Students Have a Say Bps Search Committee Holds Public Interviews for Superintendent Finalists

For the last month the Boston Public Schools Superintendent Search Committee has been conducting private interviews of the finalists vying to become BPS next superintendent.

Three finalists have emerged and now the search committee has kicked off a round of public interviews with students and teachers that began Monday night and will go through Wednesday.

The three finalists include Marie Izquierdo, Dr. Brenda Cassellius and Dr. Oscar Santos.

On Monday at East Boston High School students and teachers, as well as At-Large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George interviewed Izquierdo.

Izquierdo is the chief academic officer for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida–a position she has held since 2013.

During her leadership, there has been an 18 percent increase in schools receiving average or high state accountability scores, narrowing of the achievement gap in several student populations, increased graduation rates, and an expansion of academically rigorous programming.

Izquierdo has more than 25 years of experience in education. After becoming principal of a Miami elementary school in 2004, when she oversaw its turnaround efforts, Izquierdo then worked as a regional director for turnaround for the Florida Department of Education in 2009, when 79 percent of targeted schools saw improvement.

She returned to Miami-Dade in 2010, serving as Deputy Chief of Staff and Assistant Superintendent of Academics before her being named to her current role. She is married with three children.

At Monday evening’s Izquierdo fielded questions ranging from her plans to close the achievement gap among BPS students to how gentrification is affecting public school enrollment.

Fielding a question on what she has done and strategies or programs she has implemented in Miami-Dade to close achievement gaps Izquierdo said her focus has been on high quality education and learning in all classrooms throughout Miami.

“Closing the achievement gaps has been the collateral of that,” she said. “The strategy we have taken has directly led to closing the achievement gaps. In our classrooms it’s been about making sure our teachers and students  have the access to high quality materials in the classroom that are really challenging students. Also having the same expectations for all students and not just some students is important. On the operational side we have been providing opportunity, access and support to all students. Not every school is created equal I wish they were, but those schools deemed high quality are in high demand but we’ve expanded those opportunities and rigorous programming beyond those schools.”

Izquierdo said some of these strategies have led to the highest graduation rates that Miami has experienced in decades.

Another question from the panel was directly related to the gentrification that Eastie is currently experiencing that has led to a decrease in student enrollment. For example, soaring home prices and rent here has led to more and more people moving out of Eastie and to cheaper communities. EBHS has lost some 200 students since last year and with it $1.4 million in school funding.

“All major large school districts are experiencing attrition and declined enrollment,” said Izquierdo. “This has forced a lot of districts to look at their footprint and determine what needs to happen. There may be declining enrollment here but the need for additional seats in a school elsewhere. I don’t think it’s about consolidation or closing (of schools) but looking at the bigger picture and seeing where there is demand and a need for seats and making some changes. Declining enrollment or changes in enrollment (calls for us) to see where the children are and correct ourselves as an organization (BPS) and meet those children with enough seats.”

The other candidates – one a Boston native and BPS graduate and the other from Minnesota–are as follows:

•       Dr. Oscar Santos, who is currently the Cathedral High head of school. Santos is one of the first superintendent candidates in a long time to have actually attended Boston Public Schools, graduating from Boston Latin School. Santos previously served as Superintendent of the Randolph public schools from 2010-2013; and worked in the Boston Public Schools in various roles from 1996-2010, spending his last six years as headmaster of Boston International Newcomers Academy. He is married and the father of two children.

•       Dr. Brenda Cassellius, who was recently Commissioner of Education for the state of Minnesota. Serving as Commissioner from 2011 through a change in administration earlier this year, Cassellius enacted comprehensive education reforms, including historic new funding for schools, enactment of all-day kindergarten, state-funded preschool for 25,000 children, and has overseen historically high graduation rates. She has also served on the board of directors for the Council for Chief State School Officers, and contributed to the development of, “10 Equity Commitments,” which education chiefs across the country worked to adopt to further equity goals and outcomes. Cassellius began her career in 1990 and has previously worked as a paraprofessional, teacher, administrator, and superintendent in Tennessee and Minnesota. She is married and the mother of three children.

“The Superintendent Search Committee has done a tremendous job carefully assessing candidates to ensure our next superintendent will continue making necessary progress for the Boston Public Schools,” said Boston School Committee Chair Michael Loconto. “It’s imperative that our next district leader shares our commitments to equity, closing achievement gaps, and providing a high-quality education for students of all backgrounds. We are pleased to see all three finalists share our values, and we look forward to a thoughtful public dialogue.”

Dr. Brenda Cassellius’s public interview was held Tuesday at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School, 5 Mildred Ave., Mattapan while Dr. Oscar Santos’s public interview will be held today at 4 p.m. at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School.

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