At-large City Councilor John Connolly, who knows more about public education than any elected official in Boston, says it’s time for Boston school Superintendent Carol Johnson to hit the bricks. He says she “needs to go’’ based on an “emerging pattern of bad decisions.’’ Is he right? Is Johnson beyond redemption? Has she committed one blunder too many?
This is a purely theoretical discussion, mind you. Johnson isn’t going anywhere. Mayor Menino isn’t about to jettison her just a few months before the deadline for a new student assignment plan and in the middle of contract negotiations with the city’s teachers’ union. Besides, she’s enormously popular with the city’s business and nonprofit leaders. And even after what is likely the worst week in a decades-long career, Johnson doesn’t sound like someone who is even vaguely contemplating retirement.
“I’m going to stay,’’ she said, launching into a long description of the work she has to do to get ready for the opening of school in September.
The unvarnished truth is that Johnson deserved to be fired for her mind-boggling mishandling of the case of former high school headmaster Rodney Peterson. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Johnson took no administrative action against Peterson after his June 2011 arrest for punching and choking his wife. Even after Peterson admitted to “sufficient facts’’ in court a few months later, Johnson made no effort to terminate him or even place him on administrative leave. And she kept the matter secret from key officials in City Hall for more than a year. To top it all off, Johnson wrote a glowing letter on Peterson’s behalf to the sentencing judge.
While we’re on the subject of glowing letters, they started arriving in batches at the Globe on Thursday afternoon. Many of the most influential leaders in the city expressed confidence in Johnson, citing her passion, effectiveness, and efforts to ensure that every one of the city’s 56,000 students has access to excellent teachers. The heads of Partners HealthCare, the Black Ministerial Alliance, Boston Foundation, City Year, and Boston Private Industry Council — to name just a few — made clear that Johnson should remain on the job for the good of the city. Even representatives from a sorority and debate league weighed in. Who’s next? The harbor patrol?
A rally in support of Johnson is also scheduled to take place today at the Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain.
While Johnson is being praised to the heavens, let’s not forget what happened here. On Monday — one day after the Peterson story broke — Johnson offered a contrite apology. Just days before, however, she was still justifying her actions to a Globe reporter. Johnson’s supporters say her admission of wrongdoing is a sign of her integrity. But coming clean one day after being exposed in the press — some 13 months after the wrongdoing — is not integrity. It’s damage control.
Judicious people (the kind you want running schools) don’t beat up their spouses or domestic partners. At best, batterers are emotionally insecure. At worst, they are out of touch with reality. But in every case, they lack empathy. Some may be pillars of the community. But they show their true colors at home. Johnson was given a rare, unobstructed view into that home. Yet she chose to look the other way and needlessly exposed students to an unbalanced headmaster for an entire academic year.Lawrence Harmon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.