Within the next few weeks, the search for the next superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools will start to heat up. This individual will oversee the education of more than 35,000 children and be charged with dramatically shifting the direction of a district that produces some of the nation’s worst educational disparities. This is one of the most important decisions this school board will make and yet the board’s dysfunctional leadership may dissuade top candidates from applying.
Although I’ve been an outspoken critic of the district and many of the board’s past decisions, I believe Minneapolis Public Schools has a lot to offer a top-tier superintendent candidate. We have a beautifully diverse district and community. We have a thriving metropolis. We have engaged students, families, community partners, businesses and foundations who want to see Minneapolis Public Schools succeed. Even the severity of the need gives a new superintendent cover to take risks and innovate. So, what would prevent a top-tier candidate from applying? Sadly, the school board itself.
As the search firm stated, the board is one of the most significant influencers on whether a high-quality candidate will apply for the position. That’s concerning as I have been attending school board meetings for the past 3 years, and the current board operations are by far the most dysfunctional I have ever seen.
Dysfunction has gotten out of hand
Whether it’s inconsistent application of the rules for how the board interacts with the community and with each other, increasingly public disdain between board members, lost control of board meeting proceedings, or lack of adherence to policy, the dysfunction has gotten out of hand. The Reading Horizons fiasco is the latest example of ineffective leadership. How is a top-tier candidate going to respond when they see the video recordings of this circus show online of how their prospective bosses operate and conduct themselves? What values would they see reflected?
Serious superintendent candidates probably also seek positions in districts where the board and administration have a good relationship with the community. Three straight board meetings have been shut down because the board did not adequately address community concerns. At one of these meetings, members of the community finally told the board that they would be heard before business can continue.
This school board should be ashamed it has gotten to the point where community members feel so unheard that they need to shut down a meeting to get their local school board’s attention. There is no reason that people in the community should feel they need to go to these lengths to reach these elected officials. Watching board directors leave the meeting chambers in an impromptu recess while community members waited to speak was appalling. If I were a serious candidate considering Minneapolis Public Schools as an opportunity, I would be extremely concerned about going into a situation where the board has lost the faith of the community.
In addition, when the search firm revealed how many people participated in creating a superintendent candidate profile, the board responded as if the numbers were something to be proud of.
- Of 35,356 students in the district, the board got input from only 20. These students are in school five days a week, and yet the board could only get 20 of them to share what’s important for the future leader of their education.
- MPS has 3,789 teachers, yet the board got input from only 188. These are paid employees, yet just 5 percent weighed in on the desired qualities of their next leader.
- And of Minneapolis’ 382,578 residents, the board engaged fewer than 1,000. I will let readers guess the demographics of those whose input was gained.
The board is elected to represent the community, yet its members haven’t shown a willingness and commitment to engage with us or an understanding of how to do so effectively.
For a candidate looking for a school board to support him or her and help immerse the chosen superintendent into the community as he/she transitions to a new home, they are not making the job very attractive.
This city’s citizens elected this board to represent us well and attract the best talent. This city’s people chose them to do better by our voters, our community, and, most important, our students. The students of Minneapolis Public Schools deserve a leader who is strong, strategic and dedicated to centering the work of the district around them, especially the students who have been the most marginalized.
We have a lot of local strengths to offer top-tier candidates, but right now the Minneapolis School Board is are not one of them. I hope the Minneapolis School Board will pull it together, take this search seriously, listen and lead.
Kenneth Eban is the Minnesota program director for Students for Education Reform.
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