A trip to Massachusetts confirmed the impressions the Minneapolis school board had about superintendent candidate Sergio Paez, both pro and con, according to a report released Friday.
“Overall, we fulfilled the mission of confirming the facts,” said Josh Reimnitz, one of two board members who visited Paez’s former school district in Holyoke, Mass.
Reimnitz said the board has enough information now to make a decision on Paez’s future on Tuesday.
Paez was praised for programs and focus on students in Holyoke, but struggled to navigate the city’s politics, according to the Minneapolis school board’s site visit report.
In a written report, Reimnitz and board member Tracine Asberry said that Paez was able to change the “educational climate” in Holyoke, but struggles with managing political aspects of the job.
“[Paez] can be focused on an idea or initiative and struggle with the politics that surround such decisions,” the board members said.
The report was released late Friday afternoon during a board retreat in Chaska. Board members did not discuss Paez’s future or their search process, but decided to make the superintendent search the first topic on Tuesday’s meeting. The retreat is expected to resume Saturday.
Paez addressed the report’s findings Friday by e-mail, taking issue with the criticism of his ability to manage the politics of school leadership. “The only comments I have about politics is that I purposely try to stay away from institutional practices, more commonly known as politics,” he wrote. “That was interpreted as lack of political work. … As a leader, I have to challenge the status quo; and part of that is to challenge political structures.”
The board members visited Holyoke on Dec. 18 after Paez was selected to lead the district. Their visit occurred amid allegations that staff at the Peck School there abused special education students. The board voted to suspend contract negotiations with Paez until after the visit.
In their report, the two board members said they were not able to obtain “confirming or disproving information about [Paez’s] involvement and actions.” They said they met with 12 people in Holyoke and spoke to another person by phone after returning to Minneapolis.
Asberry and Reimnitz said people in Holyoke praised Paez’s initiatives, including early literacy programs and improving graduation rates.
Asberry and Reiminitz also remained concerned that Holyoke was much smaller than Minneapolis, which has 35,000 students. Holyoke has about 5,000 students.
“It may take a different style of leadership to move initiatives forward,” they wrote.
Two Holyoke board members also said Paez gathers input but “did not take that into account when making decisions,” according to the report.
The report comes after Paez spent three days in Minneapolis this week working to win over community members.
In his e-mail, Paez pointed out that he had experience at Worcester, Mass., a larger district. “If the visit was done in Worcester [25,000 students] the argument of size would be less relevant,” he said.
“In regard to the Peck investigation, the board has received many relevant documents that demonstrate that there is not direct connection to wrongdoing or any improper action by me,” he continued. “With that being said, the students in that program needed much more support and we were aggressively working on providing the best services available.”