A recipe for success for new Boston superintendent

Three big principles should guide Cassellius's tenure

SCHOOL HAS JUST finished, with teachers and students alike having engaged in the usual end of year rituals: cleaning out desks and classrooms, reflecting on successes and lost opportunities, and saying goodbye to friends and mentors until next year. The end of June will also lead to a new beginning however: the arrival of Dr. Brenda Cassellius as superintendent of the Boston Public Schools

Dr. Cassellius’s arrival should inspire all of us in the Boston education community to reflect on the successes and unmet goals of our last few superintendents, and the conditions under which our new leader can be successful. As members of groups dedicated to bringing our energy and commitment to the thriving of public education, we’d like to offer the following steps to success for our new superintendent and BPS community.

Authentic Stakeholder and Community Engagement

 We need commitment, resources, and structures that foster authentic community engagement. Students, families, educators and community members have years of experience in our schools and much wisdom to share. They are eager to take part in decision-making, and Dr. Cassellius would do well to capitalize on this interest.

Many are experts not just in the on-the-ground operations of schools, but have great stores of knowledge about past policy and practice that many staff at the department headquarters in the Bolling Building don’t have. People don’t want to be asked for (unrealistic) wish lists or, at the opposite extreme, told about plans that have actually already been decided. This means being honest with stakeholders and community members about when and how decisions are made and allowing those without a usual seat at the table into the process. With distrust running high, it will certainly be difficult. But we believe it can be done.

Transparency and Equity in Facilities Decisions

We need transparency and equity in long-range planning, especially around decisions related to facilities and school configuration. Over two years ago, Mayor Walsh made a promise to invest $1 billion in schools through BuildBPS, a 10-year facilities and educational plan.

Community and parent groups have criticized the lack of transparency and specificity of the plan, and to date, only short-term commitments have been unveiled, not a full-blown plan. What has been implemented– most significantly closing West Roxbury and Urban Science Academy and voting to close the Edwards Middle School– has had a negative and disproportionate impact on black and Latinx students. Interim Superintendent Laura Perille has called the process “iterative,” building slowly stage upon stage, but when many pieces of the plan involve school closings and consolidations without any equity analysis, there is understandable suspicion about what’s coming next.

Superintendent Cassellius must take a step back and design, or release, an actual long-term plan. Many in the community would be happy to help fill in the missing pieces, from a 10-year timetable to demographic and racial impact analyses; from education program evaluations to a full financial plan for the promised funds. The community will only get behind a plan when they understand the full arc of the plan and see a full tally of the benefits and losses.

Autonomy and Leadership

We need City Hall to let the superintendent, working with the community, lead. Under a School Committee appointed by the mayor, we have seen the previous superintendent dismissed without discussion, and the voices of parents, students, and community members silenced and ignored. Yes, there is a place for mayoral leadership in education, and by endorsing the appointment of Dr. Cassellius, Mayor Walsh has had his say. Now it’s time for City Hall to stand back and let our new superintendent lead. Allow her to use her significant experience as an educator and consensus builder to evaluate the district and, together with her team and stakeholders, craft and implement solutions to our most intractable problems.

With a new superintendent, Boston now has an opportunity to start fresh. As we would with a student on the first day of a new school year, let’s give her the tools she needs. Let’s create authentic community engagement at all stages of decision-making; let’s increase honesty and transparency about the future of our schools and school facilities; and let’s allow Dr. Cassellius the autonomy to lead in partnership with those who have the most at stake.

We believe that for the good of our students, she can and must be allowed to succeed, and we stand ready to help.

Meet the Author

Willie Bodrick II

Associate Pastor, Historic Twelfth Baptist Church
Meet the Author
Meet the Author
Meet the Author
Meet the Author
Meet the Author
Rev. Willie Bodrick II is the chair of the Boston Network for Black Student Achievement. Kristine Duffy-Erickson is a member of QUEST (Quality Education for Every Student). Barbara Fields is a member of the executive board of Citizens for Public Schools. Jane Miller is a co-founder of Start Smart Boston. Ruby Reyes is the director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance. Al Vega is director of policy and programs at MassCOSH (Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health).