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An appreciation of Minneapolis Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson

Johnson has been an extraordinary leader, and I want to thank her for her courage, her vision and for the tough choices she made on behalf of the children of Minneapolis.

Minneapolis Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson
Courtesy of Minneapolis Public Schools

I had the pleasure working with Bernadeia Johnson closely for eight and a half years, first on the Minneapolis School Board and later through AchieveMpls.

On Thursday night, we honored her tenure as Superintendent, but also recognized her considerable contributions as Chief Academic Officer and Deputy Superintendent. Continuity of leadership matters and is part of the powerful legacy we celebrated. 

So let’s review some of her accomplishments through the years. 

Bernadeia had the courage to “fresh start” two low-performing high schools – Washburn and Edison – and put both of them on the path to success. Today both Washburn and Edison are college-preparatory high schools and schools of choice. 

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She had the courage to commission a curriculum audit that revealed deep problems with the design, sequencing and assessment of instruction across the district. The patchwork of instruction was a hit-or-miss project that had devastating results for our mobile student body. She transformed that work and through “focused instruction” has helped to bring consistency to teaching and learning in our district.  

Bernadeia had the courage to reorganize the human resource department in MPS to better serve employees and our schools. She emphasized teacher and principal talent as a number one priority of the district, which has resulted in stronger hiring practices and is reflected in her outstanding senior leadership team. 

Superintendent Johnson had the vision to shift significant district resources to early childhood education, using Title I funds to expand offerings to four and even three year-olds. As a result 1,120 of our neediest three and four year-olds are currently getting a great early start.  

She also boldly supported the Office of New Schools allowing MPS to build a collaborative relationship with charters and explore new ways to organize schools from teacher-led schools to our current partnership schools. Superintendent Johnson always said the form of the school was less important than the results it was delivering to children. 

Bernadeia has stood with immigrant children and families to pass the state’s Dream Act. She lent her advocacy to gain a more fair housing policy and to raise the minimum wage.

Pam Costain
Pam Costain

Bernadeia has listened closely to parents, staff and community voices. As a result, people love, respect and admire her. Even in the face of withering — and at times unfair criticism — she responded with calm and civility, setting a standard for all of us. 

Finally, Superintendent Johnson has always put the needs of children first and has called on all of us to care especially for the black and brown children who suffer the most from the disparities that exist in Minneapolis. She has called us to our better selves and truly embodies a belief in Martin Luther King’s in “beloved community.” 

Bernadeia has been an extraordinary leader, and I am proud to have worked with her. And I want to say thank you to her for her courage, her vision and moral leadership, and for the tough choices she made on behalf of the children of Minneapolis.  

Pam Costain is CEO of AchieveMpls, an educational foundation that supports the work of Minneapolis Public Schools. This is an edited version of a speech she gave at a recent reception honoring Superintendent Johnson, who will be leaving her position with MPS on Jan. 31.

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