Last Wednesday the Boston School Committee voted 5-2 to offer the position of Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to Dr. Brenda Cassellius, who most recently stepped down as Commissioner of Education for the state of Minnesota.
The vote was taken during a meeting where School Committee members publicly debated the qualifications of the three finalists for the Superintendent position, which also included Dr. Oscar Santos, Head of School for Cathedral 7-12 High School in Boston; and Marie Izquierdo, Chief Academic Officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida.
The BPS Superintendent Search Committee held a series of public interviews with the three candidates last month here in East Boston and elsewhere in the city.
“All three superintendent candidates brought excellent ideas and experience to the discussion. On behalf of the Boston School Committee, I thank all of them for participating in this public process,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Michael Loconto. “We are excited to begin working soon with Dr. Cassellius, whose wealth of experience, commitment to equity, and proven track record as an education leader will be critical in continuing our progress in the Boston Public Schools.”
Cassellius, who served as Education Commissioner for Minnesota from 2011 must, now formally accept the offer for the BPS position, and would need to finalize conditions of her employment, including a salary and a starting date, through negotiations with the School Committee. Cassellius would succeed Laura Perille, the current Interim Superintendent and former CEO of the education improvement organization EdVestors. Perille became the Interim Superintendent last summer following the resignation of Dr. Tommy Chang, who held the Superintendent role for three years.
“With the selection of Dr. Cassellius, we’re investing in a proven leader who knows what’s right for kids and understands the value of community voice,” said Mayor Martin Walsh. “The role of Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools is one of the most important and difficult jobs in the city. I’m pleased that the Boston School Committee selected someone with deep experience improving educational outcomes for students, and I congratulate Dr. Cassellius for her selection. All of the candidates were fully qualified and I would like to thank them for their time. I thank the Boston School Committee and the Superintendent Search Committee for conducting a thorough, transparent search process to make sure the right leader was selected for the Boston Public Schools.”
According to her resume 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.
However, before she left Minnesota, the state’s educational system has been embroiled in a lawsuit since 2015 alleging constitutional violations.
In 2015, seven families and a nonprofit organization sued the state, alleging a range of constitutional violations, including the state government’s refusal to change the boundaries of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul school districts; creating charter schools; and inequitably distributing resources. Because the Minneapolis and Saint Paul school systems enroll a disproportionately high number of minority and low-income students, the plaintiffs claim that the districts’ boundaries violate the uniformity requirement of the constitution.
Cassellius was named in the lawsuit.
The suit claims that “school children in public schools throughout the State of Minnesota, including the City of Minneapolis, the City of Saint Paul, and their adjacent suburban communities, are largely segregated by race and socioeconomic status,” and that the state and state officials are allowing and maintaining such segregated schools, and that the Minneapolis and St. Paul public school districts have established numerous “hyper-segregated schools” with the knowledge and consent of Minnesota officials.
Those who filed the suit alleged that their children received an inadequate education as the “result of the educational and social policies pursued or accepted by (state officials), including the racial and socioeconomic segregation of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools.”
The complaint included data showing a racial achievement gap among students in Minnesota, as well as achievement gaps between students in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools and students in public schools in other parts of the state. The data include standardized test scores and graduation rates. The complaint alleges that these gaps are caused by racial and socioeconomic segregation.
The state’s trial court declined to dismiss the suit, but an appellate court ruled in 2017 that the case raised a political question inappropriate for judicial resolution and, therefore, had to be dismissed.
However, in July 2018, in a 4–2 opinion, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned that ruling, asserting that judicial intervention was indeed allowable and sent the case back to the trial court.