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Boston Superintendent Interviews: Izquierdo Highlights Experience Pushing For More State Funding

Boston school leaders and community members interview three finalists under consideration for Boston Public Schools superintendent this week. Read highlights from the interviews with Brenda Cassellius and Oscar Santos.

On Monday, Marie Izquierdo — the chief academic officer of Miami-Dade County Public Schools — became the first of three finalists to lead Boston Public Schools to submit to full-day, public interviews for the job.

Izquierdo, the daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college graduate, put herself forward as a fierce and experienced advocate for students, especially those that have historically been marginalized. But she also inspired skepticism from advocates who felt she described her view of public education as “corporate.”

Here are four top-line takeaways on Marie Izquierdo.

1. Izquierdo say she’s “realistic” — and not shy.

For a candidate, Izquierdo was notably candid. (She said she has “a pretty big mouth — and I tend to use it when I need it.”) In a morning panel, she lightly rapped the district for touting its rising graduation rates even as they ought to know that many poor and minority BPS graduates don’t necessarily thrive in college, as the Boston Foundation has found.

Izquierdo described the idea of all students going on to college as unrealistic. Instead, she said she’d like to offer BPS students “multiple pathways” to happy lives after high school, including a means to get industry credentials through work with area businesses.

2. She’d tighten budgets now, and try to grow them later.

Izquierdo said she has learned how to lobby — for more funding and less testing — in Florida’s capital of Tallahassee. She described the state’s long-term disinvestment in Boston schools as “criminal,” and said as superintendent, she’d be prepared to support the PROMISE Act, the ambitious funding bill with Walsh’s stamp of approval.

But Izquierdo also endorsed Walsh’s ten-year structural plan for the district, called “BuildBPS.” By now, that plan will involve closing at least three schools and displacing two more down the road. She even went further than current officials typically do, saying that the district’s physical plant — 125 schools for 53,000 or so students — is simply “too big.”

She said the district has lost 13,000 or so students to the charter sector, and the only way to win them back is to improve the “portfolio” of schools by consolidation, cost-cutting, and “lots of branding.”

3. She’s a fan of data.

Izquierdo sold herself as a data-driven leader on both academic and operational questions. It’s something of a catchphrase of hers in Miami-Dade: “data is our superpower.”

She described how, under her supervision, Miami-Dade set up a hierarchy to better target resources at those that were, in her word, “fragile.” And she credited that system with the slow eradication of schools in the county graded as “failing” by Florida state officials.

Using similar tools, Izquierdo imagined a future in which Boston, “the city that birthed public education, [could become] the first urban school district to effectively close the achievement gap” between rich and poor students, or white students and students of color.

That is a tall order, given that one recent report found that nationally, those gaps have barely budged in a half-century — but this is, after all, a job interview.

Izquierdo’s data-first approach put off some observers, including Monty Neill, a long-time anti-testing activist and expert who attended the morning meeting. Izquierdo did not speak in support of performance-based assessment, which some see as a more targeted and humane form of student evaluation.  Neill described Izquierdo’s pitch as “very corporate and job-oriented,” adding “I don’t think she has a program to enable students to grow into fully-engaged citizens.”

4. She may not be from here — but she says she’s determined to learn.

Izquierdo described this position as not a “plum job,” but as the challenge of a lifetime. (That’s why she’d be willing to move her family out of Miami’s warm weather, she joked.)

But she promised that, if chosen, she’d try to learn a new city. Not an easy task for a city as clannish as Boston.  In her closing statement Monday morning, Izquierdo said that though she would take certain lessons from her time in Florida, “I won’t come with a preconceived solutions. I will listen to you, I will learn, and I will lead.”

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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