A prominent group of Black ministers on Monday said that they remain confident in Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius after a difficult first year on the job, arguing that the school district needs stable leadership amid a pandemic that is challenging educators and students as never before.
“We know from watching the Boston Public Schools,” the Rev. Jacqueline Rivers said. “The last thing our kids need is more instability. More disruption.”
Cassellius is Boston’s fifth superintendent in 10 years. With a little less than a year on the job, she is fighting through some of the toughest challenges of her tenure, from criticism of her management style to reopening schools during a pandemic.
“We understand there is growing impatience across the city about the work and the vision and how the superintendent is rolling out the plan in the middle of the pandemic,” said the Rev. Gregory Groover, pastor of Charles Street AME Church in Roxbury and a former School Committee chairman. “We want the city and the community to know that we are in support of the direction she’s moving.”
Clergy members promised to meet Cassellius on a quarterly basis to offer support, feedback, and “accountability.”
“It’s not a time to complain or point fingers,” said Matthew Thompson, pastor at Jubilee Christian Church. “It’s time to lean in and work in collective unity for the sake of our children.”
The last time Boston’s Black clergy made a public political statement in support of a superintendent was in 2012, when Groover headed the School Committee. They rallied behind then-superintendent Carol Johnson, who is Black, after public calls for her resignation for failing to discipline a headmaster charged with domestic violence.
Cassellius, who describes Johnson as a mentor, set out to meet clergy and attend religious services around the city when she arrived in Boston last summer. It was a deliberate strategy to meet families in their communities, but it also helped her build support for her agenda.
The support for Cassellius comes after principals made some of their frustration public last month, releasing a blistering letter to the Globe complaining that the superintendent had not collaborated on a major overhaul of the city’s high schools and had mismanaged the district.
Members of a task force looking at the lack of opportunities for Black and Latino students raised concerns when Cassellius didn’t follow their recommendation to pause the controversial entrance exam for Boston Latin School and two other elite high schools in light of the pandemic and the challenges of remote learning.
The Rev. Willie Bodrick II of Twelfth Baptist Church was part of that task force and resisted publicly backing Cassellius on Monday.
“This has been framed as an attack,” Bodrick said of the public criticism. “But I’m not sure that helps the discourse . . . Educators are worried, parents are worried, children are worried. And we want to create a space of accountability.”