The Minneapolis School Board moved a step closer to choosing a new superintendent after interviews with two finalists Tuesday night.
The board plans to vote next week on whether to hire Ed Graff or Brenda Cassellius for the position that became open when Bernadeia Johnson unexpectedly stepped down in January 2015.
Graff is currently superintendent of the Anchorage School District, and Cassellius is Minnesota's education commissioner.
In his interview, Graff said he'd bring change to the Minneapolis district. He spoke about keeping the focus on students and advancing culturally responsive practices in the classroom. He promised progress when it comes to diversifying Minneapolis' curriculum.
"The need, from my observation, is to have a huge paradigm shift," Graff told the board. "I've heard time and time again from people about this desire to have change, for things to be different. And I think that's what I bring to this position and conversation."
Although Graff is originally from Minnesota, he's the outsider candidate in the superintendent search. Graff has been working in the Anchorage district since 1991.
In contrast, Cassellius was a Minneapolis assistant principal and associate superintendent before she became Minnesota's state education commissioner in 2011.
"I was raised in the city of Minneapolis in the Glendale projects," Cassellius said in her interview. "I sent my children to Minneapolis Public Schools. I've worked in the district, I know the district. I've now been your commissioner of education for five and a half years so I have a unique perspective from the state and national level."
Cassellius said she'd like to further a school redesign plan that she implemented when she was a Minneapolis associate superintendent. The plan would include making middle schools smaller and giving schools more autonomy. She also spoke about increasing opportunities for students of color, citing her experience as an administrator in Memphis during a turnaround of that city's school district.
The Minneapolis superintendent search is in its second round, after the board cut off talks with top candidate Sergio Paez in January over allegations of abuse of special-needs students in Paez's former district. The first round of the search was contentious, with protesters interrupting a board meeting and forcing the board to restart the search after Paez was rejected.
This time, the search has a calmer tone. About 15 community members showed up to watch Tuesday's interviews, and about 80 came to a question-and-answer session with the finalists Monday. Questions from parents and community members on Monday were passionate and touched on racism in the schools and the district's persistent academic achievement gap. But there were no outbursts.
After Monday's meeting, parent Kimberly Caprini said she supports Cassellius because of her local experinece. But Caprini said whoever takes the job needs to unify the district.
"I want to get a superintendent, we need a leader, but we need someone that's not going to allow themselves to be micromanaged by the school board," Caprini said. "That's what we need is a leader that's going to actually be able to lead this district in the direction that we need to get to."
Board members plan to visit both candidates' current job sites ahead of next week's vote. The board will hear public comment on the finalists Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the district administration building and plans to vote on the hire at its meeting on Tuesday.