School Board rewinds superintendent search

Board aims to name new superintendent by May

Interim Superintendent Michael Goar, center, withdrew his superintendent candidacy, clearing the way for a re-do of the search. Credit: File photo

Back nearly to square one in its search for a new Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent, the Board of Education now aims to name a new district leader by May.

Board Chair Jenny Arneson called that timeline “very realistic” after sketching out a new selection process with her colleagues during a Jan. 26 Committee of the Whole meeting. A vote at a special meeting now scheduled for Feb. 16 would make the new plan official.

The board regrouped in late January after cutting ties with its former top pick for superintendent, Sergio Páez, whose candidacy was torpedoed when news broke in mid-December of an abuse investigation in his former district. The runner-up, Interim Superintendent Michael Goar, briefly seemed poised to take the job, but withdrew his name in January in response to a community protest.

The board is seeking to correct all that went wrong the last time around, pledging to increase community involvement in the selection and to more thoroughly vet the finalists. They’re tentatively planning to form a search committee made up partly of board members and partly of community leaders to produce a new slate of superintendent finalists.

“We have to slow down, we have to unite for the sake of the children, and we have to do a good job this time,” Board Member Siad Ali said.

Ali said the board “had not done a good job” on the last search. He called for “deep engagement” with teachers, parents and community members during the new superintendent search.

Arneson said the district would seek a refund from Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the executive search firm that led the last selection process. The board plans to recruit a new firm to manage the restarted search, but Arneson said that firm wouldn’t necessarily need to have expertise with school superintendents. The plan is to recruit candidates through board members’ professional networks and the district’s human resources department, leaving the search firm to collect applications and conduct reference checks and background investigations of the finalists.

In hopes of attracting new names to the candidate pool, the board is also offering a greater degree of privacy to applicants this time around. The new superintendent search committee would include a maximum of four board members, short of a quorum that would make their deliberations subject to open meeting laws.

Arneson and others have suggested the more open, public nature of the previous search may have discouraged some applicants who didn’t want to upset their current employers.

The last search produced three finalists for the superintendent position: Goar, Páez and Houston-area schools administrator Charles Foust. Páez won votes from six out of nine board members on Dec. 7, and Goar took the other three.

But a report on abuse by staff members working with disabled students in Páez’s former Holyoke, Mass., district — released less than 48 hours after the vote — put his future with the district in peril. The board first moved to pause contract negotiations in December, then cut ties with Páez completely at a Jan. 12 meeting.

When, at that same meeting, a majority of the board appeared ready to offer the job to Goar, protesters rose up and disrupted the meeting.

A group of about 25 people, including Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy Pounds, questioned Goar’s leadership as interim superintendent. He has been criticized for his handling of episode involving a controversial literacy curriculum and changes to the district’s citywide autism program.

Levy Pounds watched from the audience Jan. 26 as the Board of Education hashed-out a revamped search process. Afterwards, she said she was “pleased” the board was planning to start over, adding that it showed that the message she and others tried to send had gotten through.

Goar’s contract with the district means he will remain interim superintendent until the district has a new, permanent leader. At the Jan. 26 meeting, Arenson thanked Goar for his service and praised his integrity.

“You’ve earned my respect,” she said. Most of the audience in the boardroom rose and gave Goar a standing ovation.