Originally slated to start in July of 2016, newly named Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) superintendent Sergio Paez could assume his duties much sooner, pending negotiations. The school board last week voted 6-3 to hire Páez to succeed Bernadeia Johnson, who resigned in January.
“I don’t have all of the answers,” said Páez, age 48, in a released statement. “But I have a deep desire to make Minneapolis Public Schools a model district that leads the way in urban education.”
Born in Colombia and a first-generation immigrant, Páez came to the United States almost 30 years ago and earned degrees from Harvard University and Boston College. He has lived in Massachusetts for the last 25 years. He has held teaching and administrative positions in Fitchburg, Leominster, Worcester, and most recently was Holyoke schools’ superintendent since 2013.
Páez’s résumé includes a professional focus on social issues and their impact on education. This, he said, is what attracted him to seek the MPS’ top job.
Páez spoke with the MSR last week by phone. Social justice, equality and equity in Minneapolis public education “impressed me,” he pointed out, especially its importance to community folk and others he met during the intensive interview process.
“I love the passion of the leadership in the community,” said Páez. “People talking about White guilt and social justice — it was at the forefront of the conversation. I was so comfortable talking about that. That impressed me a lot.”
Páez soon will take over a district oft-criticized for poor academic achievement and graduation rates among Black students and other students of color. Asked what he believes he must address among his top priorities once he assumes his new duties, he said, “The first thing I want to be able to [do is] define what is needed for our kids in our community. People over the years talk about it but do little about it. I want to redefine that in Minneapolis.”
He also said the new education law passed and signed by President Barack Obama, which replaces the controversial No Child Left Behind law passed in 2002, will help in this regard. The new law, titled the Every Student Succeeds Act, will return oversight responsibility of schools to the individual states and districts and away from the federal government, especially in how to assess schools and evaluate teachers and how to weigh annual math and reading scores.
The new Minneapolis superintendent told the MSR that he hopes the new education law will put in place better measures for equity “on a practical level. I am hoping that [the] new law will be addressing equality for all children. What that means for Minneapolis is that we need to come out with some measurement to see what happens in the classroom.”
In his December 7 statement, released shortly after he was named to the job, Páez pledged that “The graduation rate will improve. The achievement gap can and will shrink.”
He told the MSR, “I want to challenge the community to work with me, to collaborate in many [ways] that are appropriate.”
However, a statement released December 11 from MPS, announced that they are now evaluating “complaints made about the handling of special education students” from the Holyoke school district under Páez’s leadership, an issue the board was made aware of on December 9, after he was chosen as the “preferred candidate” for superintendent.
According to the statement, “Two Minneapolis Board of Education Directors will be traveling to Holyoke next week to conduct in-person conversations with relevant past associates and others. The Board is committed to finding and evaluating all pertinent information regarding the Holyoke issues before finalizing a contract with Páez.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated 12/18/2015 1:16 pm
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.