In round two, three contenders for the Minneapolis schools’ top job touted their previous experience tackling the urban education and performance gaps in the district.

The school board met Tuesday and interviewed three of the six semifinalists for the job: interim Minneapolis superintendent Michael Goar; Sergio Paez, a former superintendent in Holyoke, Mass.; and Jinger Gustafson, an associate superintendent in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

The three other candidates — Charles Foust, an administrator in the Houston school district; Kenneth Spells, superintendent in Alton, Ill.; and Jesse Rodriguez, a regional superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools — were interviewed by the board Monday night.

The school board is expected to select up to three finalists Wednesday. Those candidates will meet with the community and complete more interviews before a preferred candidate is named 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 asked the finalists about their experience and leadership style, their openness to change and how they would work with urban learners.

As interim superintendent, Goar fired hundreds of central office staff members to give more resources to schools. He and the board came under fire last month after purchasing a literacy curriculum that teachers found included racial and cultural stereotypes. Goar said not enough staff members vetted the books.

Before his interim position began in February, Goar was CEO at the district, leading the development of a plan to eliminate the achievement gap. He also held administrative roles in Boston Public Schools and Memphis City Schools before his work in Minneapolis.

In his interview, he mentioned that this experience — in addition to being a Minneapolis Public Schools graduate himself — gave him an edge over other candidates. He worked on such issues as school integration, financial gaps and corporal punishment while in other districts, and also spent most of the year at the helm of the district.

“I’ve learned what it means to be a superintendent,” he said.

Paez was superintendent of Holyoke Public Schools in Massachusetts for two years until July, when a receiver took over the school system. Previously, he has 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, Paez said.

“We will be able to transform Minneapolis with everybody moving in the same direction,” he said.

Gustafson has held an associate superintendent position in the Anoka-Hennepin district since 2011, after serving as principal at Oak View Middle School in Andover. At the district, her focus is middle schools, special education and mental health.

She’s lived in Minneapolis for about eight years and spearheaded the fallout from harassment based on sexual orientation in the Anoka-Hennepin district.

“It was a really challenging situation where we really had policy, constituents and tragedy collide,” she said.

The new superintendent could earn up to $230,000, a 20 percent hike from what former Minneapolis superintendent Bernadeia Johnson earned.

 

Star Tribune staff writer Alejandra Matos contributed to this report.