by Alejandra Matos in the Star Tribune on Thursday, April 21, 2016
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius is applying to be the next superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools.
“I was approached by DHR, the firm conducting the search for a new Minneapolis superintendent, to consider applying for the Minneapolis superintendency. In thinking about it; I see this as an opportunity to extend my service to our state, and have submitted my name for consideration,” she said Friday.
Cassellius, who has served as commissioner for five years, submitted her application to the Minneapolis school board this week. The deadline to apply for the top district job was noon on Friday.
The Minneapolis school board has been searching for a new superintendent for over a year, after Bernadeia Johnson resigned in early 2015. In December, the board voted for Sergio Paez of Massachusetts but rescinded its offer after complaints came to light about a school in his previous district.
Interim Superintendent Michael Goar, who sought to permanently keep the job, withdrew his bid after a group of protesters demanded the board restart their search.
Nelson Inz, a school board member and chairman of the district’s search committee, said he “can’t talk about who has applied.”
“There are reasons why we are trying to preserve the confidentiality of the candidates,” Inz said.
In an interview with the Star Tribune in November, Cassellius said she wanted to become the Minneapolis superintendent after the governor’s term ended and after she had secured access to universal prekindergarten, one of Dayton’s top priorities.
With a shrinking budget surplus, funding for universal prekindergarten is highly unlikely to happen in the governor’s remaining two years.
“No matter how the school board’s process moves forward, my work as commissioner continues,” she said. “I am committed to doing everything I can to ensure the district’s success, whether as commissioner or as superintendent.”
In a statement, Dayton said he is supportive of Cassellius.
“Brenda Cassellius is a superb commissioner of education. Her tireless efforts to improve our public schools have been transformative in the lives of Minnesota’s children, families and teachers,” Dayton said. “Although I would hate to see her leave state service, I fully support her application and will always believe that she is the best candidate for any position she pursues.”
Teacher and administrator
As education commissioner, Cassellius helped expand all-day kindergarten and secured the state’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Cassellius grew up in Minneapolis, attending schools in the city and surrounding suburbs. She has often written and talked about her life growing up in poverty in Minnesota.
She was a teacher, principal and administrator in the Twin Cities before following former Superintendent Carol Johnson in 2004 to Memphis, where she was the academic superintendent of middle schools.
She had a short stint as an administrator in Oklahoma City before returning to Minneapolis in 2007 to work as an assistant superintendent under Bernadeia Johnson.
Dayton appointed her as commissioner in 2011 after spending less than a year running the East Metro Integration District.
Two of Cassellius’ three children are enrolled in the district.
“As a Minneapolis resident and parent, I love this city and its schools. I know that if Minnesota is going to be successful in closing achievement gaps and ensuring an excellent education for all students, Minneapolis Public Schools must also be successful,” she said.
Daniel Sellers, director of MinnCAN, an education reform advocacy group, said he has not always supported Cassellius’ decisions as commissioner. As for her bid for the superintendency, Sellers declined to comment on her candidacy specifically.
“We hope that whoever the next superintendent is, it’s somebody who deeply believes in the potential of all kids and won’t use poverty as an excuse why kids can’t succeed in Minneapolis,” Sellers said.
The Minneapolis school board is expected to hire the next superintendent by the end of May.
Since the failed recruiting attempt last year, the board has made numerous changes to its selection process.
New search firm
It hired a new search firm and opted to create a selection committee comprised of three board members, the board’s student representative, six community members including one student, and the board’s community engagement facilitator.
As of earlier this week, 23 people had applied for the job, but only eight were still being considered, according to Inz.
Next week the selection committee will select up to five people to interview before making a recommendation of one to three finalists to the board in mid-May. Only at that point will names of candidates become public, and that’s only if they are selected as finalists.