Incoming Boston Public Schools superintendent Brenda Cassellius on Thursday announced her new executive leadership team, which will elevate Latinos to some of the district’s top positions and fill a glaring demographic void in the upper ranks of the school system.
The expanded leadership team consists of four Latinas, six African-Americans, two Asians, and six Caucasians and is notably larger than the current executive team, which has about a dozen positions. That decision appears to reflect a big-tent approach to leadership decisions, which will give Cassellius a broader sounding board.
The structure also will allow principals and headmasters, who often have felt left out of decisions that affect their schools, to report directly to Cabinet-level executives, increasing their ability to get issues and concerns directly in front of the superintendent while giving Cassellius a better sense of what is happening at the individual schools.
“I’m super excited about the team I was able to glean from this wonderful organization,” Cassellius said. “I looked for school leaders who were principals before. They have deep knowledge of curriculum and instruction and deep credibility with the school community.”
Cassellius, who is African-American, retained almost all the current executives — except for retiring Deputy Superintendent Donna Muncey — and promoted several central office administrators and school principals. Only two people from outside the Boston schools are being brought in.
In a district where Latinos account for more than 40 percent of the approximately 55,000 students, the elevation of Latinos to top leadership roles will help remedy a demographic disconnect between high-ranking officials and the students they aim to serve.
Advocates in the Latino community have long been critical of the lack of Latino executives, causing them to question the district’s commitment to Latino students, the system’s largest demographic group, which on average has among the lowest achievement rates.
Identifying root causes and developing appropriate responses to low achievement among Latinos requires a keen eye because of a web of varying and contradictory issues facing Latino students: Many cannot speak English fluently while others have no language barriers. Some are experiencing trauma from family separation or difficult migration journeys, while many are American-born citizens. Some have missed years of formal education in their home countries, while others have middle-class upbringings. Some have learning disabilities. Teenagers may be juggling school and jobs.
The last Latina on the executive team was Karla Estrada, who served as deputy superintendent of academics and student support services for about three years and departed in April 2018.
The inclusion of four Latinas is the most in recent memory.
“It’s about time,” said former School Committee member Miren Uriarte, who along with vice chair Alexandra Oliver-Davila often raised concerns about the lack of Latinos on the executive team and in principal roles. “You are beginning to get a solid group of people who can help. You can’t expect [Latino achievement] will turn around immediately, but I think their appointments will change the culture of the Boston Public Schools and the importance and place of Latinos in the BPS.”
Two Latinas on the leadership team include highly regarded principals Marjorie Soto of the Hurley K-8 School in the South End and Ana Tavares of the Hernandez K-8 School in Roxbury. Both will serve as elementary school superintendents. The other two Latinas are Andrea Zayas, an elementary school superintendent who previously was the district’s deputy chief academic officer, and Elia Bruggeman, who will serve as a high school superintendent and previously was assistant education commissioner in Minnesota with Cassellius.
Amanda Fernandez, chief executive officer for Latinos for Education, an organization that promotes Latino leadership roles in education, said the appointments of Latino executives is a step in the right direction and hopes it will lead to more aggressive recruitment of Latino teachers, who comprise about only 14 percent of the teaching force.
“In order to thrive, our kids need role models to look up to in the classroom who share their backgrounds and experiences,” she said in a statement.
Rounding out the new leadership team is David Murphy, chief of staff; Rob Consalvo, senior adviser; Monica Roberts, chief engagement officer; Lindsa McIntyre, high school superintendent who was recently named principal of the year for her turnaround work at Burke High School; Tommy Welch, high school superintendent; Mary Driscoll, elementary school superintendent; Albert Taylor Jr., elementary school superintendent; Grace Wai, elementary school superintendent; Samuel DePina, chief of student support; Charles Grandson, chief of academics; Emily Kalejs Qazilbash, chief human capital officer; John Hanlon, chief operations officer; Eleanor Laurans, chief financial officer; and Corey Harris, chief of accountability who most recently served as director of middle schools in Des Moines.
“The executive team brings the right balance of experience and passion to our district,” said Boston School Committee Chair Michael Loconto in a statement. “It is clear that Dr. Cassellius has spent this period of transition thoughtfully assembling a team of talented individuals from within the organization and extensive experience with BPS as well as some new team members who are excited to soon be calling Boston home.”