New role for assistant superintendents

Area superintendents to be link between school administration, parents

In a move intended to streamline communications between Minneapolis Public Schools administration and parents, district officials have altered the responsibilities of some assistant superintendents.

The assistant superintendents in charge of each of the district’s three geographical areas now will supervise all of the principals in their assigned area. The assistant superintendents will also attend the area council meetings in their assigned area and serve as a communication link between parents and district administration.

Chief Academic Officer Bernadeia Johnson said the change was made, in part, to respond to frequent and recurring parent complaints about communication with the district. Those concerns surfaced again in surveys of parents conducted during the district’s ongoing long-term strategic planning process, Johnson said.

Stephen Kotvis, a Southwest parent who serves on the District Parent Advisory Council, said the move seemed like a step in the right direction.

“It seems to make it easier for some kind of accountability,” Kotvis said.

Previously, the assistant superintendents in charge of each area split their supervisory duties by grade level.

For example, Assistant Superintendent for Area C Craig Vana was the lead administrator for Southwest area schools and also supervised all high school principals across the district.

In the same way, the assistant superintendent for Area B supervised middle school principals, and the assistant superintendent for Area A supervised elementary school

“What I found is that created some confusion among parents,” Johnson said. “It felt like they had too many entry points into the district.”

A Southwest parent whose child attended an Area C middle school might not know where to take a complaint: Vana, the head of Area C, or Karen Pedersen, the former head of Area B who also supervised middle school principals.

“There was confusion among parents with that piece,” Vana agreed.

Now, parents can go to one assistant superintendent with any concerns, Johnson said.

The reshuffling of assistant superintendent responsibilities is also meant to work better within the established channels of communication between parents and district administrators.

A group of 30 parent representatives — 10 from each area — form the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), which meets monthly to discuss district policy issues with Superintendent Bill Green. Those DPAC members then report back to parents in their respective areas at separate “area council” meetings.

Johnson said the assistant superintendents would now work more closely with those area councils and regularly attend their monthly meetings. (Vana, for one, regularly attended the Area C council meeting, already.)

The area system has been used at least since Carol Johnson served as Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent from 1997–2003, but it has undergone several modifications during that time.

Originally, the district was split into five areas, then four: north, northeast, south and southwest.

Today, there are three areas — A, B, and C — that roughly correspond to the northern, eastern and southern portions of the school district, respectively. All Southwest schools are in Area C.

The assistant superintendents in charge of each area have always divided other supervisory duties, as well. When Johnson took over as chief academic officer a year ago, she assigned each of the assistant superintendents to supervise principals based on grade level so they could oversee separate academic initiatives in the elementary, middle and high schools.

“One of the things I wanted to do was … focus on the academic piece,” she said.

Johnson changed her stance on the role of assistant superintendents in part because the three areas as they exist today are “very different” and have unique needs.

For example, she said, Area A, which includes the city’s North Side, has the highest concentration of African American students and also has experienced the sharpest declines in enrollment. Area B is the most diverse section of the district, while Area C schools generally have the highest levels of student achievement, she said.

District administrators said, for parents, the first point of entry into the district communication structure should still be the school.

“That’s where the relationships are,” Johnson said.

Ahndi Fridell, a DPAC co-chair from Southwest, agreed. Now, though, there is a much clearer next step for parents to take when a principal cannot resolve an issue at the school, Fridell added.