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Boston schools chief reflects on year

Carol Johnson will assess her record for committee

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson talked with Adib Morshed, eating an orange, during lunch on a visit to the Roger Clap Innovation School in Dorchester.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson talked with Adib Morshed, eating an orange, during lunch on a visit to the Roger Clap Innovation School in Dorchester.

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson, wrapping up a turbulent year as head of the Boston public schools, will present an assessment of her job performance to the School Committee on Wednesday night that includes pages of accomplishments and some occasional problems.

To shore up one weak area, Johnson plans to announce during the meeting a new structure for her executive team, following several high-level departures and a series of incidents this year that raised questions about possible lapses in oversight of the city’s schools.

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Johnson wrote the assessment as part of the School Committee’s annual review of her performance, a process that will probably culminate in January when the School Committee publicly discusses her running of the 57,000-student system and completes its formal evaluation.

This year has been marked by highs and lows for Johnson, who has been superintendent since 2007, an unusually long tenure for an urban school chief. She was named urban ­education leader of the year in October by the Council of the Great City Schools, just a few months after she faced calls for her ouster from some parents for supporting a headmaster ­after he was charged with assault­ing his wife.

In an interview Tuesday, Johnson said that every year presents different challenges.

“I feel pretty positive and upbeat about the work we are undertaking,” she said. “Our schools are stronger than they were last year.”

In eight pages, Johnson cites a number of accomplishments, such as implementing a new teacher contract that includes new procedures for job ­reviews; having more buses arriv­ing at school on time (nearly 96 percent); expanding several popular schools; and making breakfast free for all students this fall.

She characterized state test scores as a mixed bag, noting historically high proficiency rates for eighth- and 10th-
graders but expressing concern about stubborn achievement gaps that persist among students of different backgrounds, especially in lagging literacy scores for black and Hispanic males.

Johnson mentioned her controversial decision to support Rodney Peterson, former headmaster. She promoted him to co-headmaster of the ­O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in summer 2011 as he faced assault charges against his wife, and she even wrote a letter of support for him to a judge after ­Peterson admitted to sufficient facts in the case.

Peterson’s arrest and her letter of support came to light this summer, creating a firestorm for Johnson, who subsequently apologized and issued new guidelines for handling such situations.

“While I regret the situation that arose with one of our former headmasters and I take personal responsibility for the way it was handled, the new guidelines are a positive step forward to creating high standards around ethical behavior and a safe school culture within” the Boston schools, Johnson writes in her self-assessment, which the School Department provided at the Globe’s request.

Speculation has been swirling over the past few months that Johnson might be leaving her post in the coming months, even though her contract does not expire until June 2015.

Fueling the talk has been the fallout from the Peterson situation and the departure of Johnson’s most trusted adviser, Deputy Superintendent ­Michael Goar, who worked for Johnson when she was super­intendent in Memphis and Minneapolis.

But Johnson said Tuesday that she is sticking around.

“I think we have a lot of ­robust work ahead of us, and I look forward to being part of that work,” said Johnson. “I certainly can’t predict the ­future, but I’m working really hard every day.”

Johnson still has the backing of Mayor Thomas M. ­Menino, who appoints the School Committee.

“Superintendent Johnson continues to demonstrate why she is the perfect person to lead the Boston public schools,” Menino said in a statement. “Under her leadership, we have seen real growth in so many ­areas: academic improvement in our lowest-performing schools, a more equitable budgeting process, and significant progress in transportation and food services. More parents are choosing Boston public schools for their children, and that tells me we are headed in the right direction.”

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, declined to comment on ­Johnson’s performance this year. But he criticized her for having a high number of vacancies on her executive team.

“There is no backup plan for when an administrator leaves,” said Stutman, who also faulted previous school superintendents for the same problem. “It isn’t a recent problem.”

Johnson has typically earned high marks from the School Committee. But for the first time, she received a lackluster review in January for last year’s job performance, losing points in particular for the school system’s slowness in fixing chronically late buses and a divisive plan to relocate Boston Latin Academy that proved not to be viable.

The Rev. Gregory Groover, chairman of the School Committee, said he is looking forward to hearing from other members about Johnson’s performance this year.

“Overall, I’m very pleased with a number of fronts that look not only promising but have shown remarkable growth from last year to this year,” said Groover, citing such accomplishments as more timely buses and higher test scores at under­performing schools.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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