Sergio Paez is the Minneapolis school board’s pick to be the district’s next superintendent.
The board’s decision Monday came after a 10-month national search that included numerous panels, public interviews and community forums with the three finalists, including interim superintendent Michael Goar, Paez and Charles Foust.
Six board members voted for Paez, while three wanted Goar to have the top job.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Paez said in an interview after the vote. “I am humbled by the decision.”
Paez, 48, who has been a teacher, an assistant principal and director of a districtwide English Language Learner program, most recently was superintendent in Holyoke, Mass. He will begin to negotiate his employment contract. The board voted to send two of its members to visit Holyoke before settling on a contract.
“The difference between the two candidates was so small for me that I think a visit is appropriate,” said Don Samuels.
Paez impressed the board with his knowledge as a teacher and principal, his commitment to equity and ability to lead other school districts. A Colombian immigrant with a doctorate in education from Boston College, Paez became superintendent in Holyoke, the state’s most underperforming district, in 2013. In one year, the district saw a 9 percentage point increase in graduation rates, a triumph in a district that had seen rates dropping. At the end of Paez’s second year, the state took over the district and put its schools under control of a receiver.
Devin Sheehan, a Holyoke City Council member and vice chairman of the school committee, said the district was under state scrutiny for several years, and the takeover isn’t a reflection of Paez’s leadership.
The board expects Paez to stick to the district’s newly adopted academic plan. The plan calls for a 5 percent improvement 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.
“If you are committed to this district, then we need to stand by the superintendent,” said board chair Jenny Arneson. “We are committed to our plan. We are committed to our leader.”
Paez said he is looking forward to the board’s site visit, saying he wants to demonstrate that he was able to make major changes in the Holyoke Public Schools.
Paez is not expected to take over the district until July, pending negotiations.
Goar, whom many considered a favorite to get the permanent job, said he was disappointed, “but I understand the board’s decision.”
“My job now is to make sure that the next superintendent’s transition is smooth,” Goar said.
As the district’s temporary leader, Goar made major changes to the district’s central office staff, laying off hundreds of employees. Many of his decisions — from budget allocations last spring to the controversial Reading Horizons curriculum — led to strong pushback from the community. In the days leading up to Monday’s decision, some asked the board to restart its search.
During the final round of interviews, many board members asked Goar to justify why he should be the superintendent in the face of those mishaps.
He said his leadership was hindered by the inability to hire his own team and cultural incompetence in the district.
“Being a superintendent in any institution is recognizing when your staff makes mistakes and acknowledging those mistakes,” Goar said last week, adding that he accepts responsibility for the errors.
Despite his troubled year, many of the board members thanked Goar for his commitment to the district.
“Sometimes people didn’t like his decisions, but never once did I doubt his integrity,” Arneson said.