Two educators, including Minnesota's education commissioner, emerged Friday night as finalists to become the next superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools.

The candidates are Brenda Cassellius, who has led the state's Department of Education since 2011, and Ed Graff, who will step down as superintendent of the Anchorage School District in June after his contract was not renewed.

Their names were presented to the school board in a letter late Friday by an 11-member selection committee made up of board and community members. The committee interviewed five semifinalists from a pool of about 20 candidates this week.

"I am certain [the committee members] are presenting us the candidates they think are the best to move forward," said board chairwoman Jenny Arneson. "I am pleased with the quality of the candidates that they approved for us. I am excited to meet our candidates next week."

It's the second time in six months the board has been presented with a slate of finalists. In December, after a lengthy process, the board voted for Sergio Paez of Massachusetts, then rescinded its offer after allegations surfaced of abuse at a school in his previous district.

Then, as it was about to offer the job to Interim Superintendent Michael Goar, a group of protesters stopped the vote. Goar eventually withdrew his name, citing divisions in the community.

Despite the expressed desire of many community members to have a local educator in the district's top job, the selection committee presented Graff, who is originally from Minnesota but has not worked here as an educator.

Cassellius, who has served as education commissioner for five years, said she was looking forward to meeting with the board and community members next week.

"It's really going to be about listening to the community and speaking to the board about their vision for the district," she said. "I am really excited and am looking forward to speaking with them."

Cassellius was a teacher, principal and administrator in the Twin Cities, including Minneapolis, before following former Minneapolis Superintendent Carol Johnson in 2004 to Memphis, where she served as the academic superintendent of middle schools.

She had a short stint as an administrator in Oklahoma City before returning to Minneapolis in 2007 to work as an assistant superintendent under Bernadeia Johnson.

Anchorage to Minneapolis

Graff, the Anchorage superintendent, said Friday night that he is very excited to have been named a finalist.

He said Minneapolis has a community similar in its diversity to his previous school district.

"I am really about the students and making sure we are engaging in the community and understanding what their needs are," he said.

The school board in Anchorage decided last year not to renew his contract, citing a need to meet aggressive academic goals, according to local media reports.

Graff has spent the majority of his career as an educator in Alaska. He began as a teacher in 1991 at an elementary school in Anchorage. He then went on to become a school principal, the district's executive director of elementary education and its chief academic officer. He was appointed superintendent in 2013.

Graff was named a superintendent finalist last month in the St. Michael-Albertville school district, but ultimately did not get the job.

Small candidate slate

Board member Rebecca Gagnon said she was not pleased with the slate.

"I feel like the search committee has taken on the responsibility of making the decision of who should be superintendent versus who is qualified and should be considered by the board for superintendent," she said.

Gagnon and two other board members had tried to introduce a resolution that would have required the selection committee to present three finalists to the full board, but their measure failed.

Nelson Inz, a school board member who chaired the selection committee, said, "The committee took their job very seriously and brought forward the two candidates they thought were the best and most qualified."

Meet and greets

Minneapolis parents, principals, teachers and other community members will have a chance to meet the finalists Monday at several community events and receptions.

Between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., the two will visit the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in north Minneapolis, the Walker Library, Sabathani Community Center and CAPI on Lake Street.

In the evening, the district will host a community reception with the candidates at its headquarters.

The nine-member school board will interview both candidates Tuesday evening, and is expected to choose a new superintendent by May 27.

Alejandra Matos • 612-673-4028