The fifth director of the BPS for English learners on vacation, with little explanation

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“I’ve lost count of how many directors we’ve had lately,” said Rosann Tung, an independent researcher who focuses on Boston’s English learners and immigrant students. “Leadership instability is a major challenge in meeting the needs of English learners.”

Under Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, six people have been responsible for the education of English learners in less than three years. And during that time, the district struggled to provide all the required services for immigrant students under an agreement with the Ministry of Justice. The district’s failure to meet the needs of English learners is one of the key issues behind the threat of a state takeover of Boston Public Schools by Massachusetts education officials.

The turnover is having real consequences for students, say parents and advocates. The district has made little headway to meet parental demands for more services in a student’s native language English learners are more likely than any other demographic to have BPD drop out of school.

The principals’ hub underscores the ongoing turnover within Cassellius’ leadership team, which she has reshuffled several times, including one day in February before Mayor Michelle Wu announced the “consensual” decision that Cassellius would step down at the end of the school year.

The district’s difficulty in retaining leadership to run the Office of English Learners also points to philosophical differences over how best to educate immigrants and other students learning English.

Boston Public Schools officials confirmed Kapur is not currently serving as deputy superintendent of the Office of English Learners, but declined to answer questions about her absence or official leave. She was still collecting her biweekly paycheck of more than $6,000 last month, according to city payroll records.

Kapur declined an interview request. Cassellius senior adviser Megan Costello said the district “does not comment on staffing matters” when asked to explain the turnover at the office.

When her appointment was announced in October by Assistant Superintendent for Academics Drew Echelson, he was touting Kapur’s experience teaching in a school where students are bilingual and her philosophy that students’ native languages ​​are valued and not seen as a liability should.

In her most recent role in Human Resources, Kapur was credited with developing a pipeline of bilingual educators who are vital in supporting English learners and their parents.

But he didn’t mention that in his email to the English Learner Task Force that Kapur Cassellius had also coached to pass her state license exams after it was revealed last year that the superintendent had failed to obtain her Massachusetts superintendent license. (She has since received her license.)

In addition, Kapur’s resume contained no experience running a school or a large department.

“Some of us were concerned that it was a big step for Aketa to move from working in MTEL (Educator Licensure) preparation to running the entire Office of English Learners,” said Mudd, a member of the English Learners’ Task Force school committees. “But we worked closely with her and she was clearly very committed to providing access to native language tuition for English learners who needed it.”

Kapur also had side projects which may have created a conflict of interest in her new role.

She appeared to have been involved with Telescope Education, according to three current and former school officials with knowledge of the relationship, who asked not to be named. The private company created and sells learning materials for teachers who want to pass the MTEL. The company’s website redirects customers collect the materials from a BPS Employee in the district administration. Telescope Education does not appear to be registered in Massachusetts and no directors are listed on the company’s website, but a 2017 state trademark application is listed Kapur’s home address in Massachusetts.

Since Kapur went on leave, Farah Assiraj, Deputy Chief Academic Officer, heads the Office of English Learners, becoming the sixth person to head the department. The state requires that districts with 200 or more English learners have directors for English learners.

Advocates looking at the latest office sales are wondering if there was an issue with Kapur’s background, why wasn’t it found before she was hired.

“There is no doubt that there are problems internally [vetting] system and the hiring process,” said Roxann Harvey, chair of the Boston Special Education Parent Council, noting that during Cassellius’ tenure three people were responsible for the district’s special education office.

One factor that may have played a role in the ongoing instability in the Office of English Learners was Cassellius’ belief from the outset that the Office should not exist.

Cassellius pitched the idea of ​​disbanding the department to Priya Tahiliani, who ran the office when Cassellius became superintendent in the summer of 2019, according to Tahiliani, who is now superintendent of Everett Public Schools.

In October of that year, Cassellius called Tahiliani into her office and said that everyone should be responsible for learning English. While Tahiliani agreed, she thought that if there weren’t a dedicated department, the district wouldn’t know if English learners were receiving the proper services, and no one would be responsible.

For those reasons, Tahiliani “began looking at other options” and left Boston in 2020 to run Everett’s school system.

As the state conducts a wide-ranging audit of Boston schools for the second time in less than three years, the auditors will measure progress in meeting the needs of special education students and English learners, among others.

As part of the review, last month the state held a “focus group” via Zoom with parents of English learners, which the Globe was watching. A Portuguese-speaking mother called the system for enrolling her children in district schools “a nightmarish practice.”

The mother of two Chinese-speaking children in the district, who spoke through an interpreter and introduced herself only as Jenny, said the district needs to better support students who are learning English and attending special schools. She complained that her third grader, who attends Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown, cannot get help in Chinese.

“Why do we have a Spanish speaker [teacher’s assistant] for Chinese speaking students?” she asked. “The Chinese-speaking students would like someone who is a native Chinese teacher or teacher’s assistant to support them. It would be better for them to learn it.”

The Great Divide team studies educational inequality in Boston and nationally. Sign up to receive our newsletterand send ideas and tips to [email protected].


Bianca Vázquez Toness can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @biancavtoness.

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