Schools notebook // Board recommends Johnson

School Board recommends Johnson to lead district

When it came time to name candidates who might replace Minneapolis Superintendent Bill Green, the School Board had only one person in mind: current Deputy Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.

School Board Chair Tom Madden, reading from a prepared statement at the Board’s Jan. 19 meeting, emphasized the importance of “stability” in a district rocked by a decade of enrollment declines, budget deficits and school closings.

“The constant churn which has come to characterize Minneapolis Public Schools has taken a toll on our children, our families and our staff,” Madden said.

He also said the district was “fundamentally on the right track,” guided by a five-year strategic plan that aims to shore up district finances while boosting student performance and closing the achievement gap. Johnson was closely involved with the development of that plan, adopted by the School Board in late 2007.

Johnson said, “I will continue with the strategic plan, but with more of a laser-sharp focus on key areas where you will see investments, where I know you will get results.”

As for those key areas, she mentioned literacy and math instruction, as well as initiatives that aim to improve teacher quality and principal leadership skills.

Noting the disparities among schools within the district, Johnson stated a commitment to improving the quality of schools across the city. It is a commitment shaped by her memories of growing up in Selma, Ala., where she attended segregated elementary schools, she said.

Johnson turned to teaching in 1991 after leaving a career in banking. She was a teacher and assistant principal in St. Paul Public Schools, the state’s second-largest district, as well as principal of Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School in North Minneapolis.

When former Superintendent Carol Johnson left to lead Memphis City Schools, Johnson joined her, serving as deputy superintendent. Upon returning to Minneapolis, she first served as the district’s chief academic officer and later as deputy superintendent.

The Jan. 19 announcement surprised many district observers who expected a wider superintendent search. Indeed, the School Board took the initial steps to conduct a national search before settling on an internal candidate.

Madden said Board members met twice with national consultants and went as far as to issue a request for proposals that garnered responses from six firms specializing in superintendent searches. School Board members discussed the issue among themselves at three retreats and held two dozen listening sessions with various district stakeholders, he said.

Johnson acknowledged the skepticism expressed by some district parents.

“I also would say that I am not by any means perfect, but I do believe that I can listen and I can learn and I can be open,” she said.

She added later, “We won’t always agree, but ultimately my focus is the main thing and that’s on the students of Minneapolis Public Schools.”

Green announced in July 2009 he would step down at the end of this school year. He intends to return to Augsburg College, where he is a tenured professor.

A board vote on Johnson’s candidacy was scheduled for Feb. 9.

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Ramsey among ‘high-priority schools’

TANGLETOWN — Ramsey International Fine Arts Center is one of 14 “high-priority schools” that will receive additional district supports to improve student behavior and math and reading achievement.

Ramsey was the only Southwest school on the list, released just ahead of the Jan. 26 School Board discussion meeting. High-priority schools make up the bottom 25 percent of district schools based on several measures of performance, including student proficiency on standardized tests and year-to-year student academic growth.

Identifying and improving the lowest-performing schools was one of the goals set out in the district’s 2007 strategic plan. This was the first time those schools were identified publicly.

District officials have proposed a variety of targeted interventions intended to boost performance at the high-priority schools. A report on the high-priority schools, detailing the interventions for each program, was attached to the agenda for the Jan. 26 School Board meeting, which can be found on the district website (mpls.k12.mn.us).

In addition to the district supports, Ramsey will have a new principal next fall. The district also plans to strengthen its arts magnet program.

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Southwest students are spelling bee champs

Students from three Southwest-area schools were the top three finishers in the Minneapolis Public School’s annual spelling bee, held Jan. 21, the district reported.

Seventh-grader Piper Shatz-Akin of Lake Harriet Community School took first place. Runner-up was Will Ragatz, grade 7, of Barton Open School  and Sierra Evans-Parham, grade 8, of Jefferson Community School finished third.