Education activists have urged Mayor Michelle Wu to reopen the search for the next superintendent of Boston Public Schools, questioning the process and whether the current candidates have the experience to meet the needs of the state's largest school district.

"It really feels like now is not the time to make a rush judgment to install a superintendent for who knows how many years after this incomplete search process," said Lisa Green of the Boston Coalition for Education Equity.

"This search has been a failure in not producing Black and LatinX finalists," wrote Ruby Reyes of the Build BPS Stakeholders Coalition in a news release. "That is unacceptable."

"I don't feel either candidate is sufficiently experienced," said Barbara Fields, a former BPS administrator and education activist.

The swelling concern comes on the eve of the School Committee's scheduled vote Wednesday for Boston's next superintendent, and shortly after the city and state reached an agreement that has halted the threat of receivership or a state takeover of the schools. That agreement, reached earlier this week, dissolved the serious threat of a state-takeover that would have significantly affected the superintendent's role. But the district now has just two finalists for the job, both local, after two others — a Black woman and a Latina — withdrew in recent weeks.

Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston, said with that threat from the state resolved for the time being, it's time to reopen the search. She said she'd even support asking the candidates who dropped out if they would consider returning to the pool.

"This has historically been one of the most sought after superintendencies in the country, and for us to find ourselves at the relative end of this process with only two finalists. I do believe that this is reflective of a timing issue, and also a process issue," Sullivan said.

When asked if Mayor Wu planned any changes or last minute actions to reopen the process, a spokesperson for the mayor said only that "Mayor Wu looks forward to the School Committee's vote tomorrow night." The two finalists are Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper and BPS Assistant Superintendent Tommy Welch.

Wu has considerable control over the decision. As mayor, she has the power to appoint School Committee members, a system she has pledged to make more democratic by allowing some seats on the committee to return to elected positions. That change has not yet taken effect as it is slowly making its way toward approval by the City Council. The district has also not reached a contract with the teachers union, and is facing significant challenges managing its transportation and special education programs, two issues the state has highlighted in a recent and scathing report.

Vernee Wilkinson, a member of the Boston parents' group School Facts, said she's also concerned about how two women candidates withdrew from the process, even if they cited "personal reasons."

"As a Black woman myself, when women of color, like get up and leave a restaurant, that is a signal to me that that's not a place I want to eat," she said. "They're signaling to us the process is flawed."

Boston's current superintendent, Brenda Cassellius, will leave the job on Friday. Deputy Superintendent Drew Echelson will act as interim superintendent until a new candidate has been voted in.

Both Skipper and Welch, who each underwent a day of public interviews last week, have experience running school systems, although neither has run a district as large as Boston.

Skipper, a BPS veteran, said she's a seasoned administrator and is the only finalist with experience running a district. Raised by a single mom who almost didn't finish high school, she told the school committee during a public interview last week that teachers were a lifeline.

“Teachers were surrogate parents to me. They played a deep role in my life, so many of them, and really transformed how I thought about education, what it meant,” she said. “When it came time to choosing a career, it didn't even feel like a choice. It felt like something that I just knew I needed to do.”

She became a teacher in Boston, then a principal at Tech Boston Academy in Dorchester, where she lives with her family. She stayed there for 11 years.

“BPS has raised me,” she said. “I really learned to be outward facing to my families, to my students. And I learned the power of when community and families and students and educators come together, what makes possible for students.”

Jillian Kelton, director of students supports and opportunities in BPS, said she worked with Skipper at Tech Boston to create personalized guidance and support plans, tailoring academic and emotional supports to students' needs that ultimately boosted student graduation rates. They continued the program when Skipper moved into a broader role in the district.

"It's really about understanding and connecting to our learners and making it a meaningful connection. And that takes looking at various data points. That takes looking at quantitative and qualitative data, relational data," she said. "I think all of that has always been a point of focus for her."

The Boston district operates about 125 schools and serves nearly 50,000 students. Somerville is a fraction of the size, with about 5,000 students from pre-school through high school. In announcing the finalists, district officials said in her role as network superintendent of high schools for BPS, Skipper oversaw 34 high schools serving approximately 19,500 students. A district spokesperson said during her tenure in that role, Boston high schools saw their lowest drop-out and the highest graduation rates in the district's history.

That record does not impress Louis Elisa, a member of the Mayor’s Commission for Black Men and Boys, who doesn't want to see either finalist get the job.

“I'm very concerned about Black and brown children, but I think just education in general, seems to be in danger here, because they want to put people in positions of authority with no experience of running a large-scale operation," he said.

Elisa joined about two dozen Black education activists who are so concerned about the candidates they wrote a letter to the mayor asking her to ensure that the search for the next BPS superintendent “does not intentionally or unintentionally minimize the extraordinary unfulfilled need" of Black and Latino students.

The letter cited chronic high school absence rates, the disproportionate assignment of boys of color as emotionally impaired, and a high rate of suspensions (6%) for Black students. The district's student population is nearly 80% Latino and Black.

"The next superintendent should not be shy about addressing systemic racial inequities in BPS," it said, "or in rejecting so-called education reforms that serve to make invisible continuing racial hierarchies in Boston and in our public schools."

Tommy Welch, the other finalist, answered three of the School Committee's questions in Spanish during his interview last week. He is currently a regional superintendent for Boston Public Schools, landing in Boston after his work caught the attention of another former Boston superintendent, Tommy Chang.

As a Region 1 superintendent in BPS, Welch works with 15 schools across Charlestown, East Boston and the North End. He was the founding principal of a middle school and later a high school in the South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles. His classroom teaching experience focused on English learners and special education inclusion in the lower elementary grades as well as English at the high school level.

Welch came to the district seven years ago, and said his two decades of work in urban schools will serve him well in Boston, stressing improved communication and transparency to rebuild the trust of the community.

“I think our students, our schools, our school leaders, our families deserve to know how we're doing more frequently so we can adjust or actually set higher goals,” he said.

Welch started out as a teacher, then a principal, then a regional school superintendent, and he said every time he was presented with an opportunity, he succeeded. He said the district needs investments — noting how he got a playground demolished and rebuilt because it was falling apart — and anticipates more such spending with federal pandemic funds the city received.

Welch told the committee that he thinks he also has the qualities they’re looking for.

“I think the most important one is what Mayor Wu has been saying since the very beginning. She's looking for somebody who knows the system, who can hit the ground running,” he said. “BPS has dramatically changed since I've been here and I'm well aware of what our district brings every day, who our students are, who our parents are, who our teachers and who our principals are.”

Welch said he would likely be the first superintendent who is also a national board certified teacher.

Will Austin of the Boston Schools Fund said both Skipper and Welch have experience closing learning gaps for Black and Latino students on a smaller scale, but it remains to be seen how they will make needed and lasting change steering a big ship that is Boston Public Schools.

“It comes down to humanity,” Austin said. “Schools are like living things made of a groups of people with different levels of talent, interests, and competency, right? You could have the most perfect intervention on earth, and it doesn't mean it will be applied equally in every setting.”

Without a clear frontrunner, it may come down to timing. Welch has said he can start the job right away. That includes undertaking some of the reforms that are being required by the state. Skipper has said she could begin work in the fall.

GBH News staffer Olivia Marble contributed to this story.