November 23, 2015
I am not one to get between Michael Goar and his dream job, but maybe the Minneapolis school board should.
Since being ushered in as Interim superintendent in February, 2015, Goar has spoken in lofty terms of his desire to be the real deal superintendent for the Minneapolis Public Schools. Example: In a February interview with StarTribune education reporter Alejandra Matos, Goar had this to say:
“My career path has led up to a superintendency…It’s a calling, and I love this school district because I know what is possible.”
Pause. It is odd to think that someone who has never been a teacher or principal in any capacity would say that his “career path” has led to becoming superintendent. Is this about being the boss, or leading a school district?
Still, the school board did undertake a months-long search for a new superintendent, perhaps to show that Goar was not the shoo in he has probably been set up to be.
Mini History Lesson:
- Goar returned to Minneapolis from Boston in 2012. A short time later, he became head of Generation Next, which is funded by the United Way and organized around closing the “achievement gap.” (Generation Next had just come to Minneapolis then.)
- After seven months with Generation Next, Goar left to become CEO of the Minneapolis Public Schools. Why? How? At whose request? So many questions! Was this CEO position ever posted? Or was it handed to Goar?
- Fortunately for Generation Next, Goar’s departure to MPS in July, 2013, didn’t leave the group with a troubling leadership “gap,” as former Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak was ready and willing to take over for him. At the time, Rybak was in need of some legitimacy, after stating he wished he had “done more” about education during his twelve years as mayor. Today, he is still leading Generation Next, and getting paid close to $200, 000 to do it, which is as much as Minneapolis’ superintendent makes.
- Therefore, Goar was in a good position in MPS when former Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson announced her resignation in late 2014. Of course, Goar was there to step in as interim, which he did in February, 2015. Rybak approved, and told Minnesota Public Radio in January, 2015 that he wanted Goar to get the job, permanently.
And, now he is one of three finalists for the job, after skating through a mostly weak pool of candidates gathered by search firm Hazard, Young, and Associates (HYA). Bonus: he is also the preferred candidate of five of the nine Minneapolis board members: Siad Ali, Jenny Arneson, Carla Bates, Josh Reimnitz, and Don Samuels.
But Tracine Asberry, Kim Ellison, Rebecca Gagnon, and Nelson Inz did not select Goar as their top candidate.
And that’s telling.
Goar undoubtedly has his strengths as a candidate. He’s local, he’s a graduate of the Minneapolis Public Schools, and he has a compelling backstory as an orphan and non-native English speaker. He has clearly done well for himself and there’s much to admire in that.
But is this enough to recommend him for the role as leader of the Minneapolis schools? In a recent blog post, I pointed out some of Goar’s record as an administrator in Memphis and Boston, where he seemed to hone an ability to land on his feet, no matter what.
More than this, we have his current record as interim superintendent to examine closely. Here are some concerns regarding Goar, his current legacy, and how it stacks up with the “Summary of Desired Characteristics” created for MPS as part of the superintendent search process.
- “Lead with a depth of pedagogical knowledge.” Goar has never been a teacher, not even for a year or two. Sure, non-teachers can have a “depth” of pedagogical knowledge, but does Goar? His leadership during the Reading Horizons debacle–when he, or his office, continued to insist that this flawed company’s products were to be used in all K-2 MPS classrooms–should raise questions about how profound his understanding of teaching and learning is. Also, the push for more “autonomy and accountability” for some schools within MPS–and not others–seems more about free market reform (competition, choice) than about an equity-based plan for lifting up all MPS students.
- “Nurture and maintain an organization in an environment of mutual trust.” Multiple sources have said that MPS, under Goar, has become a tougher place to work, with numerous long-time, top-level employees walked out of the district’s central offices for thinking too, ah, independently. Destabilization, mysterious restructurings, jobs seemingly handed to people–all of these things should be closely investigated by the publicly elected school board members that Goar is supposed to answer to. (And, there is still no publicly available org chart for MPS.)
- “Listen and discern information from a multitude of sources.” There have been a slew of Goar-led changes dropped on the staff and families of the Minneapolis Public Schools. Examples include the secretive changes to the district’s citywide autism program, the immediate adoption of a required seven period day for all high schools and middle schools, along with mandated changes in school start times. Under Goar, the district has also canceled the Area meetings where parents came together to more closely address district-level staff, and altered the District Parent Council. Particularly disturbing: Goar has been allowed to preempt the public speaking portion of school board meetings by addressing issues from the district’s perspective before parents, staff, and community members are permitted to express their own concerns. This has had a stifling effect on community involvement, which was chillingly paired with a misbegotten attempt to silence anyone who had a negative comment at the November 10 school board meeting. These trends are worth further examination.
- “Possess business acumen and is knowledgeable of sound financial management.” The latest MPS budget, which was finalized in June, 2015, was over budget, despite Goar’s frequently cited cuts to central office staff (someone should insist on seeing a list of who was cut, and which jobs were then reposted at a lower salary). The district had to borrow from its own reserves to even things out, thereby jeopardizing its good bond rating. Additionally, Goar has paid out big dollars for consultants’ contracts, including one that advised MPS to adopt a “student-based” funding model, which district staff then struggled to explain to families during a series of budget info sessions in 2015. Goar’s administration was also implicated in a misuse of district-issued credit cards. The employee who reported this left the district, after twenty years of service.
Goar’s competition for the top spot includes Charles Foust, who is a “School Support Officer” for the Houston schools–a district with a neoliberal education reform rap sheet a mile long. From Teach for America recruits to “no excuses” charter schools, the Houston schools seem to have never met a top down, quick fix that they didn’t like. Foust is all about school transformation, but from what vantage point? And, would he stick around Minneapolis when the transforming got tough?
Then, there is Sergio Paez, who lost his job as superintendent of the Holyoke, Massachusetts schools when the state took over the district this past summer. Paez is strong on the ELL side, which is good, but has yet to explain his “data wall” policy, where he required Holyoke elementary school teachers to publicly display children’s progress–supposedly anonymously–on assignments and tests. Here is Paez’s perspective on this, according to a 2014 New England Public Radio report:
Holyoke Superintendent Sergio Paez says the charts are used throughout the school district, and says they keep students anonymous.
“Obviously [we are] preserving the privacy, and ensuring that it is productive, and is progressive, and is helpful to our students,” Paez says. “If it is not following those conditions, then it is not being implemented correctly.”
Paez says data walls are a common practice in public schools around the country. Paez is in his first year in Holyoke, and has stressed the use of data to help turn around the struggling district.
Of course, Paez has one advantage: Holyoke, MA is one of the District Management Council’s “Member Districts,” just like Minneapolis, so, if he comes here, he will be familiar with the Council’s attempts to accomplish a businessy rejiggering of the Minneapolis Public Schools.
So, what’s next? The school board has a few options:
- Give Goar the job, which makes sense in some ways. He’s familiar and several MPS board members seem to appreciate that he has experience in large school districts.
- Hire either Paez or Foust, which seems less likely. Does either one of them have enough experience or insight to rise above Goar?
- Restart the search process, and perhaps find some more candidates from within.
In this climate of upheaval, when the niceties surrounding our “progressive” city are falling away, Minneapolis citizens are understandably otherwise engaged. The Fourth Precinct protest in north Minneapolis is persistent, and about much more than one man’s story. It is about systemic oppression, racial and economic segregation (historically and currently), and lack of equal access to the “good life” many of us take for granted in Minnesota.
It is about the people pushing back against the powers that be and the promises they use to maintain their status. Will Minneapolis’ superintendent search be about the same thing? Or will Goar be given his dream job?
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