Schools notebook // Johnson named next superintendent

Johnson named next superintendent

Deputy Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson will lead the district when current Superintendent Bill Green steps down after the end of this school year.

At its Feb. 9 meeting the School Board approved a resolution naming Johnson the superintendent designee and authorizing Board Chair Tom Madden to begin contract negotiations with her. The vote was not unanimous; Board members Lydia Lee and Jill Davis both abstained.

Lee and Davis both expressed their support for Johnson but questioned their colleagues’ decision to forego a wider search process and instead nominate only one candidate to replace Green. Some district parents had expressed similar concerns since Johnson was revealed to be the sole nominee in January.

Davis, who expressed support for a “regional search,” said the one-candidate process “did not give me the information I needed in order to cast a yes or no vote.”

Before deciding on an internal candidate, the School Board met with consultants specializing in national superintendent searches and held two dozen listening sessions with various district stakeholders.

Board Member Pam Costain emphasized the need for stability in the district. Describing a district in “crisis” when she joined the School Board three years ago, Costain said the district was now on the right path, and called Johnson “the bedrock of the reform path we are on.”

Johnson was an architect of the five-year strategic plan adopted by the Board in 2007. The plans set high targets for raising student performance and closing the achievement gap by 2012.

Speaking at the end of the Feb. 9 meeting, Johnson said she was “humbled” by the School Board’s choice. She also introduced a possible theme for her leadership of the district: “Connecting for results.”

Johnson participated in several public question-and-answer sessions in early February, after she was named the superintendent candidate. She said it was a valuable experience to hear from both supporters and those who had sometimes disagreed with her.

“I plan to come to the table with all groups, whether we agree or disagree on any particular issue,” she said. “I ask that you also come to the table as partners with a student-first agenda.”

Johnson added: “We must connect, one another, to deliver the results we can and must deliver for students.”

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Stewart says he won’t run again

School Board Member Chris Stewart announced in February on his personal website he did not plan to run for re-election this fall.

Stewart, 42, who works as a consultant, said he planned to pursue other projects to improve the quality of life in Minneapolis neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty, but did not specify what those efforts would be. He said he had no plans to run for public office.

“When I came to join the board, my main focus was on marginalized communities and developing pathways for kids out of poverty,” he said. “Education was definitely one of those systems I targeted as being most critical for people in poverty, but doing this work has definitely opened the door to seeing so many other policy issues, of which education is just one.”

Having joined the School Board in 2007 as a social and fiscal conservative, Stewart said he learned that some challenges facing education required a non-ideological approach.

“You talk about wanting to free-up education, wanting to reform and push forward and whatnot, and at every turn you realize there’s a legal mandate of some sort or another that is just increasing the difficulty of every push that you will make trying to move forward,” he said. “It becomes less, at that point, about political ideology than just thinking this thing through apolitical(ly).”

In the written statement announcing his decision, Stewart wrote “… I regret the fact that I’ve sold a few more newspapers than I needed to,” a possible reference to two incidents during his tenure.

Shortly after his 2006 election, Stewart acknowledged his role in creating a controversial website criticizing a congressional candidate. Last spring, he was involved in a heated argument over race with Burroughs Community School Principal Tim Cadotte that was widely reported.

Stewart expected those incidents would be overshadowed by his other accomplishments, like his advocacy for Pratt Community School, which was spared closure by the School Board last fall, and his efforts to improve North Side schools.

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District plans another pre-Labor Day start

The 2010–2011 school year will begin before Labor Day for Minneapolis Public Schools students.

The School Board approved a calendar with the Aug. 30 start date for students in grades 1–12 at its Feb. 9 meeting. Kindergarten classes start Sept. 1.

Labor Day, considered by many the unofficial end of summer, falls this year on Sept. 6.

State law requires districts to begin classes after the holiday unless they claim a specific exemption. Minneapolis Public Schools plans to do just that for the second year in a row.

The approved calendar lists June 8 as the last day of school.