Tag Archives: Michael Goar

Brenda Cassellius: Most Likely to be Minneapolis’s Next Superintendent?

May 14, 2016

Brenda Cassellius. Photo: MPR

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. 

Ed Graff

Graff (like many city superintendents) sits on the board of the reformfriendly 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.

No grant, no guru, no outside funding source. My work is entirely funded by my very kind and generous readers. Thank you to those who have already donated!


Minneapolis Superintendent Search Rushes to a Potential Close

May 11, 2016

If there is any hope for the Minneapolis Public Schools–and of course there is hope–it was represented in the bodies jammed together last night in the wood-paneled confines of the district’s Davis Center headquarters.

Multitudes of people were there for the school board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting, which included not only a farewell (complete with personalized chair as parting gift) for interim superintendent, Michael Goar, but also a cavalcade of students, parents, staff and community members–each with something to offer, ask for, or demand from the district.

I hope Minneapolis’s next superintendent, whoever he or she may be, was watching. 

On Monday, May 16, the public will get to interact with the finalist(s) for the top job at a series of specialized, daytime meet-up events, and an evening session for a broader audience. The stamina that the superintendent candidates (there will be anywhere from one to three of them; names are expected to be announced at the end of this week) will need for this day-long action will be nothing, of course, in comparison to what the job will require. Heather Pic 2

Last night, a contingent of parents and kids came to deliver the latest recess petition. It has over 2,500 names on it and makes a plaintive demand: give all MPS kids, K-8, a 30 minute, guaranteed, daily recess period, followed by a 30 minute lunch. (A main reason recess has shrunk, at many schools, to an ungodly 15 minutes or less, according to district officials, is the 90-150 minutes of reading and math instruction that some schools adhere to more literally than others.) 

Before these parents and kids could step to the mic during the public comment period, school board member Josh Reimnitz, chair of the policy committee, announced that he would be bringing this new policy up for discussion at the next committee meeting–doing what he can, it seems, to help the request become a reality. This was joyously received, but it did not deter a handful of people–including 11-year old Molly Reehl, from Barton K-8 School–from speaking up in favor of 30 minutes of recess for all kids. 

A cohort of Southwest High School students, some wearing t-shirts that read, “Scholars of Color Union,” also addressed board members on a range of topics, from their experiences as students of color in a majority white school to the need–now–for more mental health support at Southwest for staff and students. We need a room, one girl said, or a place to go, for students who are struggling with anxiety or depression. The only space available now, apparently, is a “Check and Connect” office that houses a drop-out prevention program.

This office–and the program–will be closing next year, due to budget cuts, the students said. So, if we are going to get a saner recess policy for all K-8 kids, perhaps we should start advocating for safe space in each of our high schools, where kids and staff can go to regroup, play pool, or otherwise combat the anxiety that has somehow become the price of admittance to a “better future.” Heather pic 1

There were kids being honored at the board meeting, too, for their winning History Day projects, which they will be taking all the way to a national event this summer. A couple of teachers were also recognized for their work, and some people got up to speak positively about Goar’s legacy in Minneapolis. Still more parents raised pain-stricken questions about their schools’ budgets.

One woman said her kids’ school is slated to lose its school counselor, art program, and media tech position next year. Another parent then took his turn before the board, saying that, if three six-figure jobs were cut from the Davis Center, there would be enough to pay for all of this and more.

Students and community members also pressed the board to pass a resolution in favor of the Restore the Vote legislation currently moving through the Minnesota legislature. Later, the board did just that. (Next up: board members who don’t regularly visit MPS sites might want to get out and do so, to better understand the behavior issues bubbling–hotly–just under the surface of the suspension data that was presented last night. From what I hear, student and staff safety issues have the potential to knock this district on its feet.)

This district still seems capable of so much. Maybe it just needs a good superintendent to push it forward in a recess-heavy, art-filled, student-led direction. Come check out the candidates on Monday, May 16, and see what you think.

We must understand that every child has a right to the experience of culture. We must fully understand that without stories and poems and pictures and music, children will starve.

–Author Phillip Pullman, 2012

No grant, no guru, no outside funding source. My work is entirely funded by my very kind and generous readers. Thank you to those who have already donated!


Michael Goar Says Goodbye to the Minneapolis Schools

May 4, 2016

Michael Goar, interim superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, will leave the district in June. In an email sent to district staff this morning, Goar announced that he will become the next president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, and expects to begin his new position early next month. 

Michael Goar

Goar has worked for school districts in Minneapolis, Memphis and Boston for the majority of his career. Now, according to his email, working for Big Brothers Big Sisters will represent a slight shift in focus:

Big Brothers Big Sisters helps children realize their potential. I am going from an organization that builds brighter futures through education to one that does the same through mentorship. I have a deep appreciation for the role of mentoring in putting children on the right path. We all realize schools can’t do it alone.

Goar’s recent history in Minneapolis has been tumultuous, in the eyes of many observers. It was once expected that he would land in the superintendent seat, permanently, in the wake of Bernadeia Johnson’s 2014 resignation, but missteps along the way prevented this from happening. Most notably, Goar’s handling of the 2015 uproar over the Reading Horizons curriculum seemed to curtail his rise to the top.

But it appears he has landed on his feet, in a job that sounds like it will provide a comfortable distance from the often bureaucracy-plagued world of the Minneapolis Public Schools. As he prepares to exit the district, the school board will continue on with its drawn out search for a new superintendent. Lessons learned from Goar’s time in MPS will undoubtedly shape who the board choses to carry the district forward.

I want to thank each and every one of you who makes MPS what it is—a school district that puts students first, that will never stop trying to be better and do more for kids.  

–Michael Goar, May 4, 2016

With R.T. Rybak situated as the new president of the Minneapolis Foundation, and Goar’s next position now known, two key education hot spots remain open: CEO of Achieve Mpls, the “nonprofit partner” of the Minneapolis schools, and Generation Next, the data-centric organization that both Goar and Rybak have led.

Stay tuned!

No grant, no guru, no outside funding source. My work is entirely funded by my very kind and generous readers. Thank you to those who have already donated!


Star Power: R.T. Rybak to Lead Minneapolis Foundation

May 2, 2016

The stars sure seem to be aligning for former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak’s lately. Recently, he got an actual star on the hallowed outside wall of First Avenue (perhaps because of the “Prince Permit” he helped secure for the club, while mayor, or because of his super-cool-guy mayor stage dives). 

Now, he has vaulted to the top of the local philanthropist world. Many have suspected that Rybak would be first in line to take over at the Minneapolis Foundation when current president, Sandra Vargas, retires this summer, and today, these rumors were confirmed. 

Mpls Fdn RybakAround noon, a smiling photo of Rybak graced email inboxes across the Twin Cities, as the formal announcement came through:

“After a long and robust national search, the Board of Trustees of the Minneapolis Foundation has selected R. T. Rybak to become the seventh CEO/President in the Foundation’s history.”

A long and robust search? That seems odd, since most people assumed Rybak would be the one to fill Vargas’s reform-built shoes at the Foundation. Vargas has been busy while head of the Minneapolis Foundation, by serving as the board chair of the national 50CAN ed reform group (parent to local offshoot, MinnCAN).

Under her leadership, the Foundation has directed incredible resources towards bringing the market-based education reform movement home to roost in MInneapolis. Here are some examples of that:

  • Teach for America
  • 2013’s RESET campaign, which was a festival of sorts for half-baked, top down reform plans
  • MN Comeback, the latest iteration of sure-fire solutions for the ever-failing Minneapolis Public Schools

Will Rybak follow Vargas down the yellow brick road of ed reform? The Minneapolis Foundation seems to think so. Today’s announcement assured email recipients that Rybak has been “very supportive” of the foundation’s work in education, among other initiatives. This support will allow Rybak to “hit the ground running” when he takes over on July 1, according to the email’s author, John Sullivan.

Rybak’s own past suggests that he will have no problem following Vargas’s lead. Aside from his reputation as a stage diving, bike riding groovy mayor, he has embraced not only Teach for America, but also the rap about how certain charter schools “outperform” district schools. These two concepts–the “transformational” powers of Teach for America and charter schools that “beat” out regular old public schools–are ripped right out of the neoliberal playbook on how to “fix” our schools. 

Rybak will have to leave behind his position at Generation Next, which creates an opening for some other bright star. Departing interim superintendent Michael Goar’s name has been mentioned, but he is more likely to end up taking over for Pam Costain at Achieve Mpls, the school district’s official “nonprofit partner” (as opposed to the unofficial ones, such as MN Comeback and the Minneapolis Foundation).

Musical chairs! What will all of this mean for the Minneapolis schools, in an era where Minnesota legislators seem to be doing the absolute minimum to support public education in this state? 

I’m not sure. But while we wait and see, here are two good reads:

  • Joanne Barkan’s recent article in the Nonprofit Quarterly, “Charitable Plutocracy,” is about education reform and the growing power of private foundations. Barkan’s article includes this gem: “…anyone hoping for a grant—which increasingly includes for-profit as well as nonprofit media—treats donors like unassailable royalty. The emperor is always fully clothed.”
  • The recent news that the sugar daddy of the privatization/charter school movement, the Walton Foundation, is taking its money and running from several U.S. cities, including Minneapolis. This might hamper MN Comeback’s plans for Minneapolis, or it might make them more dependent on the kindliness of local groups like the Minneapolis Foundation.

No grant, no guru, no outside funding source. My work is entirely funded by my very kind and generous readers. Thank you to those who have already donated!



Minneapolis’s Budget Bungling Must Be Examined

February 9, 2016

Lurking in the shadows of today’s Star Tribune article about the Minneapolis Public Schools’s recent budget backtrack are two important things:

  1. The District Management Council (DMC), a Boston-based consulting company with strong–and expensive–ties to Minneapolis. 
  2. The questionable budgeting practices of current MPS administrators. 

In the article, reporter Alejandra Matos writes that, “A plan to change the way money is spent on Minneapolis Public Schools is on hold.” Matos describes this “plan” as a “new budgeting process…that would ensure that money follows students with the greatest needs.”

On the surface, that is what the proposed, and now nixed, budget changes are about. But, in reality, these potential changes are the byproduct of a brazen money grab, perpetrated on the Minneapolis Public Schools’ community by the DMC, with help from MPS administrators.

Armed with a MPS contract worth over $1 million, the DMC, beginning in 2013, promised to advise district administrators on how to implement a new “student-based” budgeting formula. The DMC’s formula promised to more equitably distribute general education funds to district students, according to levels of need.

DMC got their money and left town, leaving MPS administrators to try to explain to the public just what this proposed new budgeting model would look like. They could not do this. At a series of budget meetings held in the spring of 2015, such higher-ups as former Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty and interim superintendent Michael Goar simply could not explain this new funding model or how it could or would actually be implemented. It was a confusing solution in search of a problem.

The crux of this issue is that Minneapolis, like the state of Minnesota, already disperses funds according to student need. As it should. Every public school student in Minnesota is given a base, per-pupil funding amount. Then, more money is given to students with higher needs. This means districts like Minneapolis–with a higher concentration of homeless and highly mobile students, students learning English, and students requiring special education services, for example–get more state education dollars than other districts with fewer high needs students.

This pattern holds true for students and schools within MPS as well, where schools with larger concentrations of kids in need have a bigger budget to work with. This does not mean that it is right that we have segregated schools, or so many students living in poverty, nor does it mean that schools with close to 100% high needs kids have enough resources. But the DMC’s formula doesn’t ask MPS to address these concerns.

The state’s equitable funding model has consistently earned Minnesota an ‘A’ rating from Rutgers University school finance expert Bruce Baker, who publishes a “national report card” on school funding each year.

This does not mean that there is, necessarily, ample money in the pot, which must then be carved up according to need, but it does mean that the Minneapolis Public Schools should not have spent a million dollars on DMC consultants, to tell us how to “equitably” distribute funds.

DMC’s funding formula depended upon the district naming a base, per-pupil amount for every student. It couldn’t do that. This amount is the money each school in the district uses, just to operate. The other money that students with greater needs generate has to be used only to address those needs, such as learning English, reducing class sizes to improve academic outcomes, or hiring tutors.

The extra funds cannot–legally, ethically–be used to simply “open” a school’s doors each year. This is where DMC’s model went wrong. In order to further divide up funds for Minneapolis students, the base, per-pupil amount for each student would first have to be reduced. This is because there is no more money coming to the district, because of this formula. Instead, it is simply a way to carve up a pie that has already been served.

This would mean that a small school, like North High, which has less than 400 students, would not be able to open its doors using DMC’s budget plan. Why? Because each student would suddenly carry less general operating funds with them–not more. Any extra funds captured would have to go to specifically targeted categories. This is the legal purpose for such things as federal Title 1 money (designed to boost learning opportunities for students in poverty). The “extra” money cannot be used to simply operate a school.

A school without a big enough mass of students, such as North High, or Edison, or Pratt Elementary, would have to shut down. Students would have to go to consolidated schools, for efficiency’s sake, so that there would be enough money for the school to simply function, before those divvied up dollars could be put to specific use. 

Maybe this is the direction MPS thinks we should go in, but that has not been communicated openly to parents. Instead, this has been sold as a more “equitable” model. It is not.

The real issue seems to be that MPS has little awareness of its own budget, and little transparency or accountability for it, even as it is trying to pit schools, students and communities against one another–thanks to DMC–by suggesting that we have to take from some kids to give to other kids, in order to be “fair.” (Example: Look at Matos’s article, and see how MPS has been underestimating known budget categories, to artificially present a “balanced” budget.)

A budget audit was recently done for MPS, and sources within the district say it shows MPS overshot its budget–during Goar’s tenure–by some $25 million, while also “recovering” around $10 million. What? How? Where is the money going? The answers are not clear, partly because MPS presents its budget–at least publicly–as general categories, without an itemized list of where money is going. 

So, do we know–does anyone know–exactly how the Davis Center has been spending money lately? We know DMC captured some district funds, but what else is disappearing into thin air, in the name of “equity”?

If we are going to move forward, we are going to have to start asking the right questions.

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Michael Goar is gone, baby, gone

January 23, 2016

The news is burning through Minneapolis like electricity flying along a high wire:


From the Minneapolis Public Schools’s communications department:

Today Interim Superintendent Michael Goar sent a letter to Minneapolis Public Schools Board Chair Jenny Arneson requesting that his name be withdrawn immediately from consideration for the position of Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools. Arneson, in response to Goar’s request, has respectfully removed Goar from consideration for the post.

In his letter Goar indicated that his decision to withdraw was solely based upon his own observation and belief that his candidacy has, unfortunately, become a distraction to the ultimate goal of educating Minneapolis children in a spirit of excellence  – and that withdrawing would be the best way to allow the work to move forward toward achieving that goal.

Image result for michael goar

Michael Goar

From Goar’s point of view, I am sure it is accurate to say that the sole reason he is withdrawing is because his candidacy has become a distraction. And I agree that Goar’s withdrawal is the “best way to allow the work to move forward” in Minneapolis.

But when I think of why Goar’s candidacy may have failed, I think of this. In the last couple of years, Goar helped direct at least $1 million in district money to the District Management Council–a group of Boston-based consultants whose expensive advice justified the upheaval in Minneapolis’s special education department, but otherwise amounted to nothing.

Meanwhile, Goar cut bus monitors from this year’s budget, meaning more than twenty high needs bus routes in Minneapolis were left without an additional support person. The amount saved? Around $200,000.

Perhaps, then, Goar’s priorities are catching up with him.

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

January 14, 2016

On January 12 the Minneapolis school board met to resolve the vexing “who will be our next superintendent” question that has hovered over the district for months now. As the board’s nine members moved to rush through a vote that would, in essence, hand the job to interim superintendent candidate Michael Goar, a chant rose up from the back of the packed board room.

“Say no to Goar, restart the search!”

It was an electric moment, and more powerful than the boos, the interruptions, the angry glares (between board members) and the painfully personal dismissal of Dr. Sergio Paez of Massachusetts that also shook the meeting. Paez had been named superintendent in December, of course, only to see a ring of fire shoot up around his reputation, and burn away any chance he would take charge of the Minneapolis Public Schools.

But switching out Paez–whose potential for the job was said to have been destroyed by clouds of mistrust and community unrest–for runner-up Goar did not sit well with many people at the meeting.

On some level, fretting over who occupies the top of the Minneapolis schools’s org chart feels silly. Most city school district superintendents have a short shelf life, which would assumedly be hastened by the kind of bad press Goar has induced and waded through since taking the job for a test run as interim superintendent.

And, obviously, a certain portion of the fractious and discordant school board wants Goar to end up with the job, and they may just prevail (with support from outside political pressure and the air of manufactured crises). Some people I know and trust also want Goar to get the job because they just want the Minneapolis Public Schools to work. “We don’t have time to wait,” is what I often hear.

Still, questions about Goar’s fitness for the job are hard to gloss over. 

Determined protestors shut down the Minneapolis school board meeting

First, if Paez had to go because community unrest was killing his ability to lead well, how could Goar succeed under similar circumstances? The outpouring of dissatisfaction at the January 12 board meeting was not limited to one group of people–it encompassed parents, teachers, community members, Minneapolis NAACP folks, Black Lives Matter activists, and even a young student.

The angst was real, and it was directed towards a stiff refusal of Goar, because of Reading Horizons. Because of the destruction of the IT department. Because of lingering, pervasive and unanswered questions about the district’s finances. Because of a sense that Goar’s restructured rise to the top of the candidate list was manufactured behind closed doors. Because of the money-sucking influence of high priced, out of state business consultants.

And, because, according to the state department of education’s website, Goar has no superintendent’s license, and his waiver expired on December 31, 2015 (perhaps he assumed he really would not get the job, and did not renew it?). This, coupled with his lack of teaching experience, remains a sore spot for many. 

Another sticking point? Many within the Davis Center—who must live with, carry out and answer for Goar’s directives–want a change at the top.

Whatever happens, let’s just hope we don’t get fooled again

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

–Pete Townsend

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Who’s Your Daddy? A superintendent or the District Management Council?

January 12, 2016

What a long, strange trip it’s been…and it’s not even over yet.

The Minneapolis Public Schools’s communications department received flak back in November for shooting out a press release that seemed to compare the district’s ongoing superintendent search to a reality TV show:

Super Search! For 30 days, it’ll be the district’s hottest show. Six candidates vying for one position: Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). Watch as the Directors of the Board of Education decide who gets the passing grade.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Who has the skills and experience to lead MPS into a future of growth and prosperity? The answer will be revealed through a series of interviews, school tours, and community meetings.

30 days?! What shockingly low expectations. This super search has gone on for months now, and is supposed to end tonight, with the board finally choosing someone to lead the district. Or, perhaps, choosing to call the whole thing off and start over (as a community-driven petition asked them to do, back in December).

Will it be the board-approved candidate, Dr. Sergio Paez, who came to town last week to immerse himself in some Minnesota (N)ice? Or will it be Michael Goar, the interim candidate that could just be waiting in the shadows for another shot at his dream job? Or someone whose name has yet to even cross our lips?

Either way, Michael Goar is said to be heading to New York City on January 13, for an exclusive strategy session with the District Management Council (DMC), according to a report by local news outlet Alpha News (Goar’s name is also listed on the “participant” list on DMC’s website). Remember DMC? They are the Boston-based education consultants behind MPS’s special ed shake up and the flawed and mysterious super special new budget formula that Goar and his executive team could never quite seem to explain. This cost of this advice? A $1 million contract with the Minneapolis schools. 

Will a relaxing cruise be next for DMC and their “members”?

But MPS’s connection with DMC goes much deeper than this big dollar contract. MPS administrators have also attended DMC executive John J-H Kim’s Harvard summer camp for school district leaders, the Public Education Leadership Program, and MPS is one of DMC’s “member districts.” 

Districts across the country pay upwards of $25,000 per year to wine and dine with Kim and his DMC staffers, far from the maddening world of classroom teaching. This week, in New York, DMC’s list shows that Goar will be joined by 19 other Minnesota superintendents, as well as district leaders from several other states. Eighty-seven districts, total, will be there, and 20 of them are from Minnesota. Nice showing from the Gopher state!

If you want to get a look inside the minds of DMC, who clearly know how to separate public school districts from their precious and always scarce funds, take a look at the titles of the 2016 Superintendents’ Strategy Summit being held in New York. Here’s a couple of great-sounding ones (the subtitles are my own, and not officially endorsed by DMC):

  • Top Opportunities for Freeing Up Funds (and sending them to DMC)
  • Winning Support for Shifting Resources (to DMC)
  • Persuasive Communications Strategies (or, How to Convince the Public that DMC is Great)

So, as the public and the Minneapolis school board engage in extensive hand-wringing over who will be the district’s next leader, business goes on as usual.

Perhaps question number one for any potential, permanent superintendent should be this:

Will you, or will you not, cut all ties with the District Management Council?

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Education 2015: The Force Awakens

December 30, 2015

Like many people, I went to the new Star Wars movie recently, thanks to the generosity of a visiting family member. Unlike many people, however, I went with my whole family, including my 6-year-old.

The 6-year-old was not into it, at all. “This is boring,” she called out loudly at one point, followed by repeated loud whispering: “When will this be over?”

So, I didn’t make it through the whole movie. She and I headed out, crawling one last time over the unforgiving legs of the devoted Star Wars fans in our row. My mumbled “sorry” to those who have been waiting since 1977 to see this film was cold comfort, I’m sure.

But I did see enough of the film to understand that the force–of resistance, of good–has been awakened. In case there is anyone who has yet to see the film, I won’t go much further. Anyway, this is all just an excuse for me to mention my favorite player in the whole Star Wars deal: Joseph Campbell.

Campbell was a brilliant guy who liked to focus on how connected we all are, through stories, archetypes, and the hero’s journey, which can belong to anyone. (George Lucas used Campbell’s great book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to give shape to the original Star Wars story.)

Back to education in 2015. Here are a few of the signs of life–or, the force, if you will–that struck me most this year: 

  • The people, united, pushed Reading Horizons out of the Minneapolis Public Schools. A couple of brave Minneapolis teachers, willing to speak up against what they knew was wrong (canned phonics materials bolstered by hideously offensive classroom readers), galvanized a forceful public movement. 
  • The petition to restart Minneapolis’s superintendent search. This petition–started by community folks–gathered over 1,000 signatures rapidly. The search has not been restarted (yet?), but it seems the petition–done the weekend before the school board voted on a superintendent candidate–may have helped block controversial interim superintendent Michael Goar from getting the permanent job.
  • A quiet December 4 press release announced that Minneapolis’s Green Central Elementary School has received a full-service community school grant from the state. This means the school can do an extended survey of its community to find out what services people need and want in order to make Green Central a strong, successful community asset (and not a dismal test prep factory). Full-service schools are centered on “wrap-around services” that seek to serve the whole child. Here’s an example, from Brooklyn Center, MN.
  • Minneapolis’s North High School Polars football team made it to state. This is the school administrators tried to shut down in 2010, in a “Disinvestment 101” exercise. North isn’t out of the woods yet,  and won’t be, as long as market-based reforms (who benefits most from competition? autonomy? standardized tests?) continue to dominate public education policy. Reminder: As I discovered in 2015, North’s success isn’t all about sports.
  • On a personal level, I have to give huge 2015 props to Minneapolis South High School teachers. When my oldest kid, a junior at South, turned to me recently and said, “Mom, what reparations do you think the Dakota should get?,” I knew she was in the right place. Her English class has been working on a unit about the Dakota in Minnesota, which is nothing like the British Lit I yawned my way through as a high school student (never fear: I came to appreciate it later, sort of). And then there are those hot like wasabi math teachers at South, adeptly tackling the “when will we ever use this?!” question….

I could go on, but I won’t, fearing you may be tempted to shout, “This is boring!” 

Quickly, here is a list of some of my favorite non-Minneapolis education stories from 2015:

  • Chicago’s Dyett High hunger strikers. Hard to call this a favorite, since people were literally starving themselves for local control of their school, which remains unresolved, but I have deep love for Jitu Brown and his crew.
  • Dale Rusakoff’s book, The Prize. If you want an excellent look at the forces–good and bad–
    Image result for nikole hannah-jones

    NY Times reporter Hannah-Jones

    that shape education politics and reform today, read Rusakoff’s account of MarkZuckerberg’s money drop on the Newark Public Schools. Painfully real.

  • Ira Glass’s “This American Story” portrait of reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones’s work covering education and that forgotten but successful gap-closing strategy: Integration. Really, listen to this!

Joseph Campbell was right: the hero does have a thousand faces. Can’t wait to see what that looks like in 2016.

Thank you so much to those of you who have donated so generously to this blog in 2015. I am very grateful for your support, and appreciate every little bit that comes my way!


Search Firm Blues: Minneapolis superintendent quest in limbo

December 28, 2015

When Minneapolis superintendent Bernadeia Johnson announced last year that she was resigning from her position (for ever-popular “family” reasons), the district’s school board tried to do the right thing.

Instead of simply handing the job over to interim superintendent Michael Goar, they hired a search firm. They did so because Minneapolis Public Schools’s HR department said they’d have a tough time handling the search themselves, as it would coincide with the annual spring hiring season for teaching staff.

That seemed reasonable. Hiring district teachers should be a priority, since they are the ones who will be held most accountable for getting all Minneapolis kids “college and career ready.”

And, outsourcing the hiring of administrators is just what people do nowadays. Look at the University of Minnesota. In 2012, the U spent over $125,000 (not that anyone is counting) on the Parker Executive Search firm, which brought recently departed athletic director Norwood Teague to Minnesota.

Once here, Teague promptly engaged in the kind of sexual harassment shenanigans that the Parker search firm seemingly could have warned the U about, according to an August, 2015 Twin Cities Business Journal article:

At the time Teague was hired, he was facing a gender-discrimination complaint from the women’s basketball coach at Virginia Commonwealth University. Minnesota spokesman Evan Lapiska said the university was not aware of the complaint.

HYA rep Ted Blaesing led MPS’s search

We are now in a similar position with the Minneapolis superintendent search. The Minneapolis school board hired the nationally known search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) to scour the country’s superintendent talent pipeline for a worthy, wart-free candidate, and it paid them at least $85, 000 to do it. 

And what has this yielded so far? A superintendent candidate–Dr. Sergio Paez–who seems not to have been as thoroughly vetted as HYA promised he was. Paez somehow rose above interim superintendent Goar–whose heavy hitter supporters lobbied hard on his behalf–to become the board’s choice, only to be quickly tainted by a lingering investigation from his previous employer, the Holyoke, MA school district.

Let’s be clear: Paez may have done nothing wrong while superintendent, briefly, of the Holyoke schools. The abuse allegations under investigation in Holyoke have not been directly connected to Paez, who has continued to defend his record in Massachusetts. 

But still. Paez apparently never told board members about the alleged abuse that happened at a Holyoke school while he was there. And HYA never told anyone either. Leaving the reported abuse of special ed students as a last-minute “surprise” for board members to discover seems negligent at best, and deeply incompetent no matter what.

So, now what? Will HYA be compelled to refund any of the $85, 000 in public funds they have received for their seemingly shoddy search?

Like Parker, the search firm that brought Teague to the U of M, HYA has its own questionable track record. Will they be held accountable, like so many public school teachers, for their perceived failures? At least, when we hear again and again that public schools are broke, and universities must raise their tuition fees to survive, we know where some of that money is going.

What is next for Minneapolis? It is possible, but perhaps unlikely, that Paez will be strong enough, as a candidate, to rise above the murky waters he now finds himself in. Will it be back to the drawing board for the superintendent search, or will a strong internal candidate rise to the surface, now that Goar is out of the way?

Whatevs. HYA is on to their next gig, finding a new superintendent for the LA public schools. Cha-ching!

I am no search firm, but I would be grateful for your financial support. Please consider making a donation to keep this blog rolling! Much appreciated.