After 16 Months Search, Minneapolis Hires Anchorage’s Graff to Lead District

(Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune)

(Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune)

Minneapolis has selected Ed Graff as its new superintendent of public schools in Minneapolis, and pending contract negotiations, the former superintendent of Anchorage Public Schools, who was voted in with a 6-3 vote from the nine-member Minnesota Board of Education, will end a 16-month search.

Graff was running against State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, writes Alejandra Matos of the Minnesota Star Tribune. Sergio Paez, a Massachusetts educator, had been selected in December, but had his offer rescinded after incidents of abuse were reported in Paez's district.

Just before the board was going to appoint interim Superintendent Michael Goar to the position, protesters barged into the meeting. Goar declined the opportunity of serving as superintendent, saying there were too many divisions in the community. Graff is due to begin his job in July.

Graff is not yet licensed in Minnesota, but officials say they expect that he will be able to get a two-year variance while he finishes requirements for his certification. The variance will be voted on by the state Board of School Administrators this month.

Graff, who is 47 and originally from Minnesota, served for three years in Anchorage and now will be heading up the state's third-largest district. Members of the board said they were excited by his focus on students and the positive culture he created while in Anchorage, even though the district in which he served was underfunded and understaffed.

The board expressed their surprise that Graff's contract had not been renewed in Anchorage, especially since so many spoke of his thoughtfulness, engagement with students, and ability to make careful decisions. Graff had been a teacher, principal, and an administrator before leading the district in Anchorage.

Board member Siad Ali was disappointed that Cassellius did not get the job, but some members were concerned that Cassellius had not improved outcomes for children of color during her tenure as commissioner.

"I wish only the best for Mr. Graff," Cassellius said late Tuesday. "I look forward to serving the children of Minneapolis and Mr. Ed Graff in the future as commissioner."

The Anchorage board chose Deena Paramo of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District as Graff's replacement. Graff was also chosen as a finalist for the superintendent's position at St. Michael-Albertville School District, about 30 minutes from Minneapolis.

The St. Michael-Albertville School Board chairperson decided not to hire Graff based on the fact that he lacked a license, according to Tegan Hanlon of The Alaska Dispatch.

During the transition time, Chief of Schools Michael Thomas will be appointed interim superintendent beginning on June 1. Goar is set to leave to begin his new assignment as president and CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities.

Graff's wife is an elementary school principal and the couple has one son. The soon-to-be superintendent has a master's degree in education administration from the University of Mississippi. Erin Hinrichs, reporting for the MinnPost, quoted board Chairperson Jenny Arneson on Graff's results with leading staff:

"There was a lot of talk about the work culture that he created and the very positive environment, even in a time of difficulty when morale maybe shouldn't be high, morale seemed extraordinarily high," Arneson said, noting his district was in a period of budget cuts due to a drop in the price of oil.

Minnesota Public Radio's Solvejg Wastvedt reported that Anchorage schools have large numbers of Pacific Islander, Asian, and Native American students, but very few black pupils.

"Who I am is that I look at every student as an individual and listen first and make sure I understand their story," he said. "And I think that's how you develop those relationships and connections and how you build trust and success."

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