Minneapolis school board picks Lisa Sayles-Adams as next superintendent

A teacher in a classroom.
Derek Francis, manager of counseling services for Minneapolis Public Schools, teaches a class at Jenny Lind Elementary in Feb. 2022. The district school board on Friday chose Lisa Sayles-Adams, a longtime leader in Twin Cities education, to be the next Minneapolis schools superintendent.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

Updated 5:20 p.m.

Minneapolis school board members on Friday picked Lisa Sayles-Adams, a longtime leader in Twin Cities education, to be the next superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.

Sayles-Adams, 54, currently serves as superintendent of Eastern Carver County Schools in the western Twin Cities.

She told interviewers during interviews and meet-and-greets this week that she would focus on improving the district’s culture, safety and academic outcomes as well as addressing the achievement gap.

She acknowledged concerns over the district’s enrollment decline over the prior decade and the challenges it’s created around funding the city’s schools.

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“There are certainly some hard budget decisions that have to be made. Certainly enrollment,” she said earlier in the week. “The possibility of having to shutter schools — that is a big decision.”

When it came to strengths, she talked about how much people cared about their schools in Minneapolis, the long history the district has of supporting students and the variety of options the district offers students. 

A professional portrait of a woman.
Lisa Sayles-Adams.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Public Schools

She worked in Minneapolis schools from 1996 to 2004 as a teacher and administrator, including principal at the City Alternative High School, according to the district. She later served as a principal in the Clayton County Schools in Georgia.

Returning to Minnesota in 2012 she worked in the St. Paul Public Schools as a middle school and elementary school principal and then as an assistant superintendent. In 2019, she became an assistant superintendent in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale system before taking over as the head of Eastern Carver County Schools in 2020.

She holds degrees from Minnesota State University Mankato and the University of Minnesota.

The board had narrowed its choice to Sayles-Adams and Sonia Stewart, 49, who currently serves as deputy superintendent for Hamilton County Public Schools in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she supervises school leadership and teaching. Before Chattanooga, she worked 13 years in the Nashville, Tenn., schools as a teacher and administrator.

Both candidates fielded a range of questions the past few days from academics to safety and the path forward following the COVID-19 pandemic. But strained budgets and shrinking enrollments were top-of-mind worries.

Student numbers have fallen significantly the past two decades, recently pushing Minneapolis Public Schools enrollment from third in the state to fourth. It’s stabilized somewhat, but the yearslong slide has crippled the budget, slashing state per student revenues while expenses rose.

District leaders expect to see a loss of $92 million when COVID-19 relief funds run out next fall. Money recently approved by state lawmakers will help reduce that budget gap to between $50-60 million — less than 10 percent of the budget but still an uphill climb for either superintendent candidate.

Sayles-Adams will replace Ed Graff, who after a contentious, three-week teachers strike last year said he would not renew his contract. Rochelle Cox has been serving as interim superintendent last year. 

District officials said her start date is still to be determined. The board must negotiate and approve a contract.

The district said a national search produced 25 superintendent applicants from 16 states. Five were recommended to be interviewed by the district’s superintendent search team.