Sergio Paez, the newly named superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, may take over the school district sooner rather than later.

In a split vote Monday, the Minneapolis school board selected Paez as its preferred candidate. District officials and Paez said there is a possibility that he could start as early as January, despite a timeline that said the new superintendent would come on in July.

“We are just starting contract negotiations,” said Amy Moore, the district’s attorney. “Our goal is to start the transition as early as possible, which could potentially be January.”

Before Paez’s contract is finalized, two board members will visit Paez’s former school district, likely before the end of the month.

“I’d be happy to start in January, if that’s what the board wants,” said Paez, who will become the first Latino superintendent of the school district.

This is the first time in over a decade that the district embarked on a national search for a superintendent and selected a candidate with no previous ties to Minnesota. The board chose Paez over interim superintendent Michael Goar, who many considered a favorite to get the permanent job.

Board members Jenny Arneson, Rebecca Gagnon, Nelson Inz, Don Samuels, Tracine Asberry and Kim Ellison voted for Paez, while Carla Bates, Siad Ali and Josh Reimnitz voted for Goar.

“All of these candidates brought strengths, but he brings deep experience,” said Arneson, board chairwoman. “It was clear he could bring his teaching experience and help unite our staff and teachers toward one vision.”

Turnaround experience

Paez, 48, a Colombian immigrant, comes to Minneapolis after serving as superintendent in Holyoke, Mass., an underperforming school district with about 5,600 students. He was hired in 2013 by the city, which governs the schools there, and was given a three-year contract.

When Paez took over, the state instructed the district to come up with a plan to quickly turn itself around. Paez put several initiatives in place, including creating a new curriculum for each grade level, adding an early literacy program and downsizing the central office.

But earlier this year, the state’s education board decided to step in and put the school under a state-appointed receiver, leaving Paez without a job. He since has worked as a consultant with the district and the state.

Sally Dias, the state monitor who oversaw the progress of Holyoke’s plan before the receiver stepped in, said the district was making progress under Paez’s leadership. Test scores in some of the district’s most underperforming schools increased and the district saw a 9 percentage point increase in graduation rates.

“Holyoke’s data had been horrible for 10 to 12 years, and the state simply lost its patience,” Dias said. “It is absolutely not a reflection on his work.”

During his final year in Holyoke, Paez had a contentious relationship with the Agustin Morales, the union president, who was fired from his job several times. But Paez defends his relationship with teachers and the union, saying the president was not representing the needs of all the teachers. “I’ve always had a great relationship with the union and teachers,” he said.

Before working in Holyoke, Paez was an assistant superintendent in Worcester, Mass., a district with about 20,000 students. There, he focused on improving academic achievement among English language learners, who made up 35 percent of the district’s students.

Visit details unclear

The Minneapolis school board is in the process of scheduling the site visit, and it’s unclear with whom board members expect to meet and how long they will be in Holyoke.

Arneson said that board and the consulting firm have already performed numerous background and reference checks, but that the visit would ensure that the public sees the district is doing due diligence.

Paez said he welcomes the visit. He said he looks forward to bringing his experience from Massachusetts, as an administrator and a teacher, to Minneapolis to make it “the school of choice for parents.”

In the meantime, Paez said he is celebrating his appointment with his wife and children. Paez has a daughter who is a junior in high school, so he does not plan to relocate his family to Minneapolis until she graduates.

He said that until his family moves, Minneapolis will “own me 24/7 while I’m there because I won’t have anything else.”

“I can be as committed as people want me to be to go to events and be visible and get to know the community,” Paez said.