Boston Public Schools Quickly Gains New Leader — And Some Resent Selection Process

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The Boston Public Schools system has a new chief, less than a week after the previous superintendent stepped down.

By a unanimous vote Monday night, the Boston School Committee made Laura Perille — head of the education nonprofit EdVestors — interim superintendent.

Some parents protested, saying the selection process — which took five days — had been rushed and hadn't allowed for input.

Perille is a known quantity to the school system and to many on the school system. She has worked closely with Boston schools, awarding grants and administering programs in the district through EdVestors. Additionally, she has supported bilingual education.

Leaders at the schools where she's worked say that even though she's not a teacher, she's a great collaborator, listener, and believer in public education.

Community members who were upset did not appear to object to Perille as a candidate — but rather, they felt they should have been given a chance to interview her or consider other candidates.

Others said Perille seemed like a nice person, but that she wasn't qualified for the job: She isn't an educator, and Boston is a big and complex, billion-dollar school district.

There was some discomfort, too, about a white woman taking over a majority-minority district.

The Rev. Willie Bodrick II came with a group of mostly African-American parents and community members.

"To communities of color, this is institutional violence," he said. "We've had no voice in the beginning. And so we come to a table already set. I'm hoping that they heard us clearly: that we're looking for transparency, that we want true democracy."

During Monday's meeting, Perille sat through two dozen public comments — mostly negative — about the way the selection process has been handled.

She conceded that she's not an educator, but she said she's determined to use her post to support educators.

"I think I need to focus on [how] I can help the incredibly talented educators of the Boston Public Schools, staff and school leaders, personnel and teachers to empower them to do their best work," she said.

Committee members themselves seemed disappointed at this process, and Chairman Michael Loconto promised to have a more open search for Perille's permanent replacement.

It was not clear Monday that Perille's predecessor, Superintendent Tommy Chang, had lost the support of school committee members. Chang announced his sudden departure after serving just three years. He had left his role as an instructional superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District to assume the position in Boston.

Committee members said they were sad to see Chang go. One member, Miren Uriarte, called the process to replace Chang "dismal." But, despite committee members' belief in Chang and a lack of major crises under his tenure, Chang appeared to have lost the confidence of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. With September approaching, the mayor said his administration considered it vitally important that someone else take over as soon as possible.

Perille is required to get a superintendent certification within 90 days of her appointment.

To people who said she's now clearly the front-runner for the permanent superintendent job, she didn't deny that she might seek that position. But, for now, she said she's focused on the interim role, as well as "clearing roadblocks" for the next superintendent.

Correction: A previous version of this article described Tommy Chang as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was an "instructional superintendent" in the LAUSD. We regret the error. 

This segment aired on July 3, 2018.


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Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin is an education reporter.



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