The education of Bernadeia Johnson

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 5, 2011 - 1:59 PM

Ahead of her first job evaluation, the Minneapolis schools leader is learning from mistakes and relying on her instincts.


Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson helped kindergartner Jeremie Niyonkuru put his numbered cards in order during her visit to Lyndale School Thursday, December 1, 2011.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Last summer, an ill-timed decision to give retroactive raises to her staff had put Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of the Minneapolis schools, on the defensive.


Johnson's bosses, Minneapolis school board members, were upset that she had handed out $270,000 in bonuses after a consultant recommended it. Citizens flooded her voice mail and e-mail with complaints that administrators were getting bonuses when teachers were losing jobs.


Weeks later, on National Night Out, Johnson did what supporters say she does best: acting as an ambassador for the state's most urban district.


After crisscrossing the city, visiting cookouts and block parties, Johnson pulled into the driveway of her Brooklyn Park home. A next-door neighbor watering her lawn offered a bit of advice.


Honey, why do you keep doing all these studies? Johnson recalls her neighbor asking. "I think you ought to stop."


Johnson paused and looked at her neighbor and said: "I think you're right."


That night in August captured the spirit of Johnson's 18 months on the job: a series of highs, lows and questions about her leadership of the state's third-largest yet most-scrutinized school district.


Midway through her second year on the job, Johnson said she has learned from her missteps and will rely more on her instincts than consultants and chart her own course.


"I have to shore this up," she said about the district. "There's something you take from every experience that makes you a stronger person."


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