Described as a “unifier and healer’’ by his soon-to-be new bosses, last week the St. Paul school board picked a Twin Cities-area suburban schools chief as its next top administrator. Joe Gothard, superintendent of Burnsville-Eagan-Savage schools, was selected to lead the St. Paul’s schools, pending contract negotiations.
He can certainly put those collaborative assets to good use for capitol city schools. When he starts the job this summer, he will face some of the same problems that have plagued the district for years. Gothard’s knowledge and involvement in regional education issues and his understanding of St. Paul should help him get up to speed quickly.
Following several assaults on teachers in 2015-16, district officials continue to work on school safety, suspensions, school start times and equity issues. St. Paul is also facing declining enrollment, losing students to charter and other neighboring schools. And Gothard will inherit a projected $23 million budget deficit next year.
Gothard, 45, grew up in Madison, Wis., in a family with six children. He’s the son of a white mother and black father and struggled with identity issues until a middle school teacher encouraged him to be proud of his mixed race heritage. One St. Paul board member said his humble beginnings “count for something’’ in a school district in which 70 percent of the 38,000 students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.
During his 20 years with Madison schools, Gothard was lauded for his restorative justice approach to discipline. He has experience with changing school start times and evaluating the most effective use of police officers in schools — two issues that are also of concern in St. Paul.
Although he has only been in the Twin Cities since 2013, Gothard has become a leader among local superintendents as an executive committee member with Association of Metropolitan School Districts and as a United Way board member. He is among the organizers of a metrowide project that is currently holding sessions to address student equity issues.
In Burnsville, he was praised for his “Vision One91” strategic plan, which included a voter-approved $65 million building bond and a $2.5 million-per-year technology levy.
Gothard seems well suited to take this next step in his career. We wish him well as he tackles the many issues facing St. Paul schools.