The additional staff will allow her more time to focus on her strength, connecting with teachers, families and supporters, said Mayor R.T. Rybak, a Johnson backer.
Rybak and Costain say the district's recent and projected enrollment increases are a byproduct of renewed confidence in the schools, which for years has been looked upon as a symbol of what's wrong with public education in Minnesota. Now, districts across the state, especially in Twin Cities' inner-ring suburbs, are facing issues that were once restricted to Minneapolis and St. Paul: high rates of poverty and an increasing number of English language learners among them.
"We are the bellwether of the challenges the state faces," Costain said.
Surveys find that the district's highest approval ratings come from families of students of color, those who often fare the worse in Minneapolis schools, said state Sen. Patricia Torres-Ray, a Minneapolis DFLer and a district parent. Still, Torres-Ray is unhappy with the district's record on educating those children.
"I will support someone who changes the outcomes for kids," Torres-Ray said. "I have not seen that in the Minneapolis schools for a long time."
A lonely job
On a recent weeknight, Johnson stood in the cafeteria at Green Central School in south Minneapolis speaking broken Spanish to Latino families. Two days later, she worked the room, meeting and greeting deep-pocketed sponsors, at a $100-per-plate fundraiser in downtown Minneapolis.
Fellow Superintendent Valeria Silva, of the St. Paul public schools, credited Johnson with navigating one of the toughest parts of jobs, making connections to a number of sometimes competing interests: parents, unions, community organizers, business leaders.
"It takes time to develop relationships and trust," Silva said, "but it can be a very lonely job."