LET’S STOP PRETENDING Laura Perille will be just another interim superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. The mayor won’t admit it publicly. But the permanent job is hers to lose.
Perille’s recent media rounds — to which she was escorted by Mayor Martin J. Walsh and School Committee chairman Michael Loconto — felt like a coronation. “The chairman and the mayor have given me broad authority,” she declared at a meeting days before any school committee member even cast a vote for her for the interim position.
As president and chief executive of Edvestors, an education nonprofit, Perille is an untraditional choice. Indeed, she’s not even licensed to run a public school system in Massachusetts. That’s not terrible. What’s more concerning is the charade of calling Perille an “interim,” while at the same time Perille promises to carry out Walsh’s change agenda — whatever that might be.
And, all without any public debate or announced plan for opening the search process for a permanent superintendent. Ironically, one of Walsh’s priorities is for Perille to build trust with school leaders and the community. Yet the way the mayor hijacked the process after Tommy Chang’s awkward exit as superintendent does the opposite. “It’s eroding trust,” said Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston branch.
The NAACP and other activists unhappy with Perille’s selection as a done deal issued a statement that said, in part, “As we contemplate the current situation, and its lack of inclusion and transparency, we are reminded of the climate that choked this city in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, and that cemented the racial divide and inequity that persists across the city. . . . What we have seen and heard over the past week does not engender trust, nor does it honor students, educators, families or community as valued shareholders.”
If that doesn’t get Walsh’s attention, it should. His break with Chang is supposedly about proving he’s serious about building consensus for bold change for Boston schools. But if the NAACP is already challenging the way he’s going about it, that’s a problem for a mayor who says he cares about racial and economic equity. Especially since one of the biggest tests faced by Chang involved racial tensions at Boston Latin School. An outsider who came to Boston via Los Angeles public schools, Chang seemed unprepared to deal with the issue. But then, so did Walsh.
At a meeting at the Globe last week, Walsh said there was no specific “breaking point” with Chang, just his perception that “every time we had a start, we had a stop.” From the outside, however, it looked like a “stop” happened after Walsh backed away from a “start” Chang tried to initiate, such as changing school start times so that younger children started earlier and teenagers started later. The proposal was based on research showing that later start times were better for older students. But parents objected, and the plan was scrapped.
Chang had real problems communicating with parents, students, and teachers. But now comes Walsh steamrolling through his choice for an interim. Technically, the mayor doesn’t have the power to pick the superintendent. But he appoints the seven-member School Committee, and Loconto’s willingness to be part of the Perille introductory tour gives visual meaning to the term “rubber stamp.”
Where does that leave Boston residents when it comes to choosing one of the city’s most important leaders? Concerning the choice for interim superintendent, “The decision has been made,” said Sullivan of the NAACP. And that decision, she said, also looks “like an attempt to back door this candidate into the permanent seat.”
If it is what it looks like — a back door to the permanent job — that’s no way to rebuild trust.