Minneapolis parents, teachers and community members are divided about who they believe should be the next leader of Minneapolis Public Schools.
After two weeks of interviews and community meetings with the final three candidates, some say Michael Goar, the interim leader, should be the next superintendent because he brings stability to the district and people know what to expect from his leadership. But others say keeping Goar will not produce the results needed to transform the district and favor Charles Foust or Sergio Paez. Supporters of Foust, an assistant superintendent in the Houston district, and Paez, a former superintendent in Holyoke, Mass., note that they would bring experience as educators who have turned schools and classrooms around.
The decision will be up to the nine-member school board, which is expected to name its preferred candidate on Monday.
Throughout the week, the board has been collecting feedback from parents, teachers, community leaders, principals and students. In the first round of interviews, Goar emerged as the favorite among five board members.
“[Goar] obviously has the advantage because he understands the job and has the context,” said DeVon Nolan, a parent in the district. “He would be my first choice, because we’ve already put him through the fire and we know how to work with him.”
In interviews and at meetings with community members, Goar said his experience is his strength, repeatedly reminding the board that he was a product of the district and that he has worked here for years.
Foust and Paez, meanwhile, sought to set themselves apart by saying Goar’s leadership has not helped the district move forward. “What I was able to sense was there is some hurt we need to heal,” Foust told the board during his final interview. “When do we recognize that what we are doing is not working?”
Briana MacPhee, a parent in the district, said she supports Goar because he has made changes for English language learners and in other areas.
“People are very resistant to change here,” McPhee said. “Even though they say they want change, they don’t want to do what it takes. That doesn’t stop him.”
But many of Goar’s changes — from budget allocations last spring to the controversial Reading Horizons curriculum — have led to strong pushback from the community. During the final round of interviews, many of the board members asked Goar to justify why he should be the superintendent in the face of those mishaps.
Board member Tracine Asberry asked Goar why he should be hired despite his rocky time as an interim leader.
Goar chalked up many of the gaffes to miscommunication between him and his staff, not being able to recruit his own team as an interim or cultural incompetence in the district. “Being a superintendent in any institution is recognizing when your staff makes mistakes and acknowledging those mistakes,” said Goar, adding that he accepts responsibility for the errors.
Goar implored the board to choose him, because the district must continue with the strategic plan it introduced last year. The plan, which he helped write as the district’s chief executive officer, calls for a 5 percent increase in reading and math test scores across the district, an 8 percent improvement in scores each year for minority students and a 10 percent increase in graduation rates.
The plan was at the center of many of the board’s questions to all of the candidates.
“We need sustained effort,” Goar said. “Now is not the time to abandon the plan.”
This year, the district saw a less-than-1-percent gain on state exams, something Paez said is an indicator that the execution of the plan is not working. Neither Foust nor Paez advocated for getting rid of the academic plan, but both say they would roll it out differently.
Foust said he would work on marketing the plan again so everyone in the community, including the mayor and other officials, stood behind what the district was trying to accomplish and could articulate how schools were going to meet the goals.
Paez said he would not do anything differently in his first year, but if the district were unable to meet its goals after that, he’d have to adjust the plan. He says the strategic plan should be seen as a “living document” that can be refined.
“I have tremendous respect for people who worked on that plan. I want to respect that plan,” Paez said. But, he added, he saw very little action and buy-in during his visit here.
At a public meeting with the board Thursday, the division between stability and change was evident. But many sent the same message to the board: regardless of who they choose, the entire board needs to fully support the candidate.
“Do not let detractors affect the superintendent’s tenure,” said Daniel Sellers, a Minneapolis parent and the director of MinnCAN, an education advocacy group. “Pick the person and allow them to lead.”