At the helm

Interim MPS Superintendent Bill Green faces heavy assignment load for new school year

On a recent afternoon, Bill Green, interim superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), took off his shoes in a conference room at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church on Irving Avenue, after a long day of meetings.

Green had been on his feet since 6:15 a.m. and still had work to do before heading home. These days, Green, 55, rarely leaves the office before 7 p.m. and never takes a lunch break.

His days are dominated by a flood of panel discussions, meetings, school visits, interviews, contract negotiations and political appearances.

As interim superintendent, Green’s goals focus on restoring trust among the administration, faculty and the public; student achievement; and strategic planning. While he has the post temporarily, he hopes it will turn into a full-time position. He announced this summer that he would vie for the superintendent job permanently next spring when a candidate search is slated to begin. His contract as interim superintendent expires June 30, 2007.

Whether to hire Green for the permanent post will be a key issue facing the newly elected School Board in January.

“I think I’m starting to build trust. There’s a sense of excitement. People are doing what they came to do,” he said. “This is probably the most important work I’ll ever do.”

Despite his heavy workload, Green — a writer, historian, teacher, civil rights activist, parent and husband — still manages to write book manuscripts and news articles in his spare time. “I went to the doctor and found out that I’m healthier now than I was before I took the job [as Interim Superintendent],” he said.

School Board Chair Joseph Erickson chose Green for the interim post for his calm demeanor and laid-back leadership style — an approach he believed would stabilize the district after former Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles’ ouster. Green served on the School Board from 1993 to 2001 and chaired it from 1996 to 1998.

Green had been instrumental in MPS in the past. He’s credited with recruiting Carol Johnson, a previous superintendent who led the district six years before leaving for Memphis public schools in 2003.

Building a team

In a district troubled by deep budget cuts, more and more charter schools, overcrowded classrooms and a growing population of immigrant students, Green has focused on leadership changes.

In his tenure so far, he restructured the district’s administrative organizational chart.

“If you want to draw talented people to the district, you have to find them in other places. Sometimes they’re already doing their dream job,” Green said. “It’s about the team. I don’t feel I have to know everything. I think about the big picture and see how things come together.”

Green has also introduced a chief programs officer, chief of staff, director of curriculum and instruction, and a new executive director of communications and public affairs.

Steve Liss, director of intergovernmental affairs, came to MPS in April for a position that was created for him. He works to build relationships with community leaders and stay abreast of important policies affecting the school district.

Previously, he advised the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office on educational policy, among other things. During his 16-year tenure, he worked closely with Green to craft a solution to a Minneapolis problem of desegregation that was targeted by a pending NAACP lawsuit.

Liss is also a parent of children attending MPS and has chaired Barton Open School’s site council and the citywide budget committee. “I care about the kids, district and schools. I wanted to help,” he said. “[Green] is the type of person who can come in and heal a district in terms of why it’s hurting. He has a great vision for turning the district around.”

The big picture

Right now, Green is meeting with teacher groups and parents from various immigrant groups, including Somali, African American and Hmong families, to talk about teaching issues.

Green has begun the district’s first-ever long-range strategic- planning process. Questions that are expected to arise in the strategic planning process include whether to emphasize the needs of highly mobile children or a community that favors many curriculum choices.

He has said that the district needs to resolve overflowing enrollment at some popular Southwest schools and the district’s overall declining enrollment.

Additionally, voters will decide whether or not to renew the referendum — another factor that complicates a potential search for a new superintendent.

Former School Board member Dennis Schapiro, who served alongside Green and is a Montessori education activist, said he had praise for Green.

“He’s very good on his feet and at managing political processes. He’s really good at understanding where he needs help; that frees him up to do the things he needs to do,” he said. “He’s grounded not just in daily politics, but a lot deeper.”

On the horizon

Green wants to install an accountability system for evaluating teachers and principals and improve the payroll system. He’s beginning budget talks in September, negotiations that don’t typically begin until the spring.

Additionally, Green is inviting community feedback through “area councils” which represent families corresponding with areas A, B and C that match different parts of the city (Southwest comprises much of Area C).

Area councils were introduced in the 1980s and led to such leaders as longtime School Board member Judy Farmer. Parents are elected to represent community members and would act as an advisory body to the Board.

In contrast to the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) that focuses mainly on districtwide issues and school budgets, they would handle specific school issues, not just districtwide concerns. They differ from “site councils,” which make budget decisions at individual schools.

Green said counselors and social workers should be valued, rather than the first to go during budget cuts, as was previously the norm. Magnet programs are currently under scrutiny because the district needs to be more selective about programs it invests in, he said.

Green summed up his job with a line from a scene in one of his favorites shows, “The West Wing.”

“The president meets a newly elected congressman and says, ‘Welcome to the show that never ends.’”

Bill Green

Title: Interim Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS)

Age: 55

Term: late February 2006 to June 30, 2007

Experience: Served on the MPS School Board from 1993 to 2001 and chaired the Board from 1996 to 1998. He’s an associate history professor at Augsburg College, civil rights activist, conflict mediator, historian and author who has written widely on inequities in education.

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1972, master’s degree in educational psychology, a Ph.D. in education and law degree from the University of Minnesota.

Why he wants to be the permanent superintendent: “I love Minneapolis. Minneapolis Public Schools have been good to my son, my wife and me. It’s a way to give back. I know that the district will be stable with me here.”

Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or