Generation Next, the public-private collaborative dedicated to closing the achievement gap for students of color in the Twin Cities, has tapped a school administrator unafraid to make big changes as its new executive director.
Michelle Walker, chief executive of the St. Paul Public Schools, will succeed former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who left the coalition to become president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation.
As second-in-command in St. Paul, Walker often has been called upon to promote and defend a Strong Schools, Strong Communities strategic plan that brought about sweeping, sometimes bumpy, changes to the state’s second-largest district.
She also has served as a member of the Generation Next Leadership Council for three years, and in a news release announcing her selection, spoke of how its work aligned with her own story.
“As a first-generation African-American of Caribbean descent, I was raised to believe that education has the power to transform lives,” she was quoted as saying. “This has proved true for my family and me, and I am thrilled to lead an organization whose mission is to help all children — regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status — to achieve their highest potential.”
In an interview Thursday, Walker highlighted the group’s work in the area of social and emotional learning and in preparing children for preschool and kindergarten as being a close fit with goals advanced by the St. Paul district.
Her exit comes after the school board moved to replace Superintendent Valeria Silva, and as John Thein, the district’s interim leader, has bemoaned a “brain drain” of nine people leaving top district posts. Last week, Thein warned the board that the exodus could hurt its ability to find a new permanent leader. The district needs a strong foundation, he said, to attract a top-notch superintendent.
Asked if her move was influenced by the changes in St. Paul, Walker spoke of how the goals expressed by Generation Next aligned with “things that matter to me,” and added, “It works for me and my family.”
She said she will assist Thein in ensuring a smooth transition.
Walker begins her new job on Oct. 18.