School & District Management

St. Paul District At Odds With State Over Superintendent Credentials

By Dakarai I. Aarons — August 24, 2009 1 min read
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When Meria Carstarphen left her post this summer as St. Paul, Minn.'s superintendent to replace the retiring Pat Forgione in Austin, Texas, the school board selected Suzanne P. Kelly, Carstarphen’s chief of staff, to serve as interim superintendent while it looks for a permanent leader.

Board members thought Kelly was a natural choice to lead the district temporarily, since she was key to implementing Carstarphen’s initiatives. Before coming on board in 2007, she’d spent four years as chief of staff for Memphis city schools, where former Minneapolis superintendent Carol Johnson was head of schools.

And Kelly is no stranger to Twin City education. She spent years as an education reporter and editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and spent five years as Johnson’s communications director in Minneapolis. The St. Paul school board thought it made a logical choice to maintain continuity through the superintendent search.

But because Kelly doesn’t have a Minnesota superintendent’s license, the Minnesota Board of Administrators rejected a request to give Kelly, who’s only expected to serve a few more months, a waiver, noting that 23 St. Paul staffers hold a superintendent license.

What matters more, credentials or experience? Check out what a member of the administrator’s board told the Star Tribune:

We've worked for years to professionalize teaching, and if it is going to be a profession, then we need to have a fully licensed professional to lead teaching," said Louise Sundin, a member of the administrator's board. "She [Kelly] has no professional qualifications or credentials at all in education."

The St. Paul school board says it has no plans to move Kelly out of the spot, which makes for an odd tension with the state, which now has its second-largest district led by someone it says isn’t qualified to be a superintendent.

States have rules all over the map when it comes to superintendent eligibility, which allows for non-traditional school leaders like New York’s Joel Klein and New Orleans’ Paul Vallas.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan led the Chicago schools, the nation’s fourth-largest district, despite never having been a teacher and not holding an education degree, yet his tenure there is looked at mostly favorably.

What do you think? Should the ability to be a superintendent be measured by a state-issued credential, or should experience and other leadership abilities matter more?

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