Minneapolis interim superintendent Michael Goar, along with Sergio Paez and Charles Foust, emerged Wednesday night as the top candidates to lead the state's third-largest school district.
The school board narrowed the candidate field from six to three after two days of interviews.
Goar and Paez, a former superintendent from Holyoke, Mass., were named the board's favored candidates after a tally of board members. Foust, an administrator in the Houston school district, was selected after the board discussed his interview.
Jinger Gustafson, an associate superintendent from the Anoka-Hennepin district, Kenneth Spells, a superintendent from Alton, Ill., and Jesse Rodriguez, a regional superintendent in the Milwaukee public schools, were eliminated.
"While this is an important step, this is not our final step," said board chairwoman Jenny Arneson.
In the coming weeks, the three finalists will meet with teachers, principals and other community members. The board is expected to select its preferred candidate by Dec. 7.
It's the first time in 10 years that the Minneapolis district has conducted a national search for a new superintendent.
The board used a ranking sheet to select the finalists. The nine elected board members and one student representative ranked each person against the others. Goar and Paez received the backing of the majority of board members.
Before his interim position began in February, Goar was the district's CEO, leading the development of a plan to eliminate the achievement gap between white and minority students. Before his work in Minneapolis, he held administrative roles in Boston and Memphis public schools.
During his interview, Goar said he believed that his experience — in addition to being a Minneapolis graduate himself — gave him an edge over the others. He said he worked on such issues as school integration, financial gaps and corporal punishment in other districts, and now has spent most of this year at the helm in Minneapolis.
Board member Josh Reimnitz said Goar is the only candidate with whom he knows "what I'm going to get."
"For me, that's comforting," he said.
As interim superintendent, Goar fired hundreds of central office staff members to move more resources to schools. In October, he and the board came under fire after purchasing a literacy curriculum that teachers found included racial and cultural stereotypes. Goar said not enough staff members had vetted the books.
Six school board members supported Goar over Paez.
Paez and Foust
Some board members expressed admiration for what they called Paez's honesty about race and focus on student outcomes.
"He wants our schools to be the schools of choice," said board member Don Samuels.
Paez was superintendent of Holyoke schools for two years until July, when a receiver took over the school system. Before that, he worked with English-language-learner support services in Worcester, Mass.
Holyoke was the most underperforming district in Massachusetts, giving Paez opportunities to work to reverse the trend. Closing the achievement gap would mean researching what similar districts are doing and pinpointing what works, he said.
Of the three candidates, Foust has the fewest years in an administrative role, but he comes from the country's seventh-largest school district. Foust, 41, has been an administrator in the Houston district since 2013. His job is to support middle schools in the district, along with six other support officers.
Foust described himself as a "servant leader" who asks a lot of questions and holds himself and others accountable.
The board praised Foust's use of data to back up success and how he constantly asks his staff, "How do you know something is going to work?"
"This district hasn't had a relentless leader yet," said board member Tracine Asberry, noting that she sees that potential in Foust.