May 14, 2016
Minnesota education commissioner, Brenda Cassellius, and former Anchorage, Alaska superintendent, Ed Graff, are the two finalists for Minneapolis’s school superintendent position, according a May 13 press release.
Cassellius’s name on the list is no surprise, since she has publicly shared her interest in the job. In November, 2015, while the previous superintendent search was in full swing, Cassellius told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that she wanted the job, but “not yet.” Her hesitancy may have had to do with interim superintendent Michael Goar’s assumed rise to the district’s top position–an expectation that was dashed after months of page-turning headlines and twists in the road.
Now, Goar is leaving the Minneapolis schools, and Cassellius would seem to be an ideal superintendent-in-waiting, given her extensive background in the city’s school district, as a teacher, administrator and parent. Cassellius has certainly made her own mark in education leadership, but, like Goar and his predecessor, Bernadeia Johnson, she has clear ties to former Minneapolis superintendent, Carol Johnson.
Cassellius, also like Goar and Bernadeia Johnson, followed Carol Johnson from Minneapolis to the Memphis schools and back again. This may be comforting to some, who admire Johnson’s leadership legacy, but troubling to others, who may have been hoping for more of a “fresh start” for Minneapolis. (Casselllius did hold her own in a recent University of Minnesota forum on why we still haven’t “closed the achievement gap,” which is kind of like asking why that war in 1984 never ended.)
Graff, a Minnesota native, became superintendent of the Anchorage schools in 2013, and saw his three-year contract cut short in October, 2015. The reasons for this are not immediately clear, but an article in the Alaska Dispatch News hints at a situation that might sound familiar to Minneapolis residents, or residents of any urban school district facing perpetual “urgent” challenges:
Anchorage School Board President Kameron Perez-Verdia said…that the Board has “very aggressive goals” and in order to achieve those goals, as well as face financial and political challenges, it must find a new leader.
Graff (like many city superintendents) sits on the board of the reform–friendly Council of the Great City Schools and was most recently a candidate for superintendent of the St. Michael-Albertville school district in suburban Minneapolis. Part of the reason he wasn’t fully considered for that position, according to a May 10 news report, is that he does not currently have a superintendent’s license:
…there was somewhat of bombshell shared by board chair Doug Birk at the beginning of the meeting — it was learned this same day that candidate Graff lacked superintendent licensure in Alaska and would need lengthy procedural approval from the state of Minnesota in order to get his license.
Graff, with no superintendent’s license and no known connection to Carol Johnson, may be a long shot for the Minneapolis job, especially given the drama that has accompanied the district’s drawn out search process. (Goar also did not have a superintendent’s license.)
Missing from the list of finalists is Michael Thomas, Minneapolis’s current Chief of Schools. Thomas was a known candidate for the district’s top spot, and a 2015 contender for superintendent of the Robbinsdale Area Schools.
The community is invited to meet Cassellius and Graff this Monday, May 16, at the district’s Davis Center headquarters. The school board will then interview the two candidates at a public meeting on Tuesday, May 17.
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