Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
After a search that took more than a year, late last week the Minneapolis school board selected a new superintendent who faces a host of challenges in the leadership role.
Currently heading the Eastern Carver County Schools, Lisa Sayles-Adams will take over the MPS position at a date to be determined sometime between early next year and the summer. She'll replace interim superintendent Rochelle Cox, who has lead district operations since the previous school superintendent, Ed Graff, left the district in 2022.
Sayles-Adams and her administration must be prepared to make the tough management choices for a district that has lost significant enrollment yet continues to have among the highest per-pupil spending rates in the state.
Among the top challenges is taking on overall low academic achievement levels and test scores with urgency and proven instruction methods. The district's most recent state test scores show that only 41% of students are proficient in reading; 35% of those tested are performing at grade level in math.
Careful examination of the budget and how to best manage and grow district resources must also be on the agenda. One projection from late last year showed that the district could run out of money in 2025 as a result of a financial crisis that has been looming for years.
The COVID pandemic both made some of the achievement issues worse and helped delay some of the financial ones. Tens of millions in federal COVID-19 relief shored up the district's $960 million annual budget, but that funding ends next year.
Declining enrollment is also a major issue. What was once the state's largest district is now number four with 28,000 students, down from a high number of over 45,000 three decades ago. The district must develop strategies to retain and attract more students.
Sayles-Adams must also engage with the community to help rebuild trust and more effectively involve families in working to improve the city's public schools.
Sayles-Adams was among twenty-five candidates from 16 states who applied for the job, according to MPS school board chair Sharon El-Amin. She said Sayles-Adams, who began her education career with MPS, has pledged to listen, learn and lead.
"That is what we need in our district," El-Amin told the Star Tribune. "She brings an abundance of experience. She brings a connection with the community: She was a teacher in Minneapolis public schools, and her children attended Minneapolis public schools."
Following her selection, Sayles-Adams said that during her first 100 days, she would focus on listening to the board, students, parents and community members about the achievements and challenges in the city's schools. She called herself a "data-driven leader" and said she would spend the beginning of her tenure reviewing budgets as well as district policies its existing strategic plan.
All Minnesotans should be cheering on Sayles-Adams. It's important for the public schools in the state's largest city to succeed. Keeping students engaged in school and well educated can have long-term, widespread positive impact on Minneapolis and the region. For example, having more kids actively involved in learning can reduce the amount of juvenile crime in the city.
It's also good for the state's workforce. Ensuring that young people are well prepared to step into the positions left empty by an aging population is critical for the economy.
We wish Sayles-Adams well as she tackles the district's challenges.