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4 things to know about the departure of Boston schools chief Brenda Cassellius 05:20
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Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius addresses the news media about her decision to step down at the end of the school year during a press conference at Brighton High School. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius addresses the news media about her decision to step down at the end of the school year during a press conference at Brighton High School. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston schools superintendent Brenda Cassellius appeared to catch many by surprise Monday when she announced she would step down from her position at the end of the school year. Her resignation letter provided little in the way of insight into why she's leaving her post after three years on the job. Cassellius used most of the two-page document to highlight her accomplishments and thank the people she worked with during her tenure.

Here are four thing to know about Cassellius's decision, and what it means for Boston's schools moving forward.

1. It's unclear why she's leaving.

In a statement, Mayor Michelle Wu said only that the move was a "mutual decision" between herself, Cassellius and Boston School Committee chair Jeri Robinson. Wu said it was made "after careful deliberation, with mutual respect for all involved."

On Tuesday morning, Cassellius told reporters that no one is pushing her out the door.

"Nobody could have anticipated a pandemic and three mayoral changes and just an incredible amount of headwind," she said.

Wu, who was asked directly whether she requested that the superintendent step down, said pointedly, "No."

2. Mayor Wu has just five months to choose a new superintendent.

Is that enough time? Wu maintains that it will be.

"We are ready and we are starting from a very strong place to launch the transition process," she said.

Cassellius said she plans to work closely with the mayor and the incoming schools chief to ensure a smooth transition when she leaves in June.

But some Boston education advocates say they're skeptical there will be enough time for community input on the hiring process.

"We have a lot of concerns around what this means for the process in terms of students, parents and educators being involved with the selection of the new superintendent," said Ruby Reyes, director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance.

Reyes noted that it took the city about a year to select and hire Cassellius after the prior superintendent, Tommy Chang, stepped down in 2018.

3. Cassellius's tenure had its share of ups and downs.

Cassellius played a big role in the district's exam school admissions policy overhaul in the summer of 2021, which many have lauded as a significant step toward improving equity in the district. While the school committee cast the deciding votes, it was the superintendent's job to develop the proposal.

Cassellius assembled a task force, and the group spent six months working on the issue. Members were planning to send the superintendent a proposal that allowed socioeconomic factors to be considered — in addition to academics — in 100% of admissions decisions. For reasons that are still unclear, the group changed its mind at the last minute and altered the proposal. Cassellius, however, fought to keep the provision and ultimately prevailed.

Cassellius has also been praised for raising graduation requirements to match university admissions requirements, among other things.

But the superintendent has faced significant criticism during her three-year tenure. In December 2020, the Boston Teachers Union passed a vote of no confidence in Cassellius while negotiating conditions to reopen school buildings after the pandemic shut them down, sending classes remote.

In 2019, a Boston Globe investigation revealed that many of the district's bathrooms were often left in dirty and unsanitary condition.

And Cassellius missed an important deadline in August to renew her certification to operate a school system. She did later earn the certification.

4. The hunt for a new superintendent begins next week.

The school committee will officially begin the search for a new superintendent at its next meeting on Feb. 15. Mayor Wu said she plans to support the committee in the decision-making process, and hopes that the next BPS superintendent will build on the legacy and foundation that Cassellius created.

"We need someone who can truly hit the ground running immediately, who can step in right away, knowing our district well, knowing our communities well and to be able to execute," Wu said.

This segment aired on February 8, 2022.

Related:

Carrie Jung Twitter Senior Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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