Superintendent candidate says ‘frank conversation’ needed on declining BPS enrollment
The three finalist candidates for superintendent of Boston Public Schools are sitting for public interviews this week, starting Monday with Marie Izquierdo, the chief academic officer of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Brenda Cassellius, former Minnesota education commissioner, will be interviewed on Tuesday, and Oscar Santos, head of Cathedral High School in the South End, is on Wednesday.
School committee members will likely cast their votes the week of April 29.
In more than seven hours Monday in four separate meetings, Izquierdo advocated for why she was the best candidate to become Boston’s superintendent. In front of parents, school leaders, and community officials, Izquierdo – a mother of three, including a high school freshman – pointed to her record as a top Miami-Dade Cabinet member who has helped transform and improve the district.
Here are some highlights from Izquierdo’s public interviews:
On her first 100 days:
She would “lean on” the School Committee, school-based parent councils, students, and school leaders and teachers and other key players to get up to speed on the district’s strengths and areas for improvements. Some candidates for superintendent “fail to make that initial connection” and lose out on long-standing relationships, she said. “For me, that is the bread and butter of what we [would] do each and every day at BPS.”
On closing the achievement gap:
She said she would not come to Boston with any preconceived strategies. Her priority would be to make sure Boston has a “world class education in every ZIP code and that students are pushed” to maximize their potential. She said if the school system can lift the quality of the schools and the education a student receives, it will also lift communities.
Working with the teachers union:
She said the role of the union is vital and that ultimately teachers want a decent salary and a good working environment.
She pointed to strong alliances she helped foster with the teachers union leader in Miami.
On advocacy for BPS:
“As your superintendent I will be your biggest cheerleader for Boston Public Schools,’’ Izquierdo said, adding that, “I have a pretty big mouth and I tend to use it when I need it.” She said that she would lobby the state and push for more educational funding. She would work long hours, weekends, and be a visible presence in the city.
On making tough choices:
She said Boston has to address the reality of declining enrollment. Some 18,000 students in Boston do not attend city schools, she said. “We have to, as an organization, adjust accordingly,’’ she said, noting that there must be “frank conversation” about the issue.
“I think the current footprint for BPS is too big,’’ she continued. “Most people would agree with that. Frankly, no one wants to give anything up . . . However, we do need to right-size ourselves in a very thoughtful and deliberate way . . . [with] the aspirational goal that we are going to bring back many of . . . those 18,000 kids that are not here.”
On wanting the job:
Based on her track record in Miami, Izquierdo said: “I think you will be hard-pressed to find someone who has the level of experience that I have, the level of commitment to this work and the outcomes that I have had,” she said, noting her role in the fourth largest school district in the country. She said she a “uniter of people and systems thinker.” “I think that is what you need in the Boston Public Schools,’’ she said.
On dealing with a strong mayor:
Izquierdo said her main focus will be on the students, parents, and the system overall.
On early childhood education:
Izquierdo said she supports improvements for early childhood education, and argued that it is central to fixing some of the larger systemic problems that impact students.
On her support for school choice options:
“I am a proponent of choice,’’ Izquierdo said. “Sometimes that statement is only looked at through a charter lens . . . We have built in Miami-Dade over 1,000 different choice options for our children.” Of the 350,000 students in the district, 68 percent of students are attending charter or magnet schools, or academies.
She said she was initially opposed to charter schools because, she thought, companies should not be pitting students against profit.
But she now believes there are great public schools and great charters, as well as lousy public schools and lousy charters.
She said the system is competing with charters and added that charters have made the district better because “we are not the only game in town.”
On BPS’ strong points:
“I have a pretty plum job in pretty warm weather,’’ she said. “I am in a great spot.” But there is enormous opportunity in Boston, which makes the superintendent job attractive, she added. She said some folks would easily get overwhelmed by the enormity of the work needed here, but she said she’s ready for the challenge.
On more teacher diversity:
Izquierdo said students “need to see role models’’ in the classroom, saying she supports creating pipelines to increase the number of black and Latino teachers.
A brief look at Izquierdo’s resume:
Current leadership position: Izquierdo has a Cabinet-level position at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth largest school district, which serves 348,000 students in 435 schools.
Prior experience: Assistant superintendent of academics, accountability, and school improvement; deputy chief of staff, all in the Miami-Dade public school system.
Regional executive director of the Florida Department of Education. Principal, assistant principal, social studies teacher in Miami-Dade.
Marital/family status: Married 29 years with three children — one in graduate school, another in college, and a high school freshman.
Education: Master of science in education leadership from Florida International University (1994); Bachelor of science in social studies education (1991).