At the 11th hour, the city of Boston and Boston Public Schools reached an agreement with Massachusetts education officials on a plan to improve longstanding issues in the district and avoid officially being labeled underperforming.
In a report released last month, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said Boston Public Schools is struggling to operate on a basic level and is not addressing "systemic barriers" to equitable education. In a recent letter to the School Committee, DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley called Boston an “underperforming" district.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was scheduled to meet Tuesday to vote on officially declaring Boston an underperforming district, which would require the city to submit an improvement plan for state approval and allow Riley to appoint an accountability monitor.
Instead, a new plan was signed Monday by Mayor Michelle Wu, Boston School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius and DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. The agreement quelled questions around whether the state would take control of the district, in what is known as receivership, which Wu "firmly" opposed.
Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.
"The plan includes clear timelines and joint commitments to eliminate systemic barriers to educational opportunity, build the operational capacity to implement systemic change, and support Boston's students in achieving their full potential," district spokesperson Gabrielle Farrell said in a statement. "BPS is eager to move forward in continuing this important work, and grateful to our school communities for their partnership throughout our ongoing leadership transition."
Wu addressed the agreement at a meeting of the DESE board Tuesday, saying, "Boston is ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
"We are ready and eager for the work ahead," Wu added.
During Tuesday's testimony, Robinson said, "We have done well by some, but we have not done well by all. And with your support in pushing and honesty, this is time for all."
The Boston Teachers Union held a rally Tuesday calling for a seat at the table for any changes that are implemented under the new agreement.
"I'm happy to hear that we're not going to be labeled underperforming but I think the big thing too is, okay, we're not labeled that, so are we going to be given what we need to make sure that we are not underperforming?" teacher Antonietta Brownell said.
Suleika Soto has children in Boston Public Schools and is part of the city-wide parent council, which opposes state control of the district.
"Parents have to have a seat at the table," Soto said. "We just don't want the top down interventions because we have seen other districts where that has not improved the quality of education for those students,, so we want to make sure there is a true plan."
What's in the BPS-DESE agreement?
Among the changes outlined in the plan, the city and district said that they would commission an independent audit for student and staff safety by Aug. 15, and that a coordinator of problem resolution would be hired by Sept. 8.
Also regarding safety, Boston and its school district would "begin using an improved, robust system for managing, responding to and resolving complaints from parents and guardians" by Aug. 15, and that it would "respond in a timely manner to complaints" alleging bullying.
The plan also addresses special education, transportation, educational facilities, services for English learners and transformation schools.
"DESE, BPS and the City were able to finalize the Systemic Improvement Plan today, and therefore Commissioner Riley will not ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to vote to declare the district underperforming," Executive Office of Education spokesperson Colleen Quinn said in a statement.
In a letter, Riley said BPS continues to fail to support students with disabilities, English language learners and students in the lowest performing schools.
Quinn added that DESE would hire an independent auditor "and provide $10 million in financial support and technical assistance."
"The department is very pleased that BPS and the City will now move forward to improve the educational experiences for all children in the City of Boston," Quinn said.
Get updates on what's happening in Massachusetts to your inbox. Sign up for our News Headlines newsletter.
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, applauded that a deal was reached, but said the threats of receivership and classification as an underperforming district "should never have been on the table in the first place."
"Educators, parents, families and students have been advocating for the solutions we know our school communities have needed for years, and it is time now to redirect our energy, time and resources from fending off ill-conceived power plays into making those local democratic solutions a reality," Tang said in a statement. "While disaster has been averted today, we will remain united and vigilant in our commitment to creating the schools our students and our communities deserve."
The district has also recently come under fire for what the NAACP described as a lack of representation in the search for a new superintendent. The Boston School Committee is scheduled to vote on two finalists Wednesday.