Minneapolis selects Massachusetts candidate as school superintendent

Sergio Paez
Sergio Paez, 48, will become the next superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools after winning the support of six of the nine board members. He previously served as the superintendent of Holyoke Public Schools in Massachusetts.
Michael Beswick | The Republican 2014

Updated: Dec. 8, 9:47 a.m. | Posted: Dec. 7, 8:46 p.m.

The Minneapolis Board of Education has picked a Massachusetts candidate as the next superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.

After a nearly 10-month search, the board on Monday selected Sergio Paez. He won the support of six of the nine board members.

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"We need someone that can come into our district and show that commitment as well as demonstrate bringing our community together, rebuilding trust and continuing the work that has already begun here," said Board Member Tracine Asberry.

Paez says he will focus on addressing the achievement gap between whites and students of color, and making sure students are safe in schools.

"Safety and the well-being of our students, our teachers and the community is paramount. If students are not ready to learn because of trauma issues, social/emotional issues or safety issues, learning won't happen," he said in an interview with MPR News' Phil Picardi. "So it is a top priority for me to ensure that happens in every single environment."

Paez, 48, will come to Minneapolis from Holyoke Public Schools in Massachusetts, where he served as superintendent from 2013-15. The district — with 11 schools and 5,600 students — is far smaller than Minneapolis, which has about 35,000 students. Previously, he was an assistant superintendent for Worcester Public Schools.

Paez will replace interim Superintendent Michael Goar, who has been leading the district since previous Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson resigned in January.

He left the Holyoke job last summer amid a state takeover of the district, which the Massachusetts board of education declared "chronically under-performing." Its graduation rate was 60 percent in 2014, and it's facing a $3 million deficit.

Paez will face similar challenges in Minneapolis, where the school system is dealing with about the same graduation rate, according to district stats, and a stubborn achievement gap between white students and those of color.

Minneapolis School Board member Carla Bates was one of the three members who did not vote for Paez. At Monday night's meeting she pointed out that his Massachusetts district is largely Hispanic, with African-Americans making up just 3 percent of the student body. That's a much lower percentage than in Minneapolis, where 37 percent of students are black.

Bates is also concerned that Paez will not embrace the district's Acceleration 2020 strategic plan. Implemented last year, it's aimed at closing the achievement gap by giving some schools and teachers more autonomy and scoring them on metrics aimed at boosting test scores and graduation rates.

"I did not hear that Mr. Paez is interested in our theory of action. He has a very traditional command and control model in terms of approaching how he would lead our district," Bates said.

Bates and two other board members voted instead for Goar. Charles Foust, a candidate from Houston, did not receive any votes.

People critical of the board's support for Paez were a visible presence Monday night. While there was no time set aside for public comments, eight people sitting in the front rows held up signs throughout the meeting demanding the superintendent search be restarted.

Elizabeth Campbell, who has a daughter in elementary school, was among them. She says none of the three candidates has a record of success, and the district made only a perfunctory effort at involving the public in the hiring process.

"Our teachers deserve better, our students deserve better, our community deserves better," Campbell said. "We need to take the time to do this right."

School board members say they'll visit Holyoke to talk with Paez's former colleagues before negotiating a contract. Once the details are worked out, Paez is expected to take over in July.

MPR News reporter Jon Collins and The Associated Press contributed to this report.