WE ARE IN a moment of great possibility for Boston Public Schools. There is a historic influx of funding available to help the district recover from the effects of the pandemic and reimagine our schools. Boston, rich in community resources and leading institutions, has incredible potential to ensure that all students are given a world-class education. Mayor Wu has fully embraced her role as one of the most important players in improving the public school system for children and families. She has appointed four School Committee members that bring lived experience and deep expertise to their roles and she now, in concert with the Boston School Committee, has the opportunity to select a new superintendent.
We have yet to see the mayor’s public, comprehensive vision for education in Boston. With the shakeup in district leadership, that vision is more important than ever. What changes does the Wu administration want to see to ensure the city is providing high quality instruction and learning opportunities for every child — especially for students who have long been underserved in our schools? What indicators and measures will the administration track to measure whether it is delivering on this vision?
Mayor Wu has the opportunity to share her vision and expectations explicitly as the search begins for a new superintendent. The list of qualifications and skills needed to do this job well is long, but there are several essential characteristics Boston’s next superintendent must possess.
The individual in this role must demonstrate an unapologetic commitment to equity and bring a proven track record of initiating and completing hard, politically challenging changes to improve learning experiences and outcomes for students of color, students from economically disadvantaged families, students with disabilities, and English learners. They should be an experienced leader and educator who can manage a highly effective team and build systems that lead to a diverse teacher workforce, excellent instruction, and high-quality student support. They must be prepared to directly address the results of the pre-pandemic, 2020 Department of Elementary and Secondary Education report that recognized the “inequitable access to learning opportunities” for special education students, multilingual learners, and Black and Latinx students in Boston Public Schools.
A new superintendent should arrive with an understanding of Boston’s political, historical, racial, and cultural landscape and the ability to maneuver within that landscape to make positive change for all students and families. It is essential that they value authentic partnership and are ready and willing to leverage Boston’s resources to improve educational outcomes for all students. Our next superintendent will need the capacity to work collaboratively and transparently with families and community stakeholders to monitor progress and hold the system accountable.
The new superintendent will need to hit the ground running and lead our system towards clear priorities to improve student outcomes. This will require diving into the uncomfortable space of why there are such large opportunity and outcome gaps in Boston Public Schools for some populations and the willpower to make the changes to counter the effects of bias and lack of access. A high-quality superintendent will know that if they are able to service special education students well, then the entire district will excel. They must have a proven ability to put learning at the center of the work and drive progress towards student outcomes.
To build community trust, the search and selection process must be transparent and led with authentic engagement. Our students, families, and educators need strong, stable leadership at the helm of our school system. The next superintendent needs to understand what they are being hired to do and be supported by Mayor Wu in that work to see success for our students.
We are members of ACT Boston, a collaborative of 20 organizations focused on making Boston a city where all children thrive. Collectively, these organizations interact with tens of thousands of children and families, and thousands of educators, principals, school-based staff, and school partners.
As city residents, parents, and representatives of education and advocacy organizations committed to improving and shaping Boston’s education for all, we stand ready to roll up our sleeves to help in the search process and to partner with the mayor, the school committee, and a new superintendent in the work ahead.
Devin Morris is co-founder and executive director of The Teachers’ Lounge, a Boston organization focused on recruiting and retaining educators of color. Roxann Harvey is chair of the Boston Public Schools Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SpEdPAC).