Minneapolis schools superintendent resigns

Dylan Thomas, Southwest Journal, December 16, 2014

Bernadeia Johnson had led the district since 2010

Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson has submitted her resignation.

The announcement that Johnson would step Jan. 31 down after four-and-a-half years came Tuesday evening at a School Board retreat. She was not present at the meeting.

Johnson’s second-in-command, district CEO Michael Goar, will step in Feb. 1 as interim superintendent of the state’s third-largest school district. A Washburn High School graduate, Goar served as a school district administrator in Memphis and Boston as well as Minneapolis.

Johnson’s tenure began in July 2010 and coincided with a period of growth for Minneapolis schools that ended a decade-long enrollment decline. But the district progressed slowly toward student achievement goals during that same period and has not been able to erase a stubborn achievement gap.

Johnson was absent due to illness a week earlier when the School Board reviewed the disappointing results in the district’s annual report on academic progress: a higher four-year graduation rate for high school students, but one still 25 points below the state average; incremental progress in reading and math scores; and essentially no change in third-grade reading proficiency, a key measure of students’ future success.

In a letter submitted to Board of Education Chair Richard Mammen, Johnson said she remains confident in work she has spearheaded to improve academic outcomes for students outlined in her Acceleration 2020 strategic plan and thanked the board for supporting her. She said “family commitments have become increasingly challenging” and decided stepping down would “best serve both the school district and her family,” according to a statement posted on the school district’s website.

“Dr. Johnson has been committed to the students of Minneapolis Public Schools for the past 15 years, since first joining the staff here as a principal,” said Mammen, in a prepared statement. “Her leadership has brought clear vision for the path ahead and her team has established aggressive goals to move us toward that vision. This is a job bigger than any one individual, and the role of the superintendent to drive collaboration among all the school district’s stakeholders is extraordinarily challenging. We are grateful for her service and we appreciate that she has built a strong leadership team to succeed her and manage the transition we now face.”

After the announcement was made, Goar urged the board to quickly develop and make public a timeline to select a permanent replacement for Johnson. Goar urged the board to conduct a national search and left open the possibility that, when the time comes, he would apply for the job.

Goar said he wanted to “earn the job” and not be handed it. He does not yet have a superintendent’s license and will require a variance from the Minnesota Department of Education to take over the role in the interim.

The School Board voted to form a superintendent search committee Tuesday.

A previous School Board had stability in mind in January 2010 when it named Johnson the sole nominee to replace outgoing superintendent Bill Green, a former School Board member who took over after the tumultuous 18-month tenure of Thandiwe Peebles. Peebles followed David Jennings, who spent a controversial year as interim superintendent following the six-year tenure of Carol Johnson.

Tom Madden, who chaired the board that year, said the district’s former chief academic officer had done a “great job,” despite the ongoing struggles to raise achievement.

“No one person or no one group is going to by themselves change the entire district and change the trajectory of a district. It’s a combination,” Madden said. “I think she’s done her part.”

Johnson worked as a financial analyst with First Bank System in Minneapolis before entering the education field. She worked in St. Paul Public Schools as a teacher and assistant principal from 1991 to 1999.

She then jumped to Minneapolis Public Schools, serving as principal of Elizabeth Hall Community School from July 1999 to March 2004. That spring, she took a deputy superintendent position with Memphis City Schools in Tennessee, a district led at that time Carol Johnson. She joined district administration in Minneapolis less than two years later.

Johnson made the district’s wide gaps between white students and students of color a focus of her work. Earlier year, she launched the Office of Black Male Student Achievement in an effort to turn around outcomes for black boys, who rank at the bottom in nearly all performance indicators tracked by the district.

In response to racial disparities in district discipline practices, Johnson announced a moratorium on suspensions for the district’s youngest students at the start of this school year. She went even further in November, pledging to review with her leadership team every out-of-school suspension of a student of color in the hopes of eliminating the discipline gap by 2018.

— Sarah McKenzie contributed to this report.