It is time to launch a new chapter for the Minneapolis Public Schools. The school district and the 36,000 students it serves are ready for a new beginning marked by strong leadership, innovative ideas and unprecedented results. The Board of Education, parents, educators and community leaders agree that all of our children deserve a first-rate public education and that the time has come to deliver on that promise.
This week, I returned to Minneapolis for the first time since the school board voted to select me as the next superintendent of schools. The visit reinforced my excitement and commitment to accept this challenge. I met with community leaders — from the business, faith, higher education and nonprofit sectors — who understand the critical role of the schools in building a bright future for the city and the region. Principals and teachers described the challenges they face and shared their ideas for improvement. And parents from neighborhoods across the city told me about their hopes and dreams for their children. They are demanding schools that can provide the outstanding education our students deserve.
All of these conversations reminded me about the widespread support for our public schools, the tremendous opportunities for change, and the shared sense of urgency to close long-standing access and achievement gaps.
I know personally the power of schools to change lives. When I arrived in this country as a teenager, I spoke almost no English. With support from great teachers and loving parents, I went on to achieve what I consider the American dream. Every child — whether born in this country or arriving here today — deserves the same opportunity. I'm proud to have devoted my career to academic success for all students, particularly those with the greatest disadvantages.
I'm also proud of my track record as superintendent in Holyoke, Mass., a city mired in poverty that has a long history of chronically underperforming schools. During my two years there, we accomplished a great deal, including raising the graduation rate to its second-highest point, decreasing the dropout rate more than any other district in the state, launching an award-winning prekindergarten program and creating the district's first dual-language program. We achieved these results against the odds, defying the critics and those resigned to the status quo.
I have taken very seriously — both as superintendent and now — concerns that were raised about one of our schools in Holyoke. I stand by the assertion that our team responded to these claims, which I consider very troubling, with the utmost care and professionalism, including conducting internal investigations, cooperating with state investigations and taking appropriate corrective actions. Under no circumstance would I tolerate student abuse, neglect or mistreatment in any way.
I am hopeful that the Board of Education is ready to join me in moving forward and not to allow this matter to serve as a distraction from the urgent need to transform the schools right here in Minneapolis. My focus is on the students and families of Minneapolis and the essential work that cannot wait: eliminating the achievement gap, improving early-literacy programs, raising graduation rates, developing great teachers, building students' social-emotional skills and so much more.
Working closely with families and the community, I firmly believe I have the experience and passion needed to lead the Minneapolis Public Schools to greatness, ensuring the highest levels of performance for every student in every classroom of every school. Together, we have a unique opportunity to put this school district on the path to excellence. Our children deserve nothing less.
Sergio M. Paez is the school board-selected candidate to become superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools.