Minneapolis school board members say they heard from more than 1,000 people in the district, and 90 percent of them urged the board to hire Bill Green. The Augsburg College history professor and former school board chair has been serving as interim superintendent for more than a year, after former superintendent Thandiwe Peebles was forced to resign.
Green says his top priority is improving student achievement in a district with a wide academic gap between white students and students of color.
"Achievement is the first thing. That's the first thing. Everything else has to be subordinate to that," said Green.
Green is pushing for an academic plan that focuses on student performance and discipline. It includes more training for teachers and school leaders, middle school reform and a standard curriculum to help students who move from one school to another.
Green says that plan will help school leaders decide how to close a budget gap of $16 million.
"That has to be the thing that drives every other decision we make -- when we're setting a budget for the district, or whether we're determining which facilities we're going to keep, or whether we determine which programs we're going to use," he said.
Green says Minneapolis will need to close more schools, since it has about 1,000 empty classrooms. He says Minneapolis has more school buildings than any other district in the state, including the two largest, Anoka-Hennepin and St. Paul. Minneapolis has lost about one-quarter of its enrollment in the last six years.
“We want a strong leader with a forward vision willing to take risks, bold risks ... on behalf of our children, African American children.”School board member Sharon Henry-Blythe
Green also says the district needs to limit academic choices to programs that have been proven to be effective. He says that may mean closing some magnet programs.
School board members say Green is the right person to lead the district at this time. But board member Sharon Henry-Blythe says some families wanted the board to do a national search.
"I heard primarily the voice of African American families, parents, feeling desperate," said Henry-Blythe. "They want, and I want, we want, a strong leader with a forward vision willing to take risks, bold risks ... on behalf of our children, African American children."
Henry-Blythe says those families should feel confident about the board's decision, but should also continue to push the board and Green to improve the district.
As Green prepares to get to work without "interim" in his title, he says he takes seriously the criticism of the district, including the recent comments made by Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels. Samuels said North High School should be burned down, since too many African American students -- particularly young men -- fail to graduate.
Green says while Samuels could have more diplomatic, his comments drew attention to an achievement gap that the district "desperately" needs to close. But Green says he's been surprised by the outpouring of support for North High since Samuels' comments.
"Had there been a ringing endorsement of his perspective in a way that criticizes the district, that demonizes the district even more, I would have said that we have really failed in the past year. I find just the opposite to be the case," said Green.
The board will now negotiate a contract with Green. He's currently paid $168,000 under a deal that expires in June.