Boston Public Schools are on track to meet the first round of deadlines in the state-mandated plan to improve the district, the acting superintendent said Wednesday in a report to the School Committee.
Drew Echelson, the interim leader of the district for the two months between Brenda Cassellius’ departure last month and Mary Skipper taking on the role for the new school year, is responsible for accomplishing nearly half of the measures in the improvement plan city and state leaders agreed to last month.
“I’m completely confident that we will fully meet the deadlines outlined for August,” Echelson said.
Of the 24 mandates agreed on by the state and city, 10 must be completed by Aug. 15 — nine by the district and one by the state. With just over a month remaining, BPS must develop a plan, policy, and procedure manual to improve special education, and hire a team to make the changes; create a plan and a system to ensure all English learners get needed services; commission a safety audit and improve its system for responding to family complaints; review the status of bathrooms at all schools and plan improvements; and launch an evaluation of its transportation system.
All but one of the district mandates are “on track,” Echelson said. The ninth, “to create a system ensuring all English learners get needed services, is an area of “slight concern.” Echelson later explained that his concern was more related to a required Oct. 1 report to the Department of Justice, not the Aug. 15 deadline to make systemic improvements related to that report.
In general, Echelson said, the Aug. 15 deadlines, which deal mostly with audits and plans, are easier to achieve than later mandates, when the district will implement those plans.
“We will hit the August 15 deadlines,” Echelson said. “The real test of where we are is as we get into October and November through the winter and beyond, whether or not BPS is actually pivoting its practices to be the more collaborative, cross-functional organization that our system requires in order for us to deliver on the promise of that systemic improvement plan to our students and families.”
The final Aug. 15 deadline in the improvement plan is for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to hire an independent data auditor for the district. The department posted a request for proposals Tuesday, Echelson said. He estimated that hiring process will take roughly a month.
Echelson also shared updates on how the district will move forward on the improvement plan, including announcing the appointment of the district’s current director of data and accountability, Monica Hogan, to spearhead the agreement as the new assistant superintendent of data strategy and implementation.
Among other measures, the district has created working groups across multiple central office functions, begun seeking auditors for the transportation and student safety systems, and planned professional development for teachers and staff, Echelson said. The district’s legal team is reviewing an updated special education policy manual, while the district is on track to complete a new strategic plan for multilingual learners by Aug. 15.
The other pressing matter before the School Committee is to finalize Skipper’s contract, including her start date. The School Committee will meet in executive session Friday to discuss contract negotiations, Chairwoman Jeri Robinson said. The committee has also scheduled two public meetings in August, Robinson said. At one of them, members will vote on a superintendent contract for Skipper and an interim superintendent contract for Echelson. The next meeting will be Aug. 10.
Skipper, the Somerville superintendent of schools, became heavily involved in the work to meet the state deadlines as soon as she was selected two days after the agreement was reached; Skipper and Echelson spoke 20 times in the first few days following her selection. But Skipper, for all her jokes about 18-hour days, is still running Somerville schools. In the meantime, Echelson is responsible for meeting the state’s deadlines and expectations.
The acting superintendent also has high expectations for himself.
“I want to ensure summer school goes off as strong as possible,” Echelson said. “I want to make sure that we have a great first day of school. I want to make sure that I’m supporting the transition of incoming superintendent. And then just as importantly, I want to make sure that I’m laying the foundation, in collaboration with central office leaders, with this governance team, and with our school leaders, for fundamental change across the central office.”