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Superintendent candidate Oscar Santos says status quo isn’t good enough

Dr. Oscar Santos, president of Cathedral High School in Boston, was interviewed for the position superintendent of the Boston Public Schools on Wednesday. David L Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The three finalist candidates for superintendent of the Boston Public Schools are sitting for public interviews this week. Marie Izquierdo, the chief academic officer of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, was interviewed on Monday.

Brenda Cassellius, a former Minnesota education commissioner, was interviewed on Tuesday. And on Wednesday, Oscar Santos, president of Cathedral High School in Boston, had his say.

School Committee members will likely cast their votes the week of April 29.

Oscar Santos was interviewed on Wednesday by the School Committee and three panels of community partners, parents, teachers, students, and administrators. He confronted a range of questions that touched upon his time as a Boston school teacher and headmaster, his time as a student in the system, his three-year tenure as Randolph schools superintendent, and issues such as closing achievement gaps, bolstering English language instruction for non-native speakers, navigating Boston’s political landscape, and redesigning high schools. Santos, the son of a single mother who emigrated from the Dominican Republic, is a married father of two teenage children and lives in Canton. Here are some of his responses:

On student truancy


“We need to find out why kids are not coming to school, and how we do that is through dialogue and relationships.”

On the status quo

“If we look at the status quo right now, it’s not good enough when you look at graduation rates, when you look at equity issues, when you look at college completion [and] workforce development. So I think it’s good to have a little bit of “Let’s go against the status quo” because I believe that and that’s important.”

A personal reveal:

“You know how some people like going to the gym and do certain things? I’m like a school rat. I like going to schools and seeing what’s going on.”

On school budgets


“Your budget is the clearest signal of your core values. What you spend your money on is what you value more than anything else. You need to have the voices of the principals, the parents, the school site councils.”

On the challenges of Randolph schools and lessons learned:

“When I assumed the leadership in Randolph we were a level four [underperforming] school district that was about to be taken over by the state and you have to act right away. . . . You have to build alliances. You can’t do it yourself. The town manager and I worked closely together. The town manager and I met every week. We had a similar agenda and goals. We worked closely together and we problem solved. . . . The thing I would bring the most is how to build a central office that is responsive to schools. . . . What I realized was that central office was telling schools what to do. I didn’t agree with that.”

He added that central office should “build plans based on the needs of schools [from the] people who are living it and the people who know it. Our job is to make sure we can support the people who are living it.”

On confronting a challenge:

“Our schools in Randolph were all K-6 schools and we didn’t have enough space because of elementary school growth. . . . We had to move sixth grade to middle school. While that may not seem like a big deal, it was difficult for elementary schools to say all our kids are going to go over to the middle school and now become 6-8. The reason why this was a challenge is that families, like everyone else, are creatures of habits. We have an understanding of how things work. . . . It required bringing together four different principals to make sure you had one common voice — here are the challenges, here are the needs, here are the opportunities. We also had to include the teachers union. We had to work with the parent councils and the School Committee. Ultimately we were able to do it because it allowed us to increase our academic programs and extend our day. But it was not something that was done at one meeting.”


On special education:

“We need to push for a more inclusive environment for special education.”

James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.