Minneapolis superintendent update: Paez seeks coffee, input

January 4, 2016

Dr. Sergio Paez is coming to town, and he wants to have coffee with you.

In an email sent on December 31, Paez–the current candidate of choice for superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools–announced that he will be in Minneapolis for two days, starting January 4. 

Dr. Sergio Paez; Photo by Don Treager

In the email, Paez said he plans to hold “2 coffee hours” while in Minneapolis. The first will be on Tuesday, January 5 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Avenue Eatery on West Broadway Avenue. The second will be Wednesday, January 6 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Fireroast Cafe in south Minneapolis. 

Paez says he is coming to Minneapolis to “be able to talk to people about anything they have in mind and to learn more about MN in the process.” His email makes no mention of the fact that, although the Minneapolis school board chose him as the district’s next superintendent in December of 2015, he is now in the unexpected position of having to fight for the job.

Immediately after the board named Paez their top choice at a December 7 meeting, troubling reports surfaced from Paez’s days as superintendent of the Holyoke, Massachusetts schools. The reports, completed by the Massachusetts Disability Law Center, detail allegations of abuse at Holyoke’s Peck School program for special education students.

Paez was not directly implicated in these allegations, and maintains that he and his staff acted properly when informed of the reported abuse. Also, the Holyoke teachers union has questioned the law center’s report, and recently told a Massachusetts news station that “low staffing levels and limited resources” are part of the problem at Peck.

Still, it seems Paez is coming to Minneapolis–on his own dime, I am told–to salvage his chances of becoming Minneapolis’s superintendent.

Maybe it will work.

If Paez creates a lot of warm fuzzies by learning “first hand what the community believes is important to transform the district”–a goal he expressed in his recent email–then perhaps the board will be persuaded to forget their cold feet and go ahead with contract negotiations, which were suspended after the Holyoke allegations surfaced.

Meanwhile, my thoughts keep returning to a late December MinnPost piece by local writer and teacher Nicole Helget about the “leadership crisis” in our schools. It isn’t specifically about Paez, but is worth considering as Minneapolis tries to move forward.

Nicole Helget; Photo by Jason Miller

Helget’s piece starts with a bang, hitting readers between the eyes by zeroing in on the “crisis in administration from K-12 to higher education.” She continues on, calling school districts “kingdoms” where predetermined decisions are made behind closed doors, and subsequently “fobbed” upon “teachers, students, and communities.”

There are many blows that sting in Helget’s piece, including the idea that putting a woman or person of color in charge should bring about meaningful change, but often doesn’t–thanks to hidden gatekeepers who are seeking to perpetuate, and not alter, institutionalized racism and sexism.

Helget then ends with this: schools need new leadership styles, and not just new leaders. “We have to change the culture of education,” she writes, in order to achieve this:

Our goal in education includes preparing people who can work, of course, but our goal…is to prepare people to adapt to all the changing aspects of our world and to help build the next economy, not become slaves to the current one.

The Minneapolis school board is scheduled to decide Paez’s fate at a regular January 12 meeting, which will include the standard public comment period. If you’ve got time this week, you know where Paez will be.

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