After an embarrassing series of events that took the original top two choices out of the running, the Minneapolis school board decided this week to restart its search for a new superintendent for the state’s third-largest school district.
The unfortunate do-over will be successful only if the board thoroughly vets potential candidates, finds the person it believes is the best fit for Minneapolis and stands by the choice. Board members need to do what they were elected to do and lead, knowing full well that in any district as large as Minneapolis no choice will win unanimous community support.
Earlier this month, the board rejected its initial choice, Sergio Paez, after learning about ongoing investigations of a school in his former district. Then, in a disappointing show of weakness, they let a small group of objectors shut down a meeting in which they were expected to give the job to interim superintendent Michael Goar. Saying he had become a distraction, Goar withdrew from consideration last week.
No one should blame Goar for that decision. Who would want to be passed over once for another candidate and then be left out to dry by a board unable to make a decision in the face of a minor protest?
Now the nine-member board expects to adopt a new timetable and hiring plan at a Feb. 16 meeting, with the goal of having a school chief in place by July 1. That’s a reasonable time frame, given that the board already had put 10 months into a national search and that candidates would be able to finish out their current school years. During the coming weeks, the board can reconsider candidates on its previous lists and perhaps attract new candidates from inside and outside the district.
In addition to hiring a new search firm, the board is considering creating a hiring committee made up of four board members and three people from outside the district — people who are “ broadly respected in the areas of educational leadership, government or public affairs.” Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, now the executive director of the education nonprofit Generation Next, would be a good choice for one of those spots. So would former Minneapolis Superintendent Bill Green and economist and early-education expert Art Rolnick.
The board also plans to hold a community forum on the new search. That’s a fine idea — and we urge interested stakeholders to show up in large numbers. But the board must ensure that the process isn’t derailed by one or more special-interest groups.
Participants at a September forum offered a number of priorities that the board should already be considering. Citizens said they want a school chief with a successful track record of boosting student achievement who visits schools regularly and connects well with a variety of diverse communities and constituencies. We’d add that the district needs a strong leader with people skills who can rally school staff members, the community, politicians, businesses and others to improve student learning and rebuild public confidence.
The next superintendent must make progress in addressing the persistent learning disparities between white students and many students of color. The board should set policies to achieve that goal, then support top administrators as they make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions.
Freshman Board Member Siad Ali said it well this week: “We have to unite for the sake of the children and do a good job this time.”