Santa Claus is Coming to Town

There’s a new sheriff in town.

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One who used to be a virtual Santa Claus for some Boston Public Schools — sprinkling grant money for art programs all over the city.

But actually running BPS? Now that doesn’t come with milk and cookies.

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Word on the street is that Mayor Walsh didn’t even give city councilors a heads up until about 10 minutes before the story about Tommy Chang being ceremonially shown the door hit the Boston Globe website — so I’m not sure why folks were surprised when we didn’t have a more inclusive process in terms of interim selection.

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(Twitter folks were NOT amused.)

It seems like the city was in panic mode — for reasons that may become clear in the coming months — and turned to a convenient political ally, Laura Perille.

As most know Perille, the CEO of EdVestors which is mostly a fundraising operation that delivers grants to schools in the hopes that money is going to make everything better at BPS. Kind of like our own personal Santa Claus.

Unfortunately, we know that’s not the case. The problems within Boston Public Schools are far more political and systemic than a simple lack of cash. 

With Perille’s selection there are many from a whole host of perspectives with major concerns about her appointment and what it means for the future of BPS over the next two years. (And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this is just going to get us through the summer until the position is filled. She’s taken a two year leave of absence from her current position.)

Laura is a former BPS parent, which is of course pretty interesting from my perspective — and calls herself a parent activist. Her kids attended the Hernandez School in JP, which is 91% Latino and has 28% proficiency in Math and English — and only 15% percent proficiency in Science. (I don’t even want to discuss the 8th grade science proficiency scores at this school because HOLY CRAP. There is literally less than 1% proficiency.)

Well, maybe Laura wasn’t advocating for the kids at the Hernandez? (Can she please start now?)

Eyebrows have been raised from the beginning given the fact that Perille is not an educator. She has never been a superintendent and will need to obtain a provisional license to take the position. Laura’s experience comes from running a well-intentioned $3 million non-profit — and we’re now handing her the keys to a $1.2 billion operation that is responsible for 57,000 children. 

Folks are right to question whether she is in way over her head — and why we’re rolling the dice with BPS in the hope that she can figure things out. 

Some are now even speculating that this will be a permanent position. That remains to be seen. But the highly-political pick of Perille signals a couple of things:

The Boston Public Schools is going to remain a political cesspool — signally to candidates across the country that considering this superintendency is going to continue to be a nightmare for any talented leader with the hopes of actually being given the freedom to run the system and make the highly obvious and needed changes within in the system. Politics will continue to trump kids.

Top education administrators will not even entertain Boston. And why would they?

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The destiny of BPS is now fully in the hands of Marty Walsh. There’s not even the illusion of anything else. Over the last few years Walsh has displayed spectacular cowardice when it comes to making the tough choices around what’s best for BPS. Time and again Walsh has taken the politically safe option and when opportunity to make real change that could directly improve the system has presented itself. Now that it’s clear that every single shot is being called from the Mayor’s office, it’s time to see him actually step up to the plate.

Now, I don’t know Laura, but I do know we need this to work. There is A LOT that needs to be done immediately and we’ve already wasted enough time. Wasted time means there are children we are losing. Every. Single. Day.

And while we stumble through the next few years, there are some MAJOR, front-burner issues that need to be addressed … right away. The Boston Globe did a bit of this, but here’s the list as I see it. (And we’ll be going in depth on these one by one over the coming months.)

  • Boston high schools are in crisis. Does anyone remember the fact that 2/3rds of our kids don’t actually attend a bougie exam school. What’s the plan for immediate intervention?
  • Remember BuildBPS? It’s a plan so old it’s about to go to kindergarten — in fact, I’m thinking about throwing it a 5th birthday party. No, seriously. There are plans in the can that could easily be operationalized and have direct benefits for kids — but require taking them out of the drawer and actually doing things.
  • Addressing the BTU teacher contract and the upcoming negotiations. Who is actually going to be negotiating on behalf of parents and the community?
  • Addressing the concerns of parents and the special education situation in the city of Boston.
  • Full implementation of the LOOK Act. Seriously. (Don’t make us sue you, BPS.)
  • A common enrollment system to really start giving parents options. Really, it’s time to get real.
  • Bringing universal pre-kindergarten to the city of Boston. 

Sure folks know Laura well enough for sprinkling big checks for special programs at schools in desperate need of help, but how will they react to her when she’s negotiating their contracts or cleaning house at the Bolling Building?

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It’s just one hell of a risk to take. 

But the risk we’re taking means actual consequences for children — children who won’t get a shot at a decent life if we screw this up. Again.



What do you think?

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