Minneapolis is learning (again) what almost any school district knows: it’s hard to find a good superintendent.
The school board here met recently to admit their year-long search has failed spectacularly, and to offer assurances they will get it right from here on. So far they have watched their preferred candidate Sergio Paez crash after reports of child abuse in his former district emerged. Their second candidate Michael Goar removed his name from consideration after bruising interactions with community protesters.
Now, there is disarray. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing. That might be better than a smooth process that settled on a mediocre candidate.
It’s easy to beat up on a school board that is so obviously troubled, and to expose every point in incompetence that characterizes their tenure. While tempting, that solves nothing. The important thing is focusing on the fact that Minneapolis children are not getting what they need out of these schools. Everything we do should be about improving their lot.
Have you seen last year’s academic results? If not, please review them, internalize them, and ask yourself what the future holds for children and the city if we don’t do all we can to acquire the best possible leader?
By best possible leader I mean one who has a demonstrable understanding of how big systems work, how academics are bolstered, and how a workforce is best enabled to do outstanding work.
We are at a point where there are no easy answers. Our problems are profound. But, fortunately, we are ahead of many cities when it comes to assets. It would be a shame to miss this opportunity to draw upon our vast resources.
I’d suggest city leaders work together to build confidence and integrity into the superintendent hiring process by establishing a blue ribbon search committee made up of people with obvious social capital and executive skills. It could include members of the political class with enough position and power to signal to great candidates that the city of Minneapolis is capable of supporting a strong leader for the public schools.
They should send a strong signal that the leadership community stands together in the mission for better schools, and they should communicate a capacity for the extra-judicial power needed to carry the leader through tough times with an unreliable board and a divided community.
So, who should lead such a thing? Any names I give you will cause someone heartburn. There are no universally loved people in this village.
Everyone has some bodies buried. I know where many of them lie. Accepting that everyone is flawed, there is still a need to use whatever human assets we have to lure candidates from other cities here.
Maybe the search committee could be led by the last three Mayors, R.T. Rybak, Sharon Sayles-Belton, and Betsy Hodges. They could get help from Grassroots Solutions and a new (better) firm to form a gold standard search process with representatives from students, parents, educators, faith leaders, business, and labor.
Please don’t get hung up on the proposed names. Maybe it’s them, maybe not. But the idea is that anyone applying for the job see a united group of powerful people extending one hand of welcome.
Whether or not you accept this as a workable path forward, I offer three agreements all parties should agree on.
First, the MPS school board should not have to walk alone in this process. With so many fully funded organizations with mission statements saying they bring people together to improve education, including Generation Next, Minnesota Comeback, Achievement Minneapolis, and others, this is a time to make all those dollars and PowerPoints work for once.
Second, we must set high expectations for the leader we need. That starts with an honest assessment of our troubles and a clear understanding of what the next leader would need to accomplish to be successful. We can’t merely choose a superintendent based on fraternal ties, emotive platitudes, and simplistic pragmatism.
Finally, we must commit to keeping our focus on children, not politics. There will be time later to consider all the world’s conspiracies and ideological battles that fascinate those with too much time to assess the lint in their navels. For now, we should put away childish things, buckle down and collaborate on an apolitical, nonpartisan, objective process.
This is a test of all the pride people in Minneapolis have in their city. Can everyone rally around the goal of landing the educational leader our children deserve?
I think so.