Six are named Minneapolis superintendent semifinalists

Interviews with the Board of Education begin next week

A slate of six semifinalists for Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent was unveiled Nov. 9 during a special Board of Education meeting.

Compiled by executive search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the roster of semifinalists for the district’s top position was selected from a pool of more than 50 applicants. All are seeking to lead an urban district of more than 35,000 students with a roughly $775,000 annual budget.

The candidates include: Michael Goar, currently serving as the district’s interim superintendent; Charles Foust, a Houston assistant superintendent; Jinger Gustafson, an Anoka–Hennepin associate superintendent; Jesse Rodriguez, a Milwaukee regional superintendent; Alton, Ill., Superintendent Kenneth Spells; and former superintendent of Holyoke, Mass., Sergio Paez.

School Board members spent most of the meeting planning for candidate interviews, currently scheduled for Nov. 16–17. Under the district’s current timeline, finalists will be announced Nov. 18 and return for a second round of public interviews with board members in early December.

The semifinalists will face questions on their approach to district finances, strategies for closing the achievement gap and their experience with the school governance model outlined in the district’s current strategic plan, one that offers schools autonomy in decision-making in exchange for accountability for student results. Board Member Carla Bates said she would ask the semifinalists how they plan to improve outcomes for student groups “historically underserved” by the district, and Board Member Siad Ali said his questioning will focus on the semifinalists’ experience working with English language learner students, who comprise about one-third of the district’s student population.

The board is expected to choose three finalists, but isn’t obligated to stick to that number.

Ted Blaesing, a senior associate with the search firm, said the board’s decision to publicly announce semifinalists almost a full month before announcing a hiring decision had prompted some applicants to drop out. At least five or six candidates chose not to follow through, including at least one who had nearly completed the firm’s screening process, Blaesing said.
“There were some good ones in there, too,” he said. “There are some good ones here.”

Blaesing said some applicants also were deterred by the presence of an internal candidate.

That internal candidate, Goar, has recently gone through what may have been the roughest period of his tenure as interim superintendent. Protestors disrupted consecutive meetings of the School Board this fall in an attempt to force an end to the district’s contract with Reading Horizons, a Utah-based provider of early literacy curriculum. The district ultimately severed ties.

Watching from the audience as the semifinalists were several key organizers of the protests, including North Minneapolis bookstore owner Chaun Webster.

Board Member Rebecca Gagnon said she’s looking for a superintendent who will commit to Minneapolis long term, and will weigh that commitment against the experience of the candidates.

“Longevity has been so, so important to so many urban districts,” Gagnon said.