Ed Graff is the new superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, pending the outcome of contract negotiations.
The outgoing head of Anchorage Public Schools was appointed Tuesday night by the nine-member school board in a 6-3 vote. State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius had also been in the running for the job.
“I am very excited to be chosen as superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools,” Graff said through a Skype interview with news media.
His appointment capped a tumultuous 16-month search for the district’s top leader. In December, the board selected Sergio Paez, a Massachusetts educator, but rescinded its offer after allegations of abuse at a school in Paez’ district came to light just days after he was to be named superintendent.
Then, as the board was about to permanently give the job to interim Superintendent Michael Goar, a group of protesters interrupted the meeting. Goar later withdrew his candidacy, citing divisions in the community.
“This has been a long process,” board Chairwoman Jenny Arneson said. “We were pleased by the amount of patience and support and interest we have in Minneapolis Public Schools.”
Pending contract negotiations, Graff is expected to begin his new job in July.
“Some of you may be happy. Some of you may be disappointed,” Arneson said of the board’s vote. “Our board is committed to moving forward. With that, yay.”
Board members Arneson, Rebecca Gagnon, Carla Bates, Josh Reimnitz, Tracine Asberry and Don Samuels voted for Graff. Siad Ali, Kim Ellison and Nelson Inz voted for Cassellius.
After Graff was named as the preferred candidate, the board voted unanimously to enter into contract negotiations with him.
Community activist Al Flowers shouted at board members for not selecting Cassellius, noting that Graff doesn’t have a license.
Graff is currently unlicensed in Minnesota, but district officials say they do not expect any problems in getting a two-year variance while he fulfills state requirements for his license. The state Board of School Administrators is set to vote on Graff’s variance later this month.
A Minnesota native
Graff, 47, who is originally from Bemidji, will lead the state’s third-largest school district after serving three years as superintendent in Anchorage.
Board members said they were impressed by his focus on students and how he was able to create a positive culture in Anchorage despite deep cuts in budget and staff.
Arneson and Gagnon traveled to Alaska last week to speak to school officials, parents and other community members. They said Graff was commonly referred to as student-centered, thoughtful, constantly engaging with students in schools and not the type of leader to make knee-jerk decisions.
In a report to the board, Arneson and Gagnon also said that there was “surprise across all stakeholders” that Graff’s contract was not renewed in Anchorage.
The community continues to lack a thorough explanation from the school board there as to why it made that decision, according to Gagnon and Arneson’s report.
Graff has worked in education for more than 20 years and has spent nearly his entire career in Alaska. Before leading the Anchorage district, he was a teacher, a principal and an administrator.
Samuels said he was initially concerned that the district was considering “a white guy.” After speaking to Graff and seeing the results of his work, he said he sees Graff as genuine and inclusive. “[Graff] is not the typical superintendent,” he said. “To some degree, he is quite an evolved human being.”
Graff said he will reach out to community members. “A lot of conversations start from how someone looks,” he said.
Some board members cited concerns about Cassellius’ lack of experience as a superintendent of a large urban district and said results for students of color have not greatly improved in her time as commissioner.
Ali said he was disappointed because he believes Cassellius was the best choice, but “I will respect the decision of the majority of the board.”
Cassellius spent very little time in her career leading a school district. She was the superintendent of the East Metro Integration District for less than a year before Gov. Mark Dayton appointed her commissioner in 2010.
“I wish only the best for Mr. Graff,” Cassellius said late Tuesday. “I look forward to serving the children of Minneapolis and Mr. Ed Graff in the future as commissioner.”
The board will immediately begin contract talks with Graff. A meeting is set for Friday to approve the contract, but officials say that might be an optimistic timeline.
Goar is leaving the district at the end of this month to lead Big Brothers Big Sisters. In the meantime, Michael Thomas, the district’s chief of schools, will lead the district.