidates. She talked about building trust with communities. She was the only candidate who talked about the intersections of housing, poverty, and healthcare and described young people holistically, as members of families and communities. Cassellius was highly critical of standardized testing and while she supported weighted student funding, she also specified that basic foundational needs, such as counselors, nurses and social workers, were met in school budgets. Cassellius talked a great deal about working together and creating professional development communities and would begin her work by talking with teachers first.
Many community members continue to share growing anger with BPS’ chronic mismanagement. BEJA remembers that Chang was not the community’s choice when he was appointed by the mayor-controlled school committee. Chang left the district with a $300,000 severance, up to a year of health insurance, and a positive letter of recommendation, under a settlement agreement that was approved by the school committee.
In a year when schools are experiencing over $20 million dollars in budget shortfalls, one has to wonder when the realization will set in that it is much cheaper to listen to BPS students, parents and teachers than to continue to make costly mistakes.
Dorchester resident Ruby Reyes is executive director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance