Boston School Committee votes to extend superintendent’s contract

Cassellius granted two-year extension as district digs out from pandemic shutdown

THE BOSTON SCHOOL COMMITTEE voted Wednesday night to extend Superintendent Brenda Cassellius’s contract by two years, giving the city’s school leader a vote of confidence after an initial two years on the job that were dominated by contending with the pandemic. 

The committee voted 4-1 to extend Cassellius’s contract when her current three-year agreement with the city expires next June. The four members who voted to extend the contract generally praised her leadership and willingness to take on tough issues, but the overwhelming sentiment was that it would be a setback for the school system if an extension was not granted and the district went in search of a new superintendent a year from now.

“We have a deep responsibility to drive stability,” said Hardin Coleman. Michael O’Neill expressed a similar sentiment. “I do believe in stability for our district. I do believe you’re on the right path,” he said to Cassellius.

Quoc Tran indicated he was frustrated with the limited options — the School Committee could only vote Wednesday night to extend the contract or notify Cassellius that her contract was not being renewed. “I’m not going to turn her into a lame duck,” he said.

The lone no vote came from Ernani DeAraujo, who assigned Cassellius scores of “developing” or “minimally effective” on five of the eight categories school committee members judged the superintendent on in written evaluations. He was particularly critical of her management skills, suggesting the possibility of the mayor and school committee hiring someone to manage the district’s operational functions, with Cassellius serving “under the manager as the strategic vision officer,” a role that he said “suits her greatest strengths.” 

The vote on a contract extension came just four months before the city elects a new mayor, and three of the six candidates running to succeed Marty Walsh said the school committee should not extend Cassellius’s contract so close to the election. Boston is one of a handful of large urban districts in the country in which the mayor has control of the schools and appoints all school committee members.

Andrea Campbell, Jon Santiago, and Michelle Wu  all urged the committee not to approve a two-year extension, while John Barros, Annissa Essaibi George, and Kim Janey all voiced support for the extension. 

“This vote shouldn’t have taken place,” Santiago, who has called for a return to an elected school committee, said in a statement. “Our school committee currently lacks diverse representation and accountability to voters. Tonight’s action only adds to the erosion of trust between BPS and families of our school children. Boston deserves a better process and we can get there through an elected school committee.”

 Cassellius, a former state education commissioner in Minnesota, arrived in Boston two years ago with a broad agenda centered on addressing inequities in the long-troubled district and closing yawning achievement gaps in which Black and Latino students significantly lag behind their white and Asian peers. 

She has embarked on some reforms, including getting the district to move toward requiring that all students follow the MassCore sequence of courses considered necessary to prepare high school students for college and career success. But many of her initiatives have been overshadowed by the unprecedented global health crisis that forced the shutdown of the district’s schools nine months after Cassellius’s arrival. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Schools finally reopened in the closing weeks of the school year that just ended, and the district is making plans for nearly all students to be back in school buildings for in-person learning in the fall.

Cassellius has contended with criticism from K-8 and high school principals as well as a vote of no confidence in December from members of the Boston Teachers Union over her school reopening plans. Meanwhile, the March 2020 shutdown of schools also coincided with release of a scathing state report on the district. The 286-page report said, “Opportunity and achievement gaps abound in the district,” and had particularly harsh words for special education services, which it said are “in disarray.” 

It described long-standing problems that predate Cassellius’s arrival in Boston, but which frame the challenge facing her in leading the state’s largest school district.