Supt. Brenda Cassellius apologized to the School Committee at the Aug. 4 meeting for letting her superintendent’s license expire on July 31, and pledged to take the licensing exam on Aug. 14 to bring her into the proper certification.
The news was first reported by the Boston Globe last week, noting that Cassellius’ temporary and emergency superintendent’s license had expired on July 31. When informed, Cassellius said she wasn’t aware of it, and there had been a misunderstanding of the emergency licensure rules.
“There is news about my license and I’d like to personally apologize to the School Committee chair and vice chair and members that I allowed my license to expire,” she said. “There was a misunderstanding between me and my team about the category of a temporary or emergency license – and the emergency licenses given during the pandemic. As you know I came from Minnesota. I was a fully licensed educator and superintendent and have been so for 30-plus years. I intended to take the exam in my first year, but as you know we shifted to support our students and families during the pandemic. I devoted my full attention to addressing the health crisis and the license requirements were waived during the time of the pandemic.”
Cassellius said the pandemic response is still her focus, as well as getting school re-opened in September. She said she has been in contact with the state Education Commissioner about the situation, and is finding out if there will have to be an interim superintendent put in place until she takes the test on Aug. 14, and then finds out the results later.
“I have in fact scheduled the test for Saturday, Aug. 14,” she said. “I take this very seriously and I am resolved to complete this task immediately so it’s not a distraction…We have a school opening in a few weeks and we cannot afford any delays in ensuring the health and safety of our children, making sure our teachers and school leaders have what they need. I apologize for this distraction.”
School Committeeman Ernani DeAraujo said he was disappointed in himself and the School’s infrastructure for not finding this issue and informing the Committee when Cassellius’ contract was renewed in June.
“So, we may need to be prepared for an interim if that’s not successful,” he said of her taking the test this weekend. “I think this is a very significant disclosure. We evaluated the superintendent and from my perspective, I presumed when I read the contract those requirements were met in terms of licensure. That clearly wasn’t the case. At what point should we have asked those questions and done our own due diligence during the evaluation process? Clearly we didn’t do that and that’s a very key piece of information. I understand the superintendent’s response, but for us as a Committee, that’s pretty fundamental and we did miss that.”
Chair Jeri Robinson said she was also disappointed, and called for a checklist of basic items to be presented by the Administration when doing evaluations.
“The licensure of all staff is the responsibility of the Human Resources Department and it was our assumption that was being taken care of by them,” she said. “They have usually alerted us that there was an issue, and since there was none, the assumption was that everything was in place…Since we have just learned this, we are now taking the steps relevant to moving forward. I would agree with you this is a lesson learned for all of us that even though there are assumptions we should have a checklist to make sure all these things are in place and we did not.”
School Committeeman Michael O’Neill said it was a distraction from the immediate work, but did expect Cassellius to clear it up quickly.
“Upon reflection I appreciate the superintendent talking about her licensing issue,” he said. “It is a unnecessary distraction unfortunately, and I’m sorry there appears to be miscommunication or misinterpretation of the emergency waivers versus the temporary waivers…When we voted in June on your contract you were in compliance and this just happened as of July 31, but it’s something that could have been taken care of ahead of time with the right information. I appreciate, like many of our students and our teachers, you have to take a make-up exam. I have no doubt you’ll pass with flying colors.”
Cassellius said she would inform the Committee about whether she can remain superintendent while waiting to take the test and to get the results. That is something, she said, that state and City attorneys are studying.
Summer Program Not as Robust as Expected
The Summer Stuff program meant to accelerate learning and fun this summer for thousands of Boston Public Schools (BPS) students did not necessarily achieve its lofty goals, school officials and Committee members said at the Aug. 4 meeting.
The schools used an influx of funding and partnerships to create what they hoped would be a groundbreaking summer session of learning, fun and activity for students this summer – hoping to have as many as 80 percent of the district’s 52,000 students participating in some program.
In the end, there were robust programs for many students, but only 13,000 participated and parents complained that the hours of the programs were limiting and the lack of transportation was a major barrier.
There was also a need for better outreach, Cassellius said.
School Committeeman DeAraujo said he had an embarrassing moment this summer when visiting one of the programs, and it was said there was no transportation. He said he believed there was, only to find out that he was wrong.
“Of course I followed up and there was only transportation for a certain subset of kids,” he said. “I don’t know if I misheard or misunderstood, but my understanding from the beginning was transportation would be provided and I don’t want that to happen again. We kind of promised the world because we had had resources, and what we delivered, even it if was strong for the subset of families able to access it, there’s a real disconnect there. As a Committee member, I need to learn how to prevent that from happening going forward if I can.”
Federal Funding Plan
The ESSER 2 federal funding plan was submitted to the state on July 30 after a number of public meetings and district roundtables – as well as discussions by school leaders at the community level.
In the plan, Cassellius said $61.5 million would be going directly to school communities for them to determine the best uses within the guidelines. This is the second of three distributions of monies from the federal government, with the larger ESSER 3 funding coming in the fall and to be used in 2022.
For ESSER 2, the three priorities identified included social/emotional supports, academic acceleration and recovery, and facility improvements.
“We have also got a lot of feedback about facility improvements,” she said.
The facility improvements identified included installing air conditioner units in every classroom that does not currently have a/c, tracking air quality, investing in libraries, and upgrading access to drinking water.
Back to School Update
Supt. Cassellius said her team has taken no breaks in planning for the September return to school.
“We have taken no breaks and have been planning all summer for the return to school,” she said. “We want the message this year to be about joy, about community and re-connecting and accelerating learning, understanding the last 18 months will take far longer to overcome. Yes, there will be COVID protocols in place, but we want to make sure our focus is on creating an excellent student experience for our students.”
She said students would likely be in masks, and there would be a much different rhythm to the school day – including special times made for social/emotional discussions and limited time working on a computer. She said they will be stressing masks, vaccines and testing.
“Working with our public health officials, we want our topline message to be that the best approach to a safe school year is mask, vaccines and testing,” she said. “Those are the three most effective methods we have to stopping the spread of COVID in our schools and you’ll hear those three things repeated often.”