St. Paul chooses interim superintendent

  • Article by: EMILY JOHNS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2009 - 11:25 PM

A district administrator will take the reins until the board finds a permanent replacement for Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

St. Paul schools will hire a district administrator as the interim superintendent, district officials said Friday.

Suzanne Kelly, the district's chief of staff, has been chosen to take the reins while the board searches for a permanent replacement for departing Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

"I'm really honored to be asked by the board to fill in," said Kelly, whose son graduated from Arlington High School. "... To be able to give back to the system that's served my family well, and this community that I have long ties to, is something that's very important to me."

Carstarphen announced in February that she would be leaving at the end of the school year to become the superintendent of Austin, Texas, schools.

Kelly has been the chief of staff since 2007. She is responsible for supporting day-to-day operations on behalf of Carstarphen, and she serves as acting superintendent during Carstarphen's absence. She plans to work closely with Carstarphen as the superintendent plans her departure.

"She's in an ideal position for us," said Kazoua Kong-Thao, board chairwoman. "We need somebody who doesn't have to start all over, or learn the ropes. She's already in place to move us forward."

She is taking charge at an important time in the district's history. The district is facing a $25 million budget deficit that could grow as education funding for next year is finalized by the state Legislature. The district is at the beginning of a large restructuring process, and while test scores were up last year, they were not up enough to stave off the federally mandated restructuring of Arlington High School and Humboldt Junior High School.

Contract negotiations with the teachers' union also will begin soon.

Kelly said she plans to keep the district on the restructuring path that Carstarphen has laid out.

"The district is poised to do great things," said Kelly, who is not interested in the permanent position. "I think Dr. Carstarphen has set [us] out on a great path."

Kelly has also been the chief of staff for the Memphis City Schools and was the executive director of public affairs for the Minneapolis schools. She also worked as a reporter and editor for the Star Tribune from 1989-1998, and is pursuing a master of fine arts in writing at Hamline University.

The school board will hold a special meeting on April 28 to officially appoint Kelly to the position. She will start when Carstarphen's contract is complete, which is June 30.

The board is hoping to find a permanent replacement for Carstarphen by this fall, Kong-Thao said. It plans to further discuss the search process at a May 5 meeting.

Potential applicants include current administrators Nancy Stachel, the chief of schools, as well as Valeria Silva, the chief academic officer.

The last superintendent search also netted two local finalists who could apply: Kent Pekel used to serve as an adviser to former Superintendent Patricia Harvey and now directs the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota. Bernadeia Johnson taught in St. Paul for five years, and she is now the deputy superintendent in Minneapolis.

Emily Johns • 612-673-7460

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