New Washburn principal, Area C leader named

Other district positions filled before start of new school year

TANGLETOWN — A former Hopkins charter school principal will take over at Washburn High School this month, Minneapolis Public Schools announced Aug. 1.

News that Patrick Exner of Ubah Medical Academy High School will fill Washburn’s vacant principal position was accompanied by the announcement of changes in several top district leadership positions. Among them: South High School Principal Cecilia Saddler will take a new job this fall as associate superintendent for Area C, which includes most Southwest-area schools.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson also named a new chief academic officer, Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, and chief information officer, Rich Valerga. Both of those positions were vacated near the end of last school year.

The district reports both enrollment and student performance in math and reading rose under Exner’s leadership at Ubah. The charter school opened in 2004 and caters to high school students from the local East African community. During Exner’s tenure, the leadership clashed its teachers when they launched a unionization drive.

Before joining Ubah, Exner was director of teaching and learning for the West Metro Education Program, an integration district that includes Minneapolis and western suburban school districts.

Washburn families had waited months for news of a permanent replacement for Carol Markham-Cousins, who was reassigned by the district in April during a school year marred by several disruptive incidents. A disagreement between Markham-Cousins and the school’s athletic director, Dan Pratt, reportedly over plans for an athletic field scoreboard, sparked protests by students and a district investigation.

Pratt has since left Minneapolis Public Schools. He was hired this summer by Rockford Area Schools to serve as that district’s activities director.

Markham-Cousins is now principal of a small district high school operating inside Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center.

Sadler, the new associate superintendent for Area C, takes over that position from Theresa Battle, who returned this spring to St. Paul Public Schools, where she worked for two decades as a teacher, principal and administrator. Interim Principal Willarene Beasley will lead South until Sadler’s permanent replacement is named, the district reported.

Sadler will be one of the three associate superintendents overseeing schools in the district’s three geographic zones, which are based on enrollment and busing boundaries.

The district’s new chief academic officer, Griffin-Ziebart, is returning to Minnesota after a stint in Georgia’s Bibb County School District. Hired as that district’s deputy superintendent of school improvement and redesign in 2011, she stepped-in as acting superintendent earlier this year when Superintendent Romain Dallemand resigned.

Dallemand was the Rochester superintendent before he was hired in Bibb County, and Griffin-Ziebart left that city to join him in Georgia. She had been with Rochester schools more than two decades.

Now in Minneapolis, Griffin-Ziebart replaces Emily Puetz, who left her post earlier this year.

Valerga was recently a member of interim Memphis City Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s cabinet, and was one of those charged with making administrative cuts this spring in that district’s consolidation drive, according to local news reports. Valerga also managed a $1.6-billion combining of information technology operations when the adjacent Memphis and Shelby County districts merged, the district reported. He has also worked in the St. Paul and New Orleans school districts.

His predecessor, Don Hall, was hired this spring by a Florida school district. Hall now works for Rick Mills, the former Minneapolis district CEO who is now superintendent of Manatee County Schools.

The new school year starts Aug. 26 for students in grades 1–12 and Aug. 28 for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students.