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.
Washburn’s new principal hasn’t worked in a Minneapolis school since the 1990s, but Rhonda Dean doesn’t sound fazed by her shift from a mostly white school with little poverty in Andover to a considerably more diverse student body in Minneapolis.
First, she started her career in Minneapolis schools, teaching math in various grade configurations in the Wilder building, and then went on to South to learn the ropes of being an administrator.
While she was at the Banneker school within the Wilder building, she helped lead the school’s adjustment to a first wave of Hmong immigration, a job that she said helped her to learn across cultural barriers. She worked to removed barriers for students and their families.
Even earlier, she roamed the wood-floored halls of the old Franklin school in north Minneapolis, where her father, Russell Henderson, taught art before switching to Southwest. She also attended Franklin and went to Henry for a year befpre finishing school in Fridley, where she also recalls huddling in a basement during that city's 1965 tornado
“For me, I’m going back home,” the 52-year-old declared in a phone interview Tuesday. She’ll get a formal introduction to the Washburn community on May 22 from 5-6:30 p.m.
At Washburn, she’ll face several challenges. One that’s leftover, despite the strenuous efforts of predecessor Carol Markham-Cousins, is to narrow the gap between the school’s low-income and minority students and the increasingly white, middle-class enrollment sent to Washburn since the district hardened its attendance area boundaries. Although the school has drawn recognition for its drama and athletic achievements, its four-year graduation rate is about 53 percent.
Another is to stabilize the school’s leadership. Washburn was rocked during the 2012-2013 school year first by an incident in which a small group of students hung a dark-skinned doll, and then by student-led protests over the reassignment of a popular athletic director after issues arose from replacement of an outdoor scoreboard. After the district reassigned Markham-Cousins, it hired Patrick Exner for the job only to dump him quickly after an allegation that he changed student test answers, something he’s denied.
One advantage that Dean has is that she’ll come into Washburn knowing its interim principal, Assistant Principal Linda Conley, who worked with Dean at South.
Another piece of her background could also fit Washburn’s needs. At Wayzata High School, she was responsible for integrating a class of ninth graders into the high school for the first time. Now the Minneapolis district wants to create more of a dual academic campus at Washburn and adjoining Ramsey Middle School. That will mean some students could take classes in both schools. Dean will have a year to work with Ramsey Principal Paul Marrietta before the change takes effect a year from this fall.
Lund wouldn’t say directly whether she’d also applied for the district’s other marquee principal opening, at South, where the district is behind on its own schedule for announcing a new principal. But she said that a school like Washburn, with just over 1,300 students, is a more manageable size than South and Andover, which both have 1,700 students.
She also said she feels that Washburn has a more “wholistic” student body than what she remembers from South, where students were more separated according to their academic program. “I thought that Washburn was a better fit for me and as a high school principal, we put in a lot of hours,” she said.
She said she’s purposely delayed visiting the Washburn campus since her hiring because of the time of year. “For me, this is the most important month of the years for our seniors,” she said. “I don’t want people talking about next year and not having those students have their moment.”
Rhonda Dean, a one-time math teacher and administrator at Benjamin Banneker school in Minneapolis, has been named the new principal at the district's Washburn High School.
She's been principal at Andover High School for the past six years and previously spent 11 years as assistant principal at Wayzata High School, the district said.
The appointment is intended to give the South Side school stable leadership after turmoil that began last year with student protests that preceded the reassignment of then-Principal Carol Markham- Cousins. Then district was embarrassed last September when it appointed Patrick Exner as principal, only to remove him days later after an anonymous allegation emerged that he changed answers on a student test at a charter school, a charge he denied. Washburn has been under the interim leadership of Assistant Principal Linda Conley this school year.
"Ms. Dean possesses the character and leadership qualities that will foster an environment of collaboration and high educational standards," Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said in a district statement. It quoted Dean as saying she was humbled by her selection and excited to return to Minneapolis.
According to the district, Dean earned a degree in business science at Cameron University in Oklahoma, and holds masters degrees in education and educational administration from St. Mary's University.
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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