Our Next Superintendent Must Be Intentional in Their Leadership
By Francis Pina
“Another One!” A colleague texted me when they heard that Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Brenda Casselius was resigning at the end of this school year. The announcement was not surprising given the challenges that BPS has faced during Casselius’ tenure: COVID-19, reactions to George Floyd’s murder, serving under three different mayors, and implementing a Build BPS Plan that she had no input in designing. It is true that the last three years made it extremely challenging for Casselius to implement her core values of “Joy, Unity, Inclusion, Collaboration, and Equity (JUICE)” into BPS. It is also true that our city requires something different to quench our thirst.
Our city requires consistent leadership from the next superintendent not only to see changes through, but also to bravely and intentionally move BPS forward with students at the center. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to redesign fundamental approaches and the structures of our education system. This includes possibly adjusting school start times, ensuring all schools have one-to-one Chromebooks and all students have internet access, and considering asynchronous days between the end of a marking period and the beginning of a new marking period. Our city also needs a leader who will serve effectively for longer than three years because otherwise our rising ninth graders would have had four different superintendents before entering high school. There are three essential questions that we should be asking during the process of selecting our next superintendent.
First, how will our next leader ensure students and families are the pivotal voice in decision-making and the voice they most hear from as they measure key stakeholder engagement? Some of our students were completely disengaged from school during remote learning, while older students had to work to support their families. Our next superintendent will have to engage with these and other families to consider what their needs are and how BPS can serve those needs outside of the traditional model of schooling.
Second, how will our next superintendent continue to implement the BUILD BPS K-6 and 7–12 expansion plan with the appropriate resources to support schools, including adding new grades and implementing age-appropriate pedagogy? My middle school students and I are now starting a new middle school program within a high school with minimum pedagogical support from the central office. I am naming this because we can all do better for our students. An expansion of grades requires an expansion of understanding of what is developmentally appropriate for those grades. My colleagues and I have spent a lot of time reflecting and trying to consider what would best serve our students, as we look for best middle school practices to learn from to best serve our students.
Third, how will our new superintendent proactively collaborate with teachers? BPS has an excellent, underutilized resource: educators who are also district alumni. This group of educators offers a unique lens into our city and our district’s needs and best practices. The next superintendent and the union should form a committee of BPS alumni who are BPS teachers toward a common goal: to increase the percentage of BPS teachers who reflect our students.
I was honored to discuss COVID-19 and supporting educators with Mayor Michelle Wu, then City Councilor, on Facebook live during Teacher Appreciation Week in May 2020. I made it clear during that conversation that too many of our students feel schooling is being done “to” them and not “for” them. Our next superintendent must be intentional in getting to know our diverse community and implement thoughtful changes that address our students and family’s needs — including feeling that our schools are for them. They must build a team around them who is from or has related experience with our community, because we are Boston Strong when our community comes together and is at the decision-making table.
Francis Pina is in his 9th year of teaching and teaches middle school math for 7th and 8th grade at Charlestown High School in Boston Public Schools (BPS). He is a BPS alum and alum of the Teach Plus Policy Fellowship. Francis is also serving his third year as a Boston Teachers Union Building Representative for Charlestown High School.