Semifinalists named in Minneapolis superintendent search

/ 4 December 2015 / Shawna
Alejandra Matos, Star Tribune, November 10, 2015

The semifinalists for the superintendent’s post all have experience in struggling urban districts.

Six educators, including an administrator from Houston, an associate superintendent in Anoka and a regional superintendent in Milwaukee, were named semifinalists for the superintendency of Minneapolis Public Schools.

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the national firm hired to find the superintendent, presented the names to the nine-member school board on Monday.

The candidates are Michael Goar, the district’s interim superintendent; Charles Foust, an assistant superintendent in the Houston School District; Jinger Gustafson, an associate superintendent in the Anoka-Hennepin School District; Sergio Paez, a former superintendent in Holyoke, Mass.; Kenneth Spells, the superintendent in Alton, Ill., and Jesse Rodriguez, a regional superintendent in Milwaukee Public Schools.

This is the first time in a decade that the state’s third-largest school district has done a national search for its top job. The person selected will inherit a district facing one of the largest achievement gaps between white and minority students in the country and a budget deficit, as of this summer, of $21.6 million.

The semifinalists were selected for their experience with struggling schools in urban environments and districts with large immigrant populations.

“We are excited for the possibilities,” said Jenny Arneson, the school board’s chairwoman.

More than 50 people applied for the job, according to Ted Blaesing, the recruiter with the search firm.

“We had a very large field,” Blaesing said. The search began earlier this year after Bernadeia Johnson resigned. The school board appointed Goar, who had been the district’s executive director, to lead the district. Goar announced early in the process that he wanted the permanent job. The recruiters warned that having an internal candidate could dissuade potential candidates from applying.

Blaesing said that when he told candidates the board was serious about considering everyone equally, they did not seemed concerned that Goar was interested. Blaesing said at least five potential candidates withdrew or did not apply because their names would be made public.

Most of the candidates have experience with school districts that reflect challenges similar to those in Minneapolis. Blaesing highlighted that Paez helped turn around one of the lowest-performing school districts in Massachusetts and that Spells helped the school district in Alton close a very large achievement gap.

Goar and Gustafson were the only Twin Cities finalists.

Since taking over the district, Goar fired hundreds of central office staff members in order to allocate more resources to schools. In October, he and the board faced intense backlash for purchasing a literacy curriculum that included books that many teachers found laden with cultural and racial stereotypes. Goar blamed the gaffe on not having enough staff members to vet the books.

The new superintendent could earn up to $230,000, a 20 percent increase from what Johnson earned. The board set a higher salary in an attempt to attract high-quality candidates. The average salary for an urban superintendent was $242,000 in 2014, according to the Council of the Great City Schools.

The board will interview the semifinalists early next week, in sessions open to the public, and select up to three finalists on Nov. 18. Those candidates will then meet with the community and go through more interviews.

A preferred candidate will be named on Dec. 7 and is expected to assume the post by July 1.