School & District Management

Minneapolis Narrows Its Search for Superintendent to Two Finalists

By Denisa R. Superville — May 16, 2016 2 min read
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Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius is one of two finalists for the superintendent’s job in Minneapolis.

Cassellius, the state school chief since 2011 and a former associate superintendent in Minneapolis, and Ed Graff, the Anchorage, Alaska, superintendent, are the two finalists. They will meet with community members on Monday, and the school board is hoping to announce a new schools chief by May 27.

The road to picking a new superintendent to replace the last permanent leader, Bernadeia Johnson, has been a long one, marked by missteps and some measure of public dissatisfaction. Johnson resigned at the end of January 2015.

In January, the school board was forced to scuttle negotiations with its top pick, Sergio Paez. Soon after Paez’s selection was announced, allegations emerged that educators allegedly mistreated special education students in Holyoke, Mass., during his time as superintendent there.

Johnson’s top lieutenant Michael Goar, who had been serving as interim superintendent, was one of the finalists last time around, but was edged out by Paez.

After cutting ties with Paez, some board members were set to offer the job to Goar, but protesters interrupted that meeting and demanded the search start from scratch.

A new search firm, DHR International, was hired, and an 11-member selection committee made up of board representatives, and community members was chosen to help in a new search.

Cassellius was at the helm of the state education department when Minnesota won its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a $45 million Race to the Top Grant, and a $28.2 million federal public charter schools grant.

During her earlier stint working in the Minneapolis school district, she led a redesign of the secondary schools. She has also worked in Memphis Tenn., and served as superintendent of the East Metro Integration District, a special district in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, according to her biography on the district’s website.

Graff, originally from Minnesota, has spent most of his career in Anchorage, where he has been superintendent since 2013. Last October, the city’s school board voted not to renew his contract, with the board president saying at the time that the district had “very aggressive goals” and needed a new leader at the top, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.

Graff started in Anchorage as an elementary school teacher in 1991. The Minneapolis school district said that during his tenure in Anchorage, Graff led the implementation of a new strategic plan, expanded pre-school and literacy programs, and partnered with more than 600 businesses.

Not everyone is happy with the process. Board member Rebecca Gagnon was not pleased, reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“I feel like the search committee has taken on the responsibility of making the decision of who should be superintendent vs. who is qualified and should be considered by the board for superintendent,” Gagnon told the paper.

If Cassellius gets the Minneapolis job, she will join a number of former state education chiefs who are now running urban school districts. They include Chris Cerf, New Jersey’s former education commissioner, who is superintendent of the Newark, N.J., district; Deborah Gist, who left the Rhode Island job to run Tulsa, Okla., schools; and Brad Buck, who left the Iowa state job to run the Cedar Rapids school system.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.