Mayor Michelle Wu came directly to the state’s education board Tuesday to defend the city’s progress on the state-mandated improvement plan she agreed to last year in order to avoid a state takeover of the city’s school system.
Wu’s statement followed recent criticism of the district by Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, more than a year into the agreement.
“BPS has met the deadlines for 29 of the 31 deliverables in the [improvement plan] with two remaining: bathroom renovations and the facilities plan projected to finish by the end of the year,” Wu said.
In her remarks, Wu praised the efforts of Superintendent Mary Skipper and touted the district’s progress on school bus performance, following years of problems with late and no-show buses.
“We started this year with the highest on-time bus performance for the first day of school in five years, with 90 percent of buses arriving by the bell time by the end of last week, and 98 percent of buses arriving within 15 minutes that day,” Wu said.
The district has also completed or made progress on the majority of recommendations in various consultant reports produced as part of the improvement plan, Wu said.
“We are committed to delivering the rigorous academics, programming, student support, facilities, and community that together contribute to the highest quality educational experience for all of our people,” Wu said. “That is my focus each and every day. That’s why I’m here this morning to communicate my own sense of urgency in getting this work right.”
Wu also emphasized gains over the last year in areas not covered by the state mandate, including staffing, installing air conditioning, and settling collective bargaining contracts.
“Our ambitions for Boston’s young people stretch beyond the areas in the [improvement plan], and require a new approach to tackling long-standing challenges,” Wu said. “And I’m excited by the signs of progress in our back-to-school metrics.”
Wu’s remarks came as the state prepares to reinstate its accountability system in the wake of the pandemic. In the coming weeks, Riley will determine which schools and districts should enter or exit “chronically underperforming” status, which opens up districts to state takeover.
Riley did not mention receivership in his June remarks but said if he didn’t see any improvement in BPS this summer he would have “a different kind of discussion” with the state board in September. After Tuesday’s meeting, he told reporters that it was “too early to have those discussions.”
“We really want to be thoughtful in our approach,” Riley said. “We still have some concerns with transportation and bathrooms and special education inclusion plans.”
For much of the deal, signed in the summer of 2022, Riley showed patience with the district and Skipper, who joined the district a year ago. But Riley has let his frustration show in recent months. In June, he blasted the district for blowing past deadlines for rolling out inclusive classrooms, where general education students and students with disabilities learn side-by-side, and for not making more progress on improving on-time bus performance, among other issues.
“Mary Skipper has done a pretty good job in our first year, not even her first year of trying to get a hold of some of these deeply entrenched problems,” he said Tuesday. “But there’s also some things we have concerns about and our job is to call those out.”
The agreement required the district to create an inclusion plan for all schools as part of its district-wide policy. The district introduced inclusive classrooms at more schools this year, among other measures, but planning teams are only being launched at every school this fall.
Later in the same meeting in which Wu spoke, Riley said the district’s inclusion plan “was submitted 10 months late and was frankly not up to par,” although he did praise the district for installing thousands of air conditioning units.
Previously, Riley also said the state education department was “blindsided” by Skipper and Wu’s plan to overhaul two high schools, a plan he deemed “half-baked at best.” The proposal was announced months before the release of a new comprehensive school facilities plan for the city’s schools, which is due at the end of the year, that Wu agreed to produce as part of her agreement with the state.
The district also missed deadlines on renovating bathrooms; 15 renovations due in June will be finished in December.
The 2022 deal came after weeks of negotiations and political brinksmanship that, at times, played out before the public. After the state released an audit outlining chronic dysfunction in Boston Public Schools, Wu pushed back on the state’s initial proposals to improve the district, which would have made her directly accountable to Riley for improving schools and imposed short deadlines for addressing problems. She instead called for a “partnership” with the state.