The St. Paul School Board has named six semi-finalists for the job of district superintendent, a list that will be cut to three this weekend.
There were 41 applicants for the job. Ted Blaesing, with the search firm HYA, says that's a high number for an urban superintendent's job. But in the end, he says, it doesn't matter how many applied - you find that one.
Blaesing also says the field is heavy on local candidates, because of what came from a series of meetings this summer to gauge what the community wanted in a superintendent.
"One of the points that came through time and time was someone to come, and stay, and be one of us. To embrace St. Paul," Blaesing said.
The desire for a long-tenured leader was a result of St. Paul's last superintendent, Meria Carstarphen, who kept the office for only three years. Carstarphen left this year for the Austin, Texas school district.
The board plans to pick its preferred candidate for the job by the end of this month. Barring an unforeseen change to that process, St. Paul's next schools chief will be one of these people:
- Valeria Silva
- Nancy Stachel
- Stan Mack
- Mark Bezek
- Deborah Henton
- Charles Hopson
Two of the semi-finalists are currently two of St. Paul's top administrators: Valeria Silva is the district's chief academic officer, and Nancy Stachel is Chief of Schools. Both women have spent their entire careers in the St. Paul district, except for two years Silva spent working for the Minnesota Department of Education.
Deb Henton was principal at Harding High School in St. Paul and was served as the district's Chief of Staff when Meria Carstarphen started. Henton then left to become superintendent of the North Branch district.
The fourth and fifth semi-finalists are also from the Twin Cities metro. Mark Bezek is in his fourth year as superintendent of the Elk River district. Stan Mack retired earlier this year as superintendent of the Robbinsdale district.
The final candidate, the current deputy superintendent of the Portland, Oregon district, Charles Hopson is the only non-Minnesotan. But Blaesing says Hopson fits the bill for someone who's willing to stick around; he's been in Portland for 20 years.
The six semi-finalists will take part in public interviews, to be held Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, the board will then pick three finalists - who will be interviewed next week.
For school board members - who will be the new superintendent's bosses - Wednesday night's meeting was their first look at the list of candidates. The search firm was hired to pick six semi-finalists; it will be the school board's job to make a final choice.
"I haven't a chance to go in-depth. But by looking at the list of candidates, I'm very excited," said School Board Chairwoman Kazoua Kong-Thao, who says it's now the board and public's job to vet the six candidates.
"We're going to engage as much as possible with our public. Because it's a leader, not just for St. Paul Public Schools, but for the city of St. Paul and for Minnesota."
None of the candidates were at Wednesday night's meeting, but they will get plenty of face time in coming days. Interviews are planned to begin Friday. The list of six will be cut to three on Saturday, with more interviews planned for next week.
The board hopes to name a final, preferred candidate the following week.
St. Paul's interim leader, Suzanne Kelly, did not apply for the permanent job but she did release new numbers this week that suggest St. Paul's budget deficit next year will be between $23 and $28 million, numbers that are sure to be mentioned during the upcoming six job interviews.
Wednesday's meeting also included the appointment of two new members to the St. Paul school board, Vallay Varro and Jean O'Connell. Both women won in last week's election.
Varro will fill the seat left open when Tom Conlon resigned; O'Connell defeated incumbent Tom Goldstein for a full term. She was not due to take office until January, but Goldstein announced on Wednesday that he would step down early to allow O'Connell to be a member of the board during the entire process of interviewing superintendent semi-finalists.
More on the candidates:
- Mark Bezek, the current Elk River superintendent, was also superintendent of Fergus Falls schools from 2001-2006. He was a high school principal in Robbinsdale, New Prague, Hawley, and Cromwell before that. He's also a current adjunct professor at St. Mary's University of Minnesota in Winona.
- Deborah Henton, the current North Branch superintendent, has held that job for more than two years. Before that, she spent seven years in St. Paul, where she served as principal of Harding High and district chief of staff. She left St. Paul during Meria Carsterphen's tenure. She is also a former principal of Stillwater High School.
- Charles Hopson, Portland's current deputy superintendent, has also served as a principal during his 20 years in Portland -- a district with more than 46,000 students (about 8,000 more than St. Paul). Before that, he was a principal in Helena, Ark.
- Stan Mack retired in June as superintendent of Robbinsdale schools, a job he held for nine years. He has also been superintendent in the Northfield and Eveleth districts, and assistant superintendent in the Osseo and Burnsville-Eagan-Savage districts.
- Valeria Silva has been St. Paul's chief academic officer for nearly three years. She's also served as director of the district's English Language Learner programs and has been principal at Adams Spanish Immersion School. She also spent two years working for the Minnesota Department of Education, helping develop statwide standards for ELL and special education.
- Nancy Stachel is in her second year as St. Paul's chief of schools. She has also spent time as the district's deputy chief academic officer and director of elementary education, and she's a former principal of Como Park Elementary and Como Special/Hartzell.