Mark Bonine said he wasn’t interested the first time a search firm called him last summer, looking for candidates for a planned vacancy in the Brooklyn Center superintendent’s chair. He wanted to finish the school year in his current job as an associate superintendent in Minneapolis.
“To be honest with you, I believe I can be a very good superintendent, but I wasn’t looking to be a superintendent,” Bonine recounted this week.
But when the firm called again over winter break, in a second round, he reconsidered. He compared Brooklyn Center with his background and got intrigued. “It was a very difficult decision that I had to make,” he said. So he told his boss, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, that he was going to apply.
He also was impressed by the school board in Brooklyn Center, whose members have far more longevity that the current Minneapolis board. “What they wanted in a superintendent was a match for what my skills are,” he said.
The Brooklyn Center board thought so too. “He was our unanimous choice,” said board Chair Cheryl Jechorek. The board didn’t even bother with a second round of interviews with finalists. He starts in the summer after incumbent Keith Lester completes his seventh year.
One reason that Bonine’s departure is hard is that he’s put in 26 years in the city’s schools after an initial two years in St. Paul. He’s taught at South and St. Joseph’s Home for Children, in classes serving special education students, both those with emotional needs and learning disabilities. He first stint as a principal came at Andersen Open school. He was shifted to Nellie Stone Johnson, where in his three years the North Side school made impressive growth in its test scores.
That success led to Bonine being put in charge of the district’s North Side and Northeast schools. He now supervises the district’s six turnaround schools, those with lowest academic achievement, and two similar high-priority schools. He holds the title of associate superintendent, and is also responsible for the district’s “new schools” experiment with charter and self-governed schools, and contract alternative schools.
The Bloomington Kennedy High School graduate will head a five-school district in Brooklyn Center. Most of the district’s 1,700 students are in two traditional schools, an elementary and a middle-high school. The district also has an early childhood center, an alternative learning center and an online school.
The job was posted for an annual salary range of between $140,000 and $160,000, Jechorek said that her board was impressed with Bonine’s collaborative style, urban experience, ability to raise achievement, experience with restarting schools, and financial skills.
The loss to Minneapolis was demonstrated at the last school board meeting, when school board members pressed for answers on making gains like those of top-flight charter schools. Bonine quickly extemporized an impressive list of changes the district needs to boost scores in its lowest-performing schools.
For those tempted to see a pattern in the recent departure of CEO Rick Mills and now Bonine, keep in mind that departing was difficult for Bonine, even though he’s excited to take over his new duties. “I love my work here,” he said. “I love what I do.”
Instead, consider Bonine as another in a long line of talent that Minneapolis has groomed for their first superintendent posts in other districts. Carol Johnson left to head St. Louis Park schools, then returned to be chief in Minneapolis, before leaving again for Memphis and Boston. Gwen Jackson went to Faribault schools, Ben Perry took a chief’s job in Arkansas. David Jennings took over the helm of the Chaska district, now known as East Carver.