Four black ministerial leaders say St. Paul Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard has failed as a community partner after the district twice failed to recently hire a black principal, leaving all seven of the city’s public high schools without an African-American in charge.
“Enough is enough. We need answers,” the Rev. Runney Patterson of New Hope Baptist Church said Friday on the sidewalk outside school district headquarters.
With him were Tyrone Terrill, president of the African-American Leadership Council; James Thomas, president of the St. Paul Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance; and the Rev. Charles Gill, senior pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church.
Their comments came the day after learning that Christine Vang, most recently principal at Como Park Elementary School, had been named by Gothard as the new principal at Central High School. She will replace interim principal George Nolan, who came from the Stillwater schools a year ago after Principal Mary Mackbee retired. Mackbee, who is black, had led the school since 1993.
Gothard also recently named Abdirizak Abdi, an assistant principal at St. Cloud Apollo High School, as principal of Humboldt High School on the city’s West Side.
The black leaders said they were upset not with Vang or Abdi but with the lack of representation for their community, and because they say qualified black candidates were bypassed.
District spokesman Kevin Burns said in an e-mailed response that the hiring process is multi-tiered and involves the community as well as administrators.
“The objective is to secure a pool of quality candidates through a recruiting and promotion process that identifies candidates who possess key leadership competencies,” he wrote, in such areas as instruction, communication, equity and strategy.
Burns noted that in the past three years, the St. Paul Public Schools has hired 33 new principals, 13 of them people of color and seven of them African-American.
But the disappointment about the Central High hire is particularly sharp. The black leaders said they had encouraged Gothard a year ago to choose former Central administrator Valerie Littles-Butler, a black woman, to lead the school.
Littles-Butler had been at Central since 2015 and had made it known she hoped to succeed Mackbee. When she was passed over for the interim post, she took the top job at Southwest High School in Minneapolis last June.
Central High School sits at Marshall Avenue and Lexington Parkway, just south of Interstate 94 near the heart of St. Paul’s historically significant black Rondo neighborhood.
Of the more than 32,000 students in St. Paul’s public schools, almost 9,300 — or 26% — are black. They make up the second-largest demographic group in the district after Asian-Americans, who comprise 30% of the student population.
Thomas said the ministers met with Gothard early in his tenure as superintendent and had hoped for a good partnership, only to see the hope “dimmed by the dark clouds of more of the same.”