New Supt. Brenda Cassellius made her first public appearance in Charlestown on Wednesday, May 8, and was quick to acknowledge there is a lot of hard work to undertake in the schools, but beyond the classroom she confessed she needs practice on her stick handling but doesn’t have much trouble finding her edges on the ice.
The new superintendent, coming to Boston after a long stint in icy Minnesota, visited with residents of the Town on Wednesday at the Mayor’s Coffee Hour and quickly made about 9,000 friends when she shared her love of hockey and her experience playing the game.
“Yes, I am a hockey player,” she said after being introduced by Mayor Martin Walsh. “I started when I was 42 and have played about nine years on a women’s team. Now, I’m not the greatest stick handler, but I’m a pretty good skater…Of course I’m going to become a Bruins fan. I’ve already been watching them and am super excited about them. Go Bruins.”
Beyond the fun of ice rinks and hockey sticks, though, there was time to get down to the nitty gritty and have a discussion with Charlestown parents about school issues – one of the key issues being space and grade configurations.
Supt. Cassellius stood in while Mayor Walsh talked with a group of parents from the Warren-Prescott and Harvard-Kent schools. While the mayor implored them to not only think of elementary school issues, but also to give the non-exam high schools a shot – Supt. Cassellius listened in and took in the concerns.
Later, she said she does support the idea of limiting transitions for students and families, but that there needs to be a discussion in the neighborhoods first.
“I do believe less transitions for students are always good for families,” she said. “But then when we look at middle schools and what works at middle schools, they have specific adolescent needs we all know of as parents of teenagers. We want to make sure we develop programming and curriculum that is rigorous across our schools and there is equitable…I think they were talking about K-6, K-8, and 9-12 – however those configurations work. We’ll be talking to the community about how those make sense and how to minimize the transitions. I know the mayor has talked about these things before already with families and communities. We’ll continue to build on that real good work that Supt. Pereille has been working on.”
Cassellius said she was to meet with teachers late on Wednesday, and she plans to do a lot of listening to hear parents, staff and students.
“I don’t want to come with assumptions that some things that worked for me in the past will work here, but I do know some things have worked in the past,” she said. “It’s important for me to go out and listen to the teachers…I need to find out what’s working and what isn’t working so we can maximize the dollars and put them where they are needed. It’s a lot of listening at first, but I know people want to get going, so we’ll develop some plans and work those plans… Parents are really just wanting to be listened to now and we’ll see what emerges from there.”
She also said she would like to get the youth more involved in the decision making process and wanted students to know their new school leader will listen.
“For kids, my message is that your voice matters and I’m going to be working with the Youth Board and try to get them truly involved in the decisions that impact them every day,” she said. “For the overall community, my message is it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach. We need all of us wrapping our heads around the issues. Expect me to be out and present in their communities and listening to them.”
And finally, her impression of Charlestown and Boston has been quite good in the initial days – being greeted with a mob of activity and excitement at the McCarthy Playground.
“I love Boston,” she said. “The people have been so friendly to me and so welcoming to me. I’ve met all the staff around and folks in the communities now. I’m anxious to get out and talk with more people in the communities, but folks have been so gracious and wonderful to me…The biggest thing is earning the public’s trust and going out and talking with them in the community – speaking with them authentically about their hopes and dreams for their children. Once I do that it’s easier to come together with a plan and get consensus. Then we can collaborate and connect the dots. I’m also very anxious to start meeting with the cabinet and bringing to bear some of the resources the City has. I have met with a lot of Cabinet members and I know the mayor is very interested in this. So, working across the different agencies is important to do the best for communities.”