Despite sharp criticism from some groups, Laura Perille is named interim leader of Boston schools
The Boston School Committee on Monday night unanimously approved hiring the leader of an education nonprofit to run the school system on an interim basis, amid sharp criticism from parents, educators, and civil rights advocates that her selection was shrouded in secrecy.
Laura Perille, president and chief executive of Boston-based EdVestors, will replace Tommy Chang, who abruptly resigned as superintendent less than two weeks ago after he and Mayor Martin J. Walsh mutually agreed to part ways.
She will be tasked with bringing stability to and restoring public confidence in a school system known for dysfunction and wide achievement gaps among students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Perille is an unconventional pick for a school system that typically draws from its own ranks for temporary leaders. A former Boston public school parent, Perille has never run a school — or a school system — and is not licensed by the state to be a superintendent. She will go from overseeing fewer than two dozen employees to more than 10,000 administrators, teachers, and other staffers in a system with 56,000 students, 124 schools, 600 buses, and a $1.1 billion budget.
But School Committee members said Monday that they believe Perille has gained a deep understanding of the management and educational challenges facing the school system from her work with EdVestors, which has partnered with the school system over the years on a variety of efforts, from expanding arts programs to increasing the rigor of middle school math courses.
“She is smart, she is capable, and she is no-nonsense,” said Miren Uriarte, a committee member, who said it was unfortunate Perille’s hiring had been entangled in the controversy surrounding Chang’s exit and the lack of public input about his replacement. The seven-member School Committee is supposed to have sole authority to hire and fire a superintendent under state law and the city charter, but it had been left out of the process that led to Chang’s departure.
Perille said she was humbled by being chosen. She said she views her role as superintendent as removing roadblocks so educators can do their jobs.
“I, too, carry the weight of 57,000 children every day as I enter this work,” she said.
It’s not clear how long Perille will serve in the post, which comes with a $250,000 annual salary. That’s a huge increase from her $170,000 compensation package at EdVestors, according to its tax filing.
Perille’s lack of a superintendent’s license from the state is not expected to be a problem. She will have 90 days to receive a provisional license, which requires a bachelor’s degree and passing a communication and literacy skills test.
In the days leading up to the vote, a growing number of parents, educators, and civil rights advocates criticized Walsh and the School Committee for a lack of transparency and community engagement in the process.
NAACP Boston Branch, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the Boston Network of Black Student Achievement, and the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts said the secrecy was a consequence of having a School Committee appointed by the mayor instead of being elected. “This, by design, silences the voices of residents,” the organizations wrote in a joint statement Sunday.
“The future of our children should not be subject to closed-door, backroom deals meant to serve the few, on the backs of our most vulnerable residents. Those of us who believe in a better Boston demand greater accountability to city residents, transparency, and inclusionary processes.”
At an event Monday morning, Walsh defended his handling of the leadership shakeup, saying Chang’s departure required his administration to move quickly, according to a recording of his remarks provided by the mayor’s office.
“You don’t have months or years to sort through a process,” Walsh said to a reporter.
Walsh said there would be a public process for finding a permanent superintendent.
Julia Mejia, founder of the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network, said she has many questions about Perille’s philosophy and approach to community engagement.
“The experience of parents who have been traditionally left out of the conversation is very different from parents who have many layers of education and are mostly white,” said Mejia, who has one child in the school system and another in a charter school. “I’m hopeful she will do right by all of us, but I think the process that led to her selection could have been handled differently.”
Public testimony at the meeting offered a mix of support for Perille and concern about the process.
Lindsa McIntyre, headmaster at Jeremiah E. Burke High School, said Perille played a key role in the school’s turnaround and voiced confidence in her ability to lead.
“I’m excited to see what she can do for us,” she said.
Nora Toney, a retired Boston school principal who was speaking for the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts, disagreed with Perille’s appointment.
“This school district needs the leadership of an experienced superintendent with proven ability to guide the urgent work of eliminating achievement gaps,” she said.