Hiring a new leader is arguably the most important decision a school board makes. By Dec. 7, Minneapolis board members are poised to select the district’s next superintendent after a national search narrowed the list of candidates to three.
As leaders of one of the most highly scrutinized districts in the state, the board must select a superintendent who is prepared to handle the multiple challenges that come with that spotlight. The complex, very public job involves being the district’s chief cheerleader and advocate with a variety of constituencies. A superintendent should also be a skilled collaborator who can build alliances with local and state elected officials as well as business, nonprofit and community stakeholders. And Minneapolis, like most urban districts, faces stubborn learning disparities between white students and many students of color.
City schools need strong leaders with a relentless focus on improving student learning. And board members must work with, support and challenge their top administrators as they make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions to reach that goal.
It will be especially important for the next superintendent in Minneapolis to work cooperatively with neighboring school districts and state legislators in response to an education adequacy lawsuit. Filed earlier this month, the suit claimed that racially segregated schools in both core cities fail to properly educate too many students of color. The action asks the state to redraw metro-area school boundaries or find other ways to desegregate city schools.
During a September forum in Minneapolis, a small group of parents and community members brainstormed about issues that the new superintendent should address. They believe a new schools chief should have a history of success, strategies for smaller class sizes, visit schools regularly, and connect well with students, educators and parents from diverse communities.
To that list of criteria, we’d add that the district chief should be a culturally sensitive, inspirational leader who can build confidence in the district. Minneapolis schools also must be safe and disciplined environments in which all students have the opportunity to learn.
Responsibility for selecting a new school chief and guiding the district through another leadership transition lies with the board’s nine members, five of whom joined the board last January. Eight of the nine have not been involved in a superintendent search before.
Following two days of interviews, board members narrowed the field from six to three. Making the cut are Minneapolis interim superintendent Michael Goar; Sergio Paez, former superintendent in Holyoke, Mass., and Charles Foust, an administrator in the Houston district.
Star Tribune Editorial Board members have not interviewed the three candidates or done the kind of extensive research into their backgrounds that we trust board members have done. Our hope is simply that the board will award the job to the candidate best positioned to be a respected change agent — and one who can galvanize the staff and community to produce positive results.