As the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education prepares to review Boston’s public schools, Mayor Michelle Wu said Tuesday she “strongly” opposes putting the district under held captive.
Two years after the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced a memorandum of understanding with Boston aimed at resolving what DESE called “persistent challenges” identified during a district review, Commissioner Jeff Riley said said progress had been made on some of these issues, but concerns remained.
He said members of the state Board of Education asked him to provide an update on Boston later this spring and that in order to provide a “good update” he decided to proceed. to a district examination. Outgoing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius “welcomes” the review, Riley said.
“I will say, to Dr. Cassellius’ credit, that progress has been made, particularly on workforce diversification, which is, the board knows, an important topic for us,” he said. he declared. “I don’t think the adoption of MassCore gets enough credit…bathrooms have been vastly improved in many schools, so we want to make sure we celebrate the good things that are happening there, but we also know that we have concerns around special education services and the placement of these students, as well as English language learners and, more recently, new concerns have arisen about the accuracy of graduation data from ‘high school, on-time bus arrival data and how that’s calculated, et cetera, et cetera.’
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius held a press conference Tuesday, a day after announcing Cassellius’ resignation.
A total of 41,169 K-12 students were enrolled in Boston’s 113 public schools this year. Over 81% of students are identified as having high needs and around 30% are classified as English language learners.
The three-year memorandum of understanding, involving commitments from Boston and the state, was announced on March 13, 2020, the same day Cassellius and then-Mayor Martin Walsh announced that schools in the city would close to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. .
At the time, some city councilors called for the deal to be put on hold during the public health crisis and expressed opposition to any potential state takeover of the district, and Riley pointed out that the memorandum of understanding was “not a receivership”.
Since then, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Matt Hills of Newton floated the idea of a state receivership for Boston, and the Pioneer Institute released a report recommending such a move.
Wu, Councilwoman Julia Mejia and Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang all used the public comment period at a state Board of Education meeting on Tuesday to urge not to place the state’s largest school district in receivership.
Wu told the board that the Boston school board is expected to vote Wednesday on a budget that makes “unprecedented commitments” to student success and that the city is also investing in the district outside of the public school budget. of Boston and launches programs that will support students. such as affordable housing and food justice initiatives. She said she was excited about the search for Boston’s next superintendent.
“It is with all of this in mind that I strongly oppose the receivership,” Wu said. “With deep gratitude to our educators for the progress we have made and with deep appreciation for the scope of the challenges ahead, receivership would be counterproductive in light of our ongoing transition and in light of the progress we are making in collaboration with I continue to seek partnership with the state, I look forward to this chance to work with DESE on this review and I will also continue to seek partnership with every entity in the city, every institution.
Mejia said that while the district is “not without its problems,” those problems “can be solved by turning to the community, not by launching another retooling of executive leadership.”
“This type of thinking lacks innovation and intentionality and avoids the fundamental problems facing Boston public schools,” she said. “You can swap players at the top as much as you want, but the instability created by this process trickles down to parents, students and teachers, and we end up right where we started, only less engaged and less optimistic about the future.”
No formal action or discussion related to Boston was on the board’s agenda on Tuesday, and no action was taken.
Three districts in Massachusetts — Lawrence, Holyoke and Southbridge — are in receivership, which involves the commissioner appointing a receiver to run the district and improve schools. Riley was previously Lawrence’s catcher.
The commissioner is able to appoint a receiver when the council designates a district as “chronically underperforming”. This designation, according to DESE, is based on an analysis of “results from the district’s most recent examination report, as well as quantitative indicators such as promotion, graduation and dropout rates.”
Education Secretary James Peyser said he didn’t know “what should be the right way forward for Boston.”
“But I absolutely believe the department can’t just sit on the sidelines,” he said. “His district review update is not only appropriate, it is essential in helping us and the city determine what needs to be done to fulfill our shared responsibility to the children and families of Boston. “
Cassellius will step down at the end of the school year, ending a three-year term marred by the upheaval of COVID-19, a move announced last month by Mayor Wu and described as a “mutual decision” by the mayor, Superintendent and BPS Jeri Robinson, Chair of the School Committee. Cassellius will receive a severance package worth more than $300,000, according to a Boston Globe report.