She only started work on July 1, but brand-new Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius is already getting what appears to be a final exam as the district mulls how to deal with a persistent controversy: diversity at one of its best schools.
Since early 2016, Boston Latin, one of the city’s three exam schools and considered one of the best in the country, has been caught in a debate over charges of racism and lack of diversity. Black and Latino students currently make up nearly 75% of the district but are only 20% of the students at Boston Latin. Conversely, white and Asian students make up only 23% of Boston Public Schools, but they’re nearly 75% of Boston Latin’s student population.
Some critics say that exam to get in isn’t equitable, that it doesn’t test on the curriculum, so wealthy students can pay to prepare.
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Cassellius wouldn’t commit to a solution, but offered a clue in into her philosophy: “You always want teaching to match assessment that’s absolutely because you want children to be able to succeed with what you’re actually presenting to them.”
Cassellius was most recently the commissioner of education in Minnesota, and her resume spans three decades in the field. Her soft-spokeness belies her ambitions for Boston Public Schools.
“I’d really like to work on ending the conditions of childhood poverty and that would mean an all-hands-on-deck approach. Another one I have is that Boston Public Schools become one of the top 10 places to work in Boston. If you have happy workers you have happy kids,” Cassellius said.
She plans to visit all 125 schools in her first 100 days, while meeting with stakeholders, city and community leaders and holding town halls.
The mom of three adult children said she and her husband plan to move to a new Boston neighborhood every year to get a better sense of where her students are coming from. And when report cards go out, Cassellius hopes the community will give her high marks for her commitment.
“I’m going to go where I’m needed, where I see children have the most need, that’s where you’ll see me,” she said.