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New schools superintendent vows to set higher expectations in Boston classrooms, build trust

Brenda Cassellius is superintendent of Boston Public Schools.
Brenda Cassellius is superintendent of Boston Public Schools.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe/File

Less than a year into her role, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius laid out a new strategic plan for the district Wednesday, a five-year vision that aims to bring equity to schools across all neighborhoods and build a new partnership of trust with students and their families.

The plan includes a more rigorous curriculum and new resources for schools, starting with the most underperforming, as well as more teacher training and support. She also hopes to bolster athletic programs and mental health counseling and create a more diverse staff that better reflects the student body.

Cassellius, who unveiled her plans to the School Committee on Wednesday evening, said she wants to set new expectations for students and teachers, with a goal of more “clarity” about the district’s vision.

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“There will be more high-quality schools in every neighborhood that parents are choosing as their first choice,” she said. “We will see our enrollment going up, we will see better attendance because students are more engaged. We will see teachers happier and feeling more supported in their work.”

That, she added, “is going to be the true testament: Are our parents talking about and remarking about our schools, and are our schools becoming remarkable? That to me is going to be what makes or breaks this plan.”

Cassellius is inviting the public to weigh in through February, when she will lay out funding for the district in her first budget proposal as superintendent. In that time, she said, the strategic plan could change with the counsel of School Committee members, parents, and students. But, she said, the early draft already incorporates the input of families, academic groups, and advocacy groups, as well as lessons she learned in a recent tour of city schools.

“One of the number one things we heard from the community is about trust, and cultivating trusts and relationships and amplifying our voices,” she said. “We are really putting it on the line by saying, ‘We really value family engagement, we really value what the community has to say.’ ”

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In the community process, she said, participants said they wanted access to technology for all students and modernized schools, reliable access to transportation, and more social-emotional skills development.

The plan lays out five core priorities: eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps by investing first in the city’s struggling schools; accelerating learning by redesigning curriculums and providing more professional development for teachers; amplifying voices by giving students and families more say in district plans; expanding opportunity by bringing equity to all city schools and creating a curriculum model that sets universal goals; and cultivating trust by creating partnerships between families and schools staff.

Cassellius said her budget proposal, to be delivered Feb. 5, would spell specific plans for individual schools and programs, though she would not elaborate on details in a briefing with reporters Wednesday.

Michael Loconto, chairman of the School Committee, said in a statement that “this strategic plan will shape how BPS will support our students, close opportunity gaps, and improve student achievement. The committee looks forward to continuing to collaborate with the community to move this critical work forward.”

The plan follows Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s recent commitment to increase funding for the school district by $100 million over the next three years, beyond expected cost increases in the $1.1 billion school budget and separate from funding increases the city could see from the state.

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Walsh said in his State of the City address that the funding would go directly to classroom support, and Cassellius said “every single cent of it is tied to this strategic vision.”

Cassellius, hired in May following a national search, has toured all of Boston’s schools and met with more than 2,000 parents, students, educators and community members. She said she was struck by the district’s lack of measurements for success, such as not having clear graduation expectations.

The new strategic plan, she said, would develop a model curriculum for all schools.

“We want to make sure everybody knows what we’re shooting for and what the diploma means,” she said. “There are very clear standards in Massachusetts of what kids should be able to know and do to be successful in college.”

Teachers will receive expanded professional development, with job-embedded coaching. “We’re going to bring that to a whole new level of support for teachers, and I think that level of professional development will be very helpful and meaningful,” she said.

She also called for more “operational excellence,” or support for families outside of the classroom. That includes resources for families, such as personal contacts at school, as well as improving administrative support.


Milton J. Valencia
can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com.