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Boston to name 3 finalists for school superintendent

(From left) Brenda Cassellius, Marie Izquierdo, and Oscar Santos are expected to be named finalists for the Boston superintendent job.

Boston school officials are expected on Wednesday to announce three finalists for the superintendent’s job, a diverse group that includes a former Minnesota education commissioner, a high-ranking Miami-Dade County school district leader, and a principal at a local Catholic high school who once served as Randolph schools superintendent.

The finalists are Brenda Cassellius, the former state education commissioner in Minnesota; Marie Izquierdo, chief academic officer for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida; and Oscar Santos, head of school at the Cathedral High School in the South End and a former Randolph superintendent who worked in the Boston school system for 14 years and is a graduate of Boston Latin School.


All three of the candidates are people of color. Each will be interviewed in public next week by the School Committee and by three separate panels of community leaders, school administrators, parents, and students. Izquierdo will be interviewed on Monday; Cassellius on Tuesday; and Santos on Wednesday.

“I’m really excited about the quality of the candidates,” Michael Loconto, chairman of the School Committee, said in an interview Tuesday night.

He added that it is important that the next superintendent share the school system’s commitment to equity, closing achievement gaps, and providing a high-quality education for all students from every background.

The School Committee has final say on hiring the next superintendent, and members will likely cast their votes the week of April 29. However, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who appoints the seven-member committee, carries considerable influence over the final decision.

Boston has been in the market for a new superintendent since last June when Tommy Chang resigned following a meeting with Walsh. The two had a tense relationship at times as the school system grappled with a number of challenges, including a failed proposal to change start times at most schools that generated widespread uproar.


The search got off to a slow start. A search committee was not named until October, and a search firm was not hired until late December. In the end, the search committee, headed by School Committee vice chair Alexandra Oliver-Davila and former UMass Boston chancellor Keith Motley, received resumes and other materials from 39 prospective candidates.

The search committee interviewed a dozen of those candidates. Eleven out of 12 were people of color, while half were women. Seven were invited back for a second interview over the past couple of weeks.

Here’s a quick rundown on each of the finalists:

Brenda Cassellius

Until recently, Cassellius led the Minnesota Department of Education for eight years. Her accomplishments include the enactment of full-day kindergarten, state-funded preschool for 25,000 3- and 4-year-olds, and record-breaking high school graduation rates, according to her biography.

She started her education career in 1991 as a social studies teacher in the St. Paul Public Schools, served as an assistant principal in St. Paul and Minneapolis, and later served as an academic superintendent overseeing middle schools for Memphis City Schools between 2004 and 2007, when Carol R. Johnson, a former Boston school superintendent, led that school system.

Cassellius returned to Minneapolis in 2007 as associate superintendent for secondary schools and then served as superintendent of the East Metro Integration District in Maplewood, Minn., for a year before being named education commissioner.

She holds a bachelor of arts from the University of Minnesota, a master of arts in secondary education from the University of St. Thomas, and a doctorate in leadership and policy from the University of Memphis.


Marie Izquierdo

Since 2013, Izquierdo has been the chief academic officer for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth largest school system, where she oversaw all academic programs across 435 schools with 348,000 students. During her time, the percentage of schools earning an A, B, or C under Florida’s accountability system rose from 80 percent to 98 percent, and high school graduation rates increased by 10 percentage points, according to her resume.

She began her teaching career in 1991 as a social studies teacher at a Miami middle school, and spent 10 years as an assistant principal and five years as an elementary school principal in Miami. She briefly worked for the Florida Department of Education in its Bureau of School Improvement and then departed for Miami-Dade to become deputy chief of staff, beginning her ascent through the central office ranks.

She holds a bachelor of science in social studies and a master of science in educational leadership from Florida International University.

Oscar Santos

Of the three candidates, Santos is the best known in Boston. He has been at the helm of Cathedral High School in the South End since 2013. His accomplishments include a 100 percent high school graduation rate over the past five years, overseeing a 15,000-square-foot expansion, and leading an effort to create a high school pathway for two Catholic elementary schools.


Previously, Santos served three years as Randolph’s superintendent and decided against seeking an extension to his three-year contract amid friction with the School Committee over his leadership style.

Some members wanted him to include his administrative team in more of his decision making and the committee rated him as “needs improvement” in three of five categories on his performance review, with low scores in his relationship with the panel, budget and general management, and personnel management, according to a Globe story.

But he did secure victories in the struggling school system, helping to boost enrollment and test scores, while he also initiated teacher-training programs, extended the elementary school day and time on learning at all levels, and initiated an alternative learning program in grades 7 through 12. Enrollment has been on the rise and test scores continue to improve.

Santos began his teaching career in 1996 in the Boston Public Schools and became headmaster of Boston International High School in 2004, transforming it from a small program for students who lack fluency in English to a full-fledged and fully accredited high school.

He holds a bachelor of arts and a doctorate in educational leadership from Boston College and a master’s in educational administration and a master’s in applied linguistics both from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

James Vaznis can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.