(Note: an earlier version of this story has been clarified to reflect the fact that while they both worked in the Boston school district Michael Goar never directly supervised Stephen Zrike, the current receiver for the Holyoke, MA school district.)
With hours to go before a vote on the next Minneapolis school superintendent, some school board members are questioning the last-minute revelation of a connection between interim superintendent Michael Goar and the Massachusetts district of his rival, Sergio Paez.
Goar and Paez were finalists for the permanent Minneapolis superintendent job before Paez was named the preferred candidate in December. Two days after Paez was named in Minneapolis, an advocacy group in Massachusetts released a report alleging that staff at a school in Paez’s former district of Holyoke, Mass., physically abused special education students during his tenure. Board members put contract talks with Paez on hold, and sources say that the majority of the board appears to be shifting its support to Goar.
In recent days, board members learned that Goar worked in the Boston school district at the same time as Stephen Zrike, who took control of the Holyoke school district from Paez last year. Zrike was a school principal in Boston while Goar was a top district administrator.
Goar said that he never supervised Zrike in Boston, but some board members and community leaders say the fact that he and Zrike worked in Boston at the same time should have been disclosed during the interview process and the board’s site visit to Holyoke.
Tracine Asberry, one of two board members who visited Holyoke in December, said knowing Goar and Zrike worked together in the past “would be an important piece of information to include, just for full disclosure.”
“If it matters or not, that should be a separate conversation, but we need to have all the information, especially considering what transpired after our decision was made,” Asberry said.
Rebecca Gagnon, another Minneapolis school board member, said the information should have been disclosed for the sake of transparency.
“How did this come out within 24 hours of the vote?” Gagnon said. “Someone could have just shared the information with the board so we could have made a more informed decision.”
Zrike could not be reached for comment.
Goar: ‘I had to Google this guy’
Goar was deputy superintendent in Boston under former Minneapolis superintendent Carol Johnson from 2007 to 2012. He said Zrike did not report to him, and Goar said he did not follow Zrike’s career after Zrike left Boston to become a school leader in Chicago.
“I had to Google this guy because I didn’t remember him,” Goar said Monday night. “I have no relationship with Steve. Until just today, I didn’t know Steve was in charge of Holyoke.”
In a letter to the Star Tribune Tuesday afternoon, Goar said, “I now recall Stephen Zrike as a well-respected principal in the district,” but that he never supervised him or any other principal.
“For most of my time with Boston Public Schools, a district with more than fifty thousand students and at the time 143 schools, I served as the Chief Operating Officer. I had no supervisory responsibilities involving school principals. Even when I was promoted to Deputy Superintendent, the Chief Academic Officer managed all school staff oversight. I did not have a relationship with Stephen Zrike, and we had limited professional engagement.”
The report alleging abuse in Holyoke, released Dec. 10 by the Disability Law Center, prompted outrage in Massachusetts, and the Hampden County district attorney launched a criminal investigation.
Zrike, in a statement issued when the report was released, called it “troubling,” and said the findings outlined “some of the same concerns that people repeatedly shared with me in the meetings I held with families, students and staff across Holyoke this summer and fall.”
Paez and others have questioned the timing of the release of the report.
Board to decide
Earlier this week, sources said the majority of board members now believe the allegations have tarnished Paez’s chances to lead the district because the community will not be able to look past them. A majority now would support Goar, they said.
Several community organizations and leaders are demanding that the board restart its search.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, the president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, said because there are questions about the Disability Law Center report and concerns with Goar’s leadership, the board should vote to restart their search Tuesday.
“The post of superintendent is too important to settle on a second choice,” Levy-Pounds said. “This is not something that they should rush.”