Acting Mayor Kim Janey was elected to the City Council on the strength of her credentials as an education advocate.
How fitting, then, that the first major test of her leadership will be ensuring that the Boston Public Schools fully reopen this year.
While some students are attending school in person, the school system has received a waiver from the state exempting it from fully opening right away. The current plan is for schools to be fully operational on April 26.
But the BPS being what it is, all plans are written in pencil and subject to change. For thousands of students who have struggled, through no fault of their own, with the challenges of pandemic learning, “maybe” isn’t good enough.
In an interview Friday, Janey said a full reopening is a priority for her.
“As someone who comes from a family of educators, as someone who’s spent a good part of my career working in education advocacy around equity in education, this is extremely important,” Janey said.
“It is critically important to get our children back in the classroom fully, with their teachers, and with their peers because while I am grateful for all of the hard work that educators have done over this past year during the pandemic, that families have had to take on, with remote learning, and I know it is really difficult and that can never take the place of in-person learning.”
But for Janey — who said she will announce her plans about running for mayor in the next two weeks — what happens with the schools now will be critical. For thousands of students, the pandemic has only exacerbated longstanding inequity.
“Even before COVID there were gaps — achievement and opportunity gaps,” Janey said. “So we have to work doubly hard to make up for those gaps that existed before COVID and any slippage there may have been.”
Janey has consistently deflected questions about when or whether she will enter the race for mayor, and enter a campaign where management of the schools will get even more scrutiny. She finally addressed her plans, sort of.
“In the next two weeks I will definitely make a decision and an announcement,” she said.
What to do about opening schools has become a roiling controversy. The many issues include how to ensure student safety, how to keep teachers and school personnel safe, and how to deal with old buildings that exacerbate all the other problems.
City Councilor Andrea Campbell — who is, of course, running for mayor — said she is concerned that BPS is far behind on the work it needs to do to address the crisis.
“Residents and parents are concerned that they’re not going to meet this April deadline, and also that they’re not going to completely reopen in the fall,” Campbell said.
Campbell, who has made education reform a central issue in her campaign, said Janey must ensure that the BPS is ready to reopen when they say they will.
“This will be one of the pressing issues for the administration: having the district keep their promises,” Campbell said. “When they say that they’re going to implement something, they sometimes miss those timelines.”
A full reopening isn’t all she’s talking about. The BPS needs a comprehensive plan for addressing the many issues raised by the pandemic — not just talking points of a “timeline,” but a real strategy to be implemented this spring and summer for ensuring that students don’t continue to fall behind.
And, as Campbell notes, the public is rightfully skeptical that BPS can deliver on that.
Assuming, as I do, that Janey is running for mayor — and even if she isn’t — pushing BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius to improve on the very shaky performance of the School Department will be the first order of business.
Sure, it’s a trial by fire, and just the start of what awaits her. But Janey knows as well as anyone that education and politics are always bound together in Boston.