Bill Green compares the past year to riding a rollarcoaster. The Augsburg College history professor and former school board chair was named interim superintendent a year ago, when Minneapolis faced every challenge that could confront a district, Green said.
The last superintendent, Thandiwe Peebles, was forced to resign. Years of budget shortfalls had led to teacher layoffs and school closings. Minneapolis has lost a fourth of its enrollment over the past six years, dropping from the state's largest district to number three. Still, Green said he thinks Minneapolis can once again be one of the top urban districts in the nation.
"I would not do this if I felt that we were in a death spiral," Green said. "I do feel we can turn this around."
Green said Minneapolis needs to be more effective at educating all kids. He notes that some students do very well in the district, but a wide academic gap exists between white students and students of color. Green said he is personally bothered by the achievement gap, as an African-American who struggled to do well in school when he was growing up in New Orleans.
“I would not do this if I felt that we were in a death spiral. I do feel we can turn this around.”Bill Green
"I know what it feels like to think that there's something congenitally wrong with me because I don't get this stuff," said Green. "I felt inferior, I just felt something was wrong, so I know that the achievement gap has a way of impacting a child's self-esteem."
Green acknowledges that he doesn't have a silver bullet to close the achievement gap, but said the district is taking steps to improve academic performance. Green recruited a chief academic officer, Bernadeia Johnson, who has proposed an academic plan designed to boost performance for students in every group. Green said the district needs to make sure every student has access to core academic services. To Green, that means focusing the district's limited resources on academic programs that work.
"We have way too many choices," Green said. "We offer our families more choices academically than any other school district, I believe, in the state, and our test scores don't seem to reflect that that's a benefit."
Green said the district may need to close more schools as it limits choices. The district also faces another round of budget cuts to close a gap of $16 million, unless the Legislature approves more funding than the district is expecting.
If Green sounds like the permanent superintendent, that's because he thinks he should stay on the job. Green said he provides some much-needed stability for a district that is on its fourth leader since 2003. He said he's tried to connect with community members at a time when some residents have given up on the district, and to provide a vision for Minneapolis public schools.
"If we do this right, if I'm successful, if we're successful, I think there will be a time when the district will need a different kind of leader. And I'm fully prepared for that," said Green. "But I think at this time, I'm the right person for the job."
The Minneapolis school board has held a series of meetings asking for public feedback on Green's performance as interim superintendent. Board chair Pam Costain said there's widespread interest in making Green the permanent leader.
"We have heard from virtually everybody that they feel very well listened to in the district, that they feel their concerns are heard and understood by Dr. Green, and that he wants an ongoing relationship with them," said Costain.
At the same time, Costain said some community members want the board to do a national search to compare Green with other candidates around the country. And some people who attended the community meetings say they want to hear more about Green's vision.
The board will decide Feb. 13 whether to offer Green a contract, or begin a new search for a superintendent.