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 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.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.”