Bernadeia Johnson has vowed to work toward closing the achievement gap.

David Brewster, Star Tribune

Johnson chosen to lead Minneapolis schools

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE
  • Star Tribune
  • February 9, 2010 - 10:49 PM

The Minneapolis school board voted Tuesday night to make Bernadeia Johnson its official choice as new superintendent of the state's third-largest school district.

The move authorized Board Chairman Tom Madden to negotiate a contract with Johnson that will then come back to the board for approval. If approved as expected, Johnson, currently deputy superintendent, will take the reins from Superintendent Bill Green in July.

Two board members -- Lydia Lee and Jill Davis -- abstained from the otherwise unanimous vote, voicing their objection to the board's decision not to cast a wider net for the job.

In a surprise move last month, the board said it would not conduct a traditional superintendent search and picked Johnson as its sole candidate.

"The public has told us they want stability, continuity and focus," Madden said last month of the decision.

But those qualities "do not speak to qualifications," Lee said on Tuesday, arguing that those who believed a broad search would not yield better candidates were "making assumptions." Lee added that her abstention should not be interpreted as a vote against Johnson.

Several audience members who spoke at Tuesday's meeting -- including leaders of the Minneapolis black community -- registered opposing views on whether the board should have sought more candidates.

In some ways, the disagreement hearkened back to 2003, when David Jennings, then interim superintendent of the Minneapolis school district, was chosen to keep the job permanently without a formal search. Jennings turned down the post after an outcry over lack of public input, questions about his qualifications and a lawsuit by black activists.

This time, the selection process was "much more transparent," said Bill English, who supported the board's methods and choice when he spoke at Tuesday's meeting on behalf of the Coalition of Black Churches/African American Leadership Summit.

For English, one big question about finding a new superintendent was, "Were we prepared as a district to start over?" The answer is "No," he said, arguing that Johnson is a qualified candidate whose work developing the district's strategic plan makes her a stable choice for Minneapolis and shows that she's committed to reform.

Though Johnson was the sole candidate, the board still had her attend a series of community meetings so families could get to know her better.

In her official job interview last week, she told the board that she plans to keep moving the district in the same direction, improve communication with parents and students, and intensify efforts to close the district's achievement gap.

Johnson entered education in 1991, after leaving a career in the financial sector. She has been a teacher and principal in St. Paul public schools and a principal at Hall Elementary in Minneapolis.

Green, the current superintendent, is leaving the district to return to his teaching post at Augsburg College.

The Minneapolis School District has about 32,000 students and a budget of about $650 million this year.

Staff writer Emily Johns contributed to this report. Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

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