The district is reaching into the ranks of South High School parents to fill a long-open principal post at the school.
Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson Friday announced the appointment of Ray Aponte, who is a South parent two times over as well as an experienced elementary and middle grades principal in several district schools.
The timing of the appointment means that the district wil be filling a vacancy it created just before the school year began with an appointment made just after students and teachers have finished the school year. The appointment was made about a month after the district's previously announced timetable, in part because additional candidates were interviewed.
The appointment fills the second major hole in the district's principal ranks, the other being the naming of Rhonda Dean as Washburn High School principal last month. The district still has 10 other principal jobs it needs to fill, several of them vacancies created recently by promoting principals to district administrative posts.
Aponte has been principal at Northrop Environmental Learning Center, a prekindergarten-8 school cited this school year by the Minnesota Department of Education for its academic record. He spent 10 years at Jefferson preK-8, and also has been a principal at Andersen pre-K-8 and Waite Park preK-5 schools. He has also been assistant principal at Northeast Middle School and Sheridan preK-5.
Aponte has a son who just graduated from the high school, and a daughter who will be a junior next school year. He has a reputation as a principal who interacts eaily with students. According ot the district, he was named volunteer of the year by the city's park system in 2003.
The district created the South vacancy by elevating former principal Cecilia Saddler to associate superintendent. Willarene Beasley served as South's interim principal.
The reassigned principals are Cheryl Martin, who moved from Kenwood to Bethune, replacing Melissa Jackson; Renee Montague, moving from Bryn Mawr to reopen Cityview; Karon Cunningham, moving middle schools from Olson to prepare for reopening Franklin in 2015; Merry Tilleson, moving from assistant principal for Lake Harriet’s upper campus to head the lower campus, and Jonathan Luknic, moving from coordinator of the Office of New Schools to Pillsbury.
The list of principal assignments is eagerly awaited by parents. It is being announced weeks later than normal this year. That’s partly because the district just named four principals to the ranks of associate superintendent in a move designed to give people at that rank fewer schools on which to concentrate. That leaves vacancies at Windom, Sullivan and Anthony schools.
The other schools where principals haven’t been named include South High School, perhaps the district’s biggest unresolved gap, Barton, Bryn Mawr, Harrison, Kenwood, Nellie Stone Johnson, Olson and Webster, which won’t open for 15 months.
The district hopes to announce a new South principal within a week, filling a vacancy created last August when Cecilia Saddler was made associate superintendent. The district was able to cross another major principal vacancy off its list last month when it named Rhonda Dean to head Washburn High School; she is the sole principal so far to be hired from outside the district, although more still are possible.
School board members in Minneapolis Tuesday night authorized selling a key district-owned building at Hiawatha Avenue and East Lake Street to clear the way for redevelopment in exchange for assurance that key programs can remain there for up to eight more years.
The sale of 2225 E. Lake St. for about $8 million to Hennepin County would open the way to redevelop with housing, offices, a farmer market and a county social services hub at what is regarded as one of the most significant redevelopment opportunities along the Hiawatha Line. The building there is the former home of Brown Institute.
The school board also approved a resolution that sets a late August deadline for determining a future location for the building’s immigrant-focused adult basic education program serving South Side students, and for Transition Plus students who were slated to move to the building under the district’s enrollment plan. Transition Plus is a program that prepares older special education students for work and independent living. The approval also commits the district to securing a building for those programs by mid-2017.
The district said it is looking elsewhere in the Hiawatha-Lake area near South High School for space. Council Member Alondra Cano said that search will focus on purchasing and redeveloping the half-block between South’s athletic field and Lake Street. That’s the north half of the block directly west of the Midtown YWCA.
Although the county is named in the district resolution as the buyer of the district’s 2225 building, it likely would serve as a pass-through buyer. L&H Station Development has proposed 500 units of housing, 100,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of retail on the 6.4-acre site. Is proposal also includes space for the Midtown Farmers Market.
The school resolution authorized Chief Operating Officer Robert Doty to work out final details with the county on the sale. Doty said he’s hoping for a closing with the county in 90 to 120 days.
The school district previously tried to find affordable space for the 2225 programs in the area or even by leasing space in the redeveloped site, but decided that the costs were beyond its budget. Since then, more players, including Hennepin County, have gotten involved.
Mark Bollinger, Doty’s deputy, said in an interview that the districts wants Transition Plus and adult basic education to stay in the Hi-Lake area because of metro bus and rail connections. That also makes the Brown site attractive to developers.
Adult basic education students in south Minneapolis used to be schooled in the Lehman Center 2.6 miles west on Lake Street. When the district sold that building to a housing developer to help pay for the new district headquarters, they moved to 2225. North Side students were in the Broadway school building before it was torn down for the new district headquarters, then moved to North High School temporarily before moving into the new headquarters. Transition Plus is in the Wilder building at 3320 Elliot Av. S., but was scheduled to move to 2225 in 2015.
(Top photo: Existing former Brown building at 2225 E. Lake St.; right: proposal for redevelopment of the site. This article includes material from staff writer Eric Roper.)
Two Minneapolis high schools still will get new principals this spring, a district spokeswoman said this week, in a subtle shift from the goal of naming those two leaders for South and Washburn in April.
The latest schedule calls for the two new principals to be named during the week of May 5, according to a posting Friday on the web sites of the two schools.
Last fall, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson set an April target for filling the jobs in a letter to parents at the schools outlining the process for selecting a principal. But a timeline posted in February called for the two new principals to be announced next week.
Spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said each site has interviewed three applicants previously vetted by the district , and that the district will refer more more candidates for school interviews soon. The district wants school interview teams to rank the applicants, and then the area superintendent will recommend a principal to Johnson. A new union agreement with principals gives her new incentives for recruiting and retianing principals.
Going slower may be prudent given that the district got burned last August when it named Patrick Exner as Washburn's principal. He then was accused of in an anonymous e-mail of changing student test answers at a charter school where he worked, a charge he flatly denied before the district cut him loose during the first week of school. That led to criticism of the district by some parents for not doing background checks thoroughly. This year, candidates for both jobs are being put through a day-long set of screening tests.
Assistant Principal Linda Conley has been Washburn's interim principal, while retired principal Willarene Beasley has done the same at South. The Washburn opening originally occurred after Principal Carol Markham-Cousins was reassigned, while the South opening occurred when Principal Cecilia Saddler was made southwest area superintendent.
Minneapolis principals have approved a new two-year contract that gives Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson a substantially stronger hand in recruiting outside leaders for schools and attracting current ones to hard-to-staff buildings.
Under the deal, Johnson is likely to know of principal vacancies sooner, will have up to $10,000 to lure outside principals for vacancies and can offer similar-size incentives to attract principals already on the district payroll to low-performing schools. The money also may be used to counter an outside offer to a Minneapolis principal.
The new deal was approved by a bargaining unit of about 100 principals and assistant principals; the Principal Forum did not announce the margin of approval. It makes changes in line with Johnson's push for making pay for district leadership partially tied to performance.
The school board is scheduled to vote on the deal Tuesday.
The money incentives come as the district expects a wave of departures in the next few years as more principals near retirement age. It is also seeking new principals for South and Washburn high schools. The district also needs a principal for the Cityview building, which is reopening next fall. In the last 10 years, it has lost North Principal Mike Favor and Henry Principal Paul McMahon to suburban posts.
For new principals, the deal means that it could take as long as 12 years to reach the top of the salary schedule, rather than the current seven years. But the deal gives Johnson the freedom to jump a principal by more than one salary step to meet an outside offer, for exceptional performance or for taking on added duties. The new salary schedule kicks for next school year, after a 1 percent salary hike for the current year that was negotiated.
Several changes were described by the district and forum negotiator Roger Aronson are market-driven. For example the new schedule actually lowers beginning pay for assistant principals, and means they will take longer to reach a top of scale that's about $4,000 higher than the current maximum.
For elementary principals, starting pay will be $100,000 about $300 less than now, and lag the current schedule until the ninth year. Maximum pay will top at $124,337 after 12 years, compared to this year's $115,183. Middle school principals will continue to be paid slightly more than elementary principals, and K-8 principals will get their scale, rather than their current stipend for elementary-middle grades duties.
The biggest upside is for senior high principals, where district officials acknowledge more money was needed to stay competitive with other districts. Their beginning pay will rise from $105,723 this year to $107,500 next school year, while the 12th-year max will top at $133,446 next year, compared to $121,290 after seven years this year.
"This contract represents a little bit of movement away from the traditional steps," Aronson said. He cited Osseo and Hopkins as examples of districts where salary ranges for principals rather than strict salary steps have been instituted; Johnson's ability to move meritorious principals several steps means they are no longer strictly frozen at their accumulated years of experience.
Perhaps the biggest change is that Johnson will be able to offer up to $10,000 as a quasi-signing bonus to lure principals from other parts of the country where pay may be higher. Distrct CEO Michael Goar said that the district could negotiate with an incoming principal over whether the newcomer would be eligible to earn an annual performance premium.
Johnson also will be able to dangle up to $10,000 in front of current district principals as an incentive to transfer to one of the district's designated lower-peorming schools. Although she has the contractual right to assign principals, Goar said it's preferable not to force a highly regarded principal into a difficult school. He said that acceptance of such an incentive would depend on the principal agreeing to stay for several years. He said the extra money also could be structured as an annual performance bonus.
The new agreement also adds penalties for principals who don't tell the district by Feb. 1 that they're leaving. an addition that's designed to help the district better recruit their successors. The penalties come in the form of deductions of from $3,500 to $5,000 from the sick leave cashout that the principal would otherwise be paid. Principals accumulate unused sick leave and get 60 percent of its cash value when they leave. For new hires, that cashout will be capped at 100 days, which the district said is slightly below the current average days accumulated by departing principals.
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