So far in his two-year tenure as Minneapolis superintendent, Ed Graff has implemented a districtwide elementary literacy curriculum. He has bolstered social and emotional learning for students to improve their success in school, in the workforce and in life. He has closed a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall and joined forces with local leaders as his struggling district prods voters for more money to end chronic budget woes.
The referendum — an additional $18 million for operations and $12 million for technology — is key in helping the superintendent implement and show significant results for his four top priorities — literacy, equity, social and emotional learning, and support services for students.
Graff will be graded in early October by the school board on his performance, and at Wednesday’s board committee meeting, his bosses will discuss how to create a process for evaluating him.
Last year, Graff received a good report card from the nine-member board in his first job review. He earned it by creating systems to implement his key priorities, said Board Member Jenny Arneson.
“This year what we are focusing on is implementation,” said Arneson, a member of the evaluation committee. “Nothing ever moves as quickly as we would like in a large school district, but, in general, I’m confident about the direction our school district is headed.”
Graff took the helm July 1, 2016, with an annual base salary of $225,000 in a three-year contract that expires next year.
He’s now stepping into his third year as the superintendent of the state’s third-largest school district. Board members and parents have been impatient with Graff’s long approach to solve inequities, close a stubborn achievement gap and address financial difficulties.
Their frustration was seen in the last round of cuts, which provoked pushback from the school community and advocacy groups, after board members voted to restore $6.4 million to secondary schools.
“People that are paying closer attention can see that the superintendent is spending so much energy and time just managing his board and that is not a way to make sure that students come first in the district,” said Kenneth Eban, senior director of organizing for the Minnesota chapter of Students for Education Reform.
“Anything that the board ultimately does to penalize Superintendent Graff has to be an honest reflection of their own performance as a board.”
During a recent board discussion, Board Member Rebecca Gagnon advocated for schools to have more autonomy, challenging Graff’s vision to give the central office control over the kinds of programs offered in schools based on the budget.
Board Member Kim Ellison says Graff is struggling to cope with the $18.4 million in cuts to the central office. Ellison said she, too, is frustrated with the cuts’ effects, especially on the district’s communications and engagement department. Recently, a clerical mistake made it appear that Lucy Craft Laney Community School had lifted itself off the state’s list of failing schools, leaving families and school staff distressed once they learned it was a mistake. Ellison praised Graff for building relationships with local business leaders to help students become equipped to enter the workforce.
Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Graff has shown a strong desire to bridge the divide between schools and businesses, where there’s pressure to fill an estimated 100,000-worker shortage.
“I have seen a pivot and much more intentionality around bridging those relationships to the business community and trying to understand how the institution and curriculum can be much more aligned to prepare students for work and for post secondary opportunities,” Weinhagen said.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey lauded Graff for being out front on social and economic issues, including a new partnership on Stable Homes, Stable Schools — an initiative to address homelessness among Minneapolis Public Schools students. The city’s plan, which gives vouchers to 320 families to find housing near their community school, will address the city’s efforts on affordable housing while also helping to reduce mounting transportation costs for the district, Frey said.
“We need to remember that children are not entering the classroom as a blank slate,” he said.