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Boston superintendent search yields 31 applicants

The exterior of Boston Public Schools headquarters where most administrative departments, including those of the superintendent and School Committee, are located in the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

A panel charged with finding a new superintendent for the Boston Public Schools received 31 applications for the job, city officials said on Monday, but didn’t provide any background information about the candidates.

Pam Eddinger, cochair of the Superintendent Search Committee and president of Bunker Hill Community College, said she was pleased with the number of applicants.

“We are thrilled by this level of interest and enthusiasm for Mayor (Michelle) Wu’s vision for the future of our schools,” she said in a statement. “I am confident that we will find a candidate who will ensure academic excellence for every student in every school in Boston.”

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The number of applicants is smaller than the last two superintendent searches, but is also being conducted on a much faster timeline. The School Committee just posted the job last month. The Superintendent Search Committee is scheduled to discuss the applicants in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday. Officials are aiming to hire a new superintendent by the end of June.

Ross Wilson, executive director of the Shah Family Foundation, said he was encouraged by the size of the applicant pool, but without any information on the candidates’ backgrounds, particularly demographics and work experience, it is impossible to judge the quality of the applicant pool.

“There are still lots of questions about the candidate pool, but 31 is a hopeful number,” said Wilson, a former Boston schools assistant superintendent who oversaw hiring.

It is unclear when the city will release a statistical breakdown on the candidates’ background.

Edith Bazile, an education advocate and a former Boston schools administrator, said she too was interested in learning more about the quality of candidates. She noted a number of highly qualified superintendents probably didn’t apply because the search is being conducted late in a school year and many of them have already committed themselves to staying in their districts through the summer and fall to ensure a smooth start to the next school year.

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“I would like to see their track records of success and experience,” Bazile said. “We have had far too many leaders who have not possessed a proven track record and that has resulted in high turnover and chaos.”

Both Bazile and Wilson questioned whether the search committee and the School Committee will be able to get a new superintendent hired and in place by the end of June when current Superintendent Brenda Cassellius leaves.

The superintendent search has been on a fast track since February when Cassellius, Wu, and School Committee chair Jeri Robinson abruptly announced Cassellius’ departure, coming less than a year after the committee gave her a two-year contract extension.

Finding a new superintendent in less than five months would be lightning fast for the city. The search for Cassellius, who was hired in 2019, took about ten months, while previous searches that resulted in hiring Tommy Chang and Carol R. Johnson took about two years each.

The search also comes at a precarious time for the 49,000-student system as many teachers, parents, students, and advocates anxiously wait to hear whether state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley will attempt to take over BPS to address myriad issues.

The problems within the state’s largest school system are far reaching: lackluster standardized test scores at dozens of schools, high turnover in principals and school district administration, dramatic declines in student enrollment, chronically late running school buses, systemic dysfunction in running the district’s special education programs, and a failure to bring programs serving students who lack English fluency into compliance with federal law.

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To addresss these problems, the School Committee in approving a seven-page job description developed by the search panel, has expressed a preference for a candidate familiar with Boston or Massachusetts/New England, someone who has previously worked as a superintendent, a multilingual speaker, and a leader with a record of eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps among students of different backgrounds, among many other qualifications.

How the applicants stack up against the job description will remain unclear until the city releases information on the candidates’ backgrounds.

For the search that led to hiring Cassellius, the search committee received 39 applications when it began selecting semifinalists in March 2019. More than half of the candidates were Black, Latino, or Asian, and a third had superintendent experience. The School Committee selected Cassellius on on May 1 of that year.

In 2015, Tommy Chang emerged as superintendent out of a field of 75 applicants. However, that search experienced significant delays.

Initially former mayor Martin J. Walsh set an ambitious goal in early 2014 to hire a new superintendent for the next school year, but in May of that year the search committee on the advice of its consultant halted the search after receiving only 26 applications. A stumbling block was a lack of diversity in the applicant pool, with only five candidates known to identify as a person of color.

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