School chief gets key support from council, mayor; Online petition calls for her ouster
After calls for her resignation last week, Boston Public Schools chief Superintendent Carol Johnson has been buoyed this week by support from city councillors, her employees and local activists.
City Councillor John Connolly, the chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, had said she should resign after a news report revealed she did not discipline a headmaster accused of punching his wife. His critique came as a petition aimed at forcing Johnson’s ouster was launched online by a group of school system parents.
Connolly’s criticism appeared to provoke displeasure that rivaled the disappointment that officials expressed in Johnson after the Boston Globe report on the superintendent’s inaction. Johnson, who spent much of last week in damage control mode, apologized and expressed regret for not disciplining the headmaster, Rodney Peterson, who has since resigned from his job at the O’Bryant School for Mathematics and Science after pleading guilty to “sufficient facts.”
An online petition calling for Johnson’s removal— posted at the site change.org last week— had reached only 165 listed names as of Tuesday night.
But, the city’s political and non-profit power brokers have largely stood behind Johnson, including Mayor Tom Menino, whose support for Johnson has only stiffened in recent days.
On Tuesday, several city councillors signed onto a letter supporting Johnson, which was sent to the Boston Globe. The councillors included City Council President Stephen Murphy, District 1 Councillor Sal LaMattina, District 2 Councillor Bill Linehan, District 4 Councillor Charles Yancey, District 5 Councillor Rob Consalvo and District 9 Councillor Mark Ciommo.
“While none of us agree with every decision she has made, and have certainly spoken out when we did disagree, we appreciate her willingness to listen, learn from mistakes, and change course where needed,” they wrote. “These are valuable and often humbling talents that are much too rare in today’s society.”
Missing from the letter were the signatures of the rest of the 13-member council. None, except for Connolly, have called for Johnson’s resignation.
Saying he had lost confidence in her leadership due to a series of incidents, Connolly had put his remarks in the context of not just the Peterson scandal, but the late buses that plagued the opening of the 2011-2012 school year and chaotic process involving the shutdowns and mergers of schools.
Kenny Jervis, a parent who has emerged as a frequent critic of the administration, said he and others are frustrated with what they view as mismanagement.
“It’s just the lack of a comprehensive plan,” he said.
“It’s not particularly the Rodney Peterson thing,” he added, saying the incident is “embarrassing” to the city.
Asked about Connolly’s comments, Menino told Neighborhood Network News, “I’m not going to dignify his remarks at all.”
Menino added: “It’s not about politics, folks. It’s about the education of our children. And Superintendent Johnson’s done a great job in making sure we’ve got a good education system in Boston.”
The new school year starts in September, and Johnson, who remains well-liked and respected, will be shepherding Menino’s plan to overhaul the school assignment policy.
Two hundred people reportedly rallied on Saturday at the Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain, an event promoted on Thursday and Friday by local activists and school district officials who work under Johnson.
At the rally, District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson wrapped his armed around Johnson and voiced his support for her tenure.
He declined to comment for this article.
Joseph M. Cronin, a former state Secretary of Education and author of the 2008 book “Reforming Boston Schools,” said that any call for Johnson to resign “is not appropriate at this time.”
Cronin, a Lower Mills resident, acknowledged that Johnson has had a “rocky year” with other issues beyond the Peterson scandal, including controversies over poor bus performance and relocating schools.
“Any superintendent would have those problems,” says Cronin. “I think what she has done over last four years- improved academics, athletics, expanding arts programs and working to reduce the dropout rate — are things that have made it a better system. On the whole I think she’s done a very fine job.”
Cronin noted too that a search for a new superintendent could be “very painful.” He noted that Johnson was hired in 2006 only after another candidate initially accepted the Boston job and then abruptly changed his mind.
“Boston is a tough town. It’s got half the students as Memphis, but twice the politics,” he said.
Managing editor Bill Forry contributed to this report.