St. Paul got its first look Wednesday at the two finalists to lead its 37,110-student school system, and in terms of their current experience, it was hard to imagine a bigger difference between the two.
Joe Gothard, superintendent of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District, oversees a south suburban district with 9,247 kids and a 57 percent minority population.
Cheryl Logan, chief academic support officer for the School District of Philadelphia, is a senior leader in an urban district with 134,041 students who are 86 percent minority.
The two share a belief, however, that change can happen when you pull people together — be it with the aim of restructuring grades across a suburban school system or adjusting a school calendar to provide for a pre-Labor Day start in a major metropolitan area.
Gothard and Logan appeared before about 260 people at a community meeting in St. Paul Wednesday on the heels of assurances from board Chairman Jon Schumacher that both possess the qualities needed to lead the state’s second-largest district.
He was forced to vouch for their strengths after a third finalist, Orlando Ramos, a regional superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools, withdrew Tuesday after it was revealed that he had not disclosed that he had filed for bankruptcy reorganization in 2009.
Ramos, who has wished the district well in its search, reaffirmed Wednesday that while he had no intentions of deceiving anyone, he was taking full responsibility for having failed to alert the district to the bankruptcy case. He said the school board and the search firm, Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were “extremely courteous, respectful, professional and kind.”
Gary Ray, the firm’s president, who in November pledged to board members that there would be no surprises in the backgrounds of the superintendent candidates recommended, has not responded to Star Tribune requests for comment.
On Wednesday, Gothard and Logan met the public at Washington Technology Magnet School after a day during which Logan visited two schools and the two met with the district’s Student Engagement and Advancement Board. They will be interviewed by board members on Thursday.
Gothard is expected to make a school visit next week.
While the two now may be far removed from the classroom, they both value connections to students. Gothard has described himself as a “teacher at heart” and Logan once was depicted in the Washington Post as a “breath of fresh air” with a love for kids evident in the fact that as a principal she knew 2,200 of them by name.
They also have similar stories when it comes to the stepping off points to their current jobs.
Gothard was born and raised in Madison, Wis., “a proud East Sider,” he said Wednesday, and became a principal and assistant superintendent in that district before moving to Burnsville-Eagan-Savage in 2013.
Logan, the daughter of a teacher, graduated from high school in Prince George’s County in Maryland and became a principal there before she was hired as an assistant superintendent in Philadelphia — also in 2013.
St. Paul residents also will recognize many of the issues with which the two have been involved.
In 2014, Gothard unveiled a plan, “Vision One91,” calling for grade reconfigurations that included a move to grades 6-8 middle schools and a Burnsville High expansion. He successfully rallied support for a $65 million building bond and a $2.5 million-per-year technology levy that is putting Google Chromebooks in the hands of students.
St. Paul went from two-year junior highs to three-year middle schools in 2013-14. The move, when combined with the mainstreaming of special-education students, contributed to behavioral problems that helped sink the fortunes of former Superintendent Valeria Silva.
Logan, like educators in St. Paul and other urban districts, has been engaged in efforts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and graduation rates. As a principal, she changed school rules to allow Muslim students who had parental permission and high grades to take time out from class every day to pray, the Washington Post reported.
Four years ago, she was honored with the Post’s “Distinguished Educational Leadership Award” in part by helping teachers meet her “high standards,” the newspaper said, and by encouraging more students to take biology classes as well as help run a bank branch at her high school.
Visits by board members to Gothard’s and Logan’s districts are planned next week, with a decision on who will lead the district expected on April 11.