Mayor Wu, state officials eke out 11th-hour plan for Boston Schools, avoiding state takeover

Schools

The plan comes after weeks of failed negotiations.

Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley (center) and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Monday announced they have come to an agreement to improve Boston schools. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

After weeks of negotiations, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) came to a last-minute agreement Monday night on how to improve Boston Public Schools.

The plan will stop the state from designating the district as “underperforming” and taking over control of the district.

The agreement has many parts, including quickly creating a process for resolving parent complaints, redesigning special education and English second language services, and restructuring the busing system.

“We’re ready for the work ahead with our school communities, our new superintendent, and all across Boston eager to invest in our young people,” Wu said in a statement.

“This agreement documents specific steps, timeframes, and clear scope for a partnership with the state that sets our district up for success.”

What’s in the agreement

The agreement is split into eight sections: student safety, special education, transportation, facilities, English learners, transformation schools, data, and accountability.

These sections spell out what the City and district have committed to.

Highlights from the student safety section:

  • By Aug. 15, begin using an improved system for resolving complaints from parents and guardians
  • Respond in a timely manner to complaints received from DESE’s Problem Resolution System (PRS)
  • By Aug. 15, create an independent student and staff safety audit to assess school safety protocols, including an evaluation of communication and coordination between the district and Boston Police Department

Highlights from the special education section:

  • By Aug. 15, choose an organization or group of individuals with a proven record of improving special education services to provide recommendations on how to improve the district’s special education services to the superintendent
  • By Aug. 15, develop an updated policy and procedure manual on special education that staff will be trained on for the new school year
  • By Nov. 1, release and begin to implement a district inclusion policy to ensure there is a full continuum of special education services available for all students. The policy will include short-term objectives, a timeline for implementation, specific models for high-quality and inclusive education, and professional development and staff training.

Highlights from the transportation section:

  • Achieve a district-wide school bus on-time arrival rate of 95% or better each month
  • Ensure 99% of school buses arrive at school within 15 minutes of the start of the school day
  • Report on-time arrivals rates to DESE each month beginning Aug. 2022
  • By Aug. 15, launch an evaluation of the district’s transportation system that will be used to create recommendations for route and schedule planning

Highlights from the facilities section:

  • By Aug. 15, review all school bathroom facilities and implement a plan for renovations in at least 15 schools
  • By Oct. 1, create and implement a preventive maintenance plan
  • By Dec. 31, 2023, create and implement a comprehensive, long-term master facilities plan

Highlights from the English learners section:

  • By Aug. 15, develop a system to ensure that all English learners receive all appropriate instruction, including a process for monitoring the quality of English second language instruction
  • By Aug. 15, create a plan that outlines steps for expanding access to native language instruction and literacy
  • Report compliance levels of the City’s successor agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice

Highlights from the transformation schools section:

  • By Dec. 1, produce an equity analysis on funding for Transformation Schools and implement a plan to equitably fund the district’s lowest performing schools
  • By Oct. 1, consolidate plans for Transformation Schools into one plan for improvement at each school
  • Provide quarterly briefings to the School Committee and DESE on the implementation of the improvement plan for each school

Highlights from the data section:

  • By Aug. 15, DESE will hire an independent auditor to analyze all of the district’s data on a regular basis and meet with DESE, the district, and the City to review their findings
  • By Sept. 18, publish revised student withdrawal procedures that ensure state data reporting requirements on graduation and dropout are met in a timely and accurate way
  • By Oct. 1, launch a Data Working Group charged with monitoring data quality and reporting on withdrawal procedures, graduation rates, on-time arrivals, and other key metrics

Highlights from the accountability section:

  • Mayor Wu, the City of Boston, and the district will make regular reports on the implementation of this agreement to the School Committee and the Boston community with the first report coming out before Aug. 31
  • The mayor of Boston, the School Committee chair, the superintendent, and the education commissioner will meet on a monthly basis during the first year of the agreement and every other month during subsequent years to discuss priority initiatives

The agreement also includes a commitment from DESE to provide Boston Public Schools with financial and other types of support to help the district implement the agreement.

How Boston Public Schools got to this point

The agreement comes in the wake of a state review that found BPS wasn’t adequately addressing long-standing problems such as poor accommodations and teaching for both English language learners and special education students.

After DESE released its audit of the district in May, Wu rejected the state’s first suggestions on how to turn the district around. These would have had her answering to Education Commissioner Jeff Riley directly and included a tight turnaround time for making improvements.

Wu said she instead wanted “a partnership” between the City and the state.

Last week, negotiations went sour. The state responded by recommending the district be subject to increased oversight and be labeled underperforming — a designation which could last for years and stigmatize the district.

The lack of a settlement over the future of Boston Public Schools has made it difficult for the district to attract a new superintendent.

The Boston School Committee will meet Wednesday and vote on two candidates: Mary Skipper, the Somerville superintendent; and Tommy Welch, a regional school superintendent for Boston Public Schools.

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