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THE GREAT DIVIDE

NAACP urges Boston School Committee to restart superintendent search

Attorney and president of the NAACP’s Boston branch, Tanisha M. Sullivan.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The NAACP is calling on the Boston School Committee not to choose a new superintendent Wednesday, calling the search process “fundamentally flawed” from its short timeline to the lack of Black and Latino finalists.

“The lack of representation in the finalist pool should have immediately caused the process to pause, review, and reopen (if necessary),” Tanisha Sullivan, the organization’s president, wrote in a letter that was sent to School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson Friday.

A search committee, jointly appointed by Mayor Michelle Wu and the School Committee, had hoped to present a more diverse slate of finalists, but two would be-finalists, a Latina and a Black woman, withdrew prior to the announcement. The remaining two are Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper, who is white, and Tommy Welch, who is Japanese American and white.

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They are competing to replace outgoing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who is leaving Thursday.

Meanwhile, competition for Skipper intensified Monday night. The Somerville School Committee authorized its chair to sign a two-year extension to Skipper’s contract, which expires Thursday. The agreement, however, still allows for Skipper to go to Boston with at least 90 days notice.

Having no Black or Latino finalists is a departure from past superintendent searches in a district where about three-quarters of students identify that way. A number of education advocates, including City Councilor Julia Mejia, have expressed disappointment over the lack of Black and Latino finalists.

Sullivan in her letter urged the School Committee to expand the slate of finalists so there’s a more robust mix of representation and experience, noting that having only “two finalists for a nationally respected district like Boston should raise an automatic caution flag in the process.”

The search also was done at an unusually fast pace, Sullivan said. The job was posted in April and finalists were chosen two months later. Previous searches spent many months between those two critical bookends recruiting and vetting candidates.

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Other organizations, including Democrats for Education Reform , also have raised concerns about the short timeline and wonder if a longer search would have yielded a more robust final slate.

Robinson immediately rejected the NAACP’s request to expand the pool of finalists, according to a letter she sent Friday to Sullivan, which was shared with the Globe, noting “our kids cannot wait any longer, and we cannot let this opportunity pass us by.”

“While I share your disappointment that our search did not result in a more racially diverse group of public interviews, I stand by this process. I am confident both candidates have the necessary qualifications and are uniquely positioned to lead our District forward,” Robinson wrote.

Sullivan, who is running for secretary of state, also questions whether the search could have yielded a larger pool of finalists if it waited until after Wu and state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley finished negotiating a district-improvement plan, which was completed Monday.

Sullivan stressed that she thinks highly of both finalists and noted both are qualified to be superintendent, but added the public deserves to have a more robust slate. Wu told the Globe last week looming concerns about a possible state takeover of Boston Public Schools weighed on potential candidates.

Sullivan reiterated her concerns in an interview Tuesday with the Globe.

“I do think the process itself yielded the results we have because the district underestimated the impact that the state level issues would have on otherwise interested candidates being willing to move forward,” Sullivan said. “To me, having this agreement signed by the interested parties now helps to set fully both what the educational and political landscapes will be for anyone coming into the district.”

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Bostonians for an Elected School Committee, which has been concerned that possible receivership may have deterred candidates, urged the mayor and the School Committee on Tuesday to extend the search process and lengthen the anticipated duration of an acting superintendent who will step in Friday.

“Education advocates in Boston are very concerned about how the process has unfolded,” the group said in a statement. “Under the circumstances, it would be a disservice to our students and families to leave the superintendent search incomplete. BPS should now be able to field a more fulsome candidate pool.”

The Globe’s Great Divide team explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to thegreatdivide@globe.com.


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