By the end of the Minneapolis Board of Education meeting Feb. 13, Bill Green, understandably, was eager to get home to his wife, Judy.
It was the day before Valentine’s Day, and Green said they planned to start celebrating early. Moreover, he had just been offered the job of Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent after a year as the schools’ interim chief and a long and very public job interview.
“I’ve been through a lot over the past 12 months and couple weeks, and some of those sessions have been challenging to say the least,” he said. “But never, ever have my hands sweat like they are now.”
Green may have appeared tired, but he beamed when the board voted unanimously to offer him the job. And he vowed, come 8 a.m. the next morning, “it’s going to be about the work.”
Up to that point, it had been all about Green and his ability to run the school district.
Through 20 public listening sessions around Minneapolis, the School Board gauged public opinion on whether they should hire Green or conduct a national search for a new superintendent. Hundreds also offered their opinions through e-mails and phone calls.
Board Chairwoman Pam Costain said those who favored a wider search wondered if Green was capable of the “bold action” urgently needed to close the district’s achievement gap.
Still, Green was supported in “overwhelming” numbers, Costain said.
A history professor at Augsburg College and School Board member from 1993-2001, Green takes the helm after what Costain described as “a period of upheaval and uncertainty.”
Green was appointed interim superintendent in January 2006 after former Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles’ forced resignation. He was the third person in the post in less than three years.
Now that he has secured the position, Green’s top priority will be to raise student achievement throughout the district.
The Board also told him to put “razor-sharp focus” on closing the achievement gap between the district’s high- and low-performing schools.
Green has said he will make the tough decisions required to turn the district around, including closing schools and ending some programs. During a public job interview just a week earlier, he said district leaders must “put everything on the table” to achieve the district’s academic plan within its budget.
Board member Tom Madden said the parents who threw their support behind Green are endorsing his big-picture approach to the district’s problems.
“People really appreciate the holistic district approach,” Madden said.
But that means some parents will have to set aside specific priorities for their children’s schools.
Seth Kirk, the parent of two Armatage Montessori School students, said many Southwest parents share a concern over increasing class sizes, for example. But Green has said class sizes may grow as the district works to achieve other priorities.
“It’s not a matter of getting everything you want at this point,” said Kirk, who is also co-chair of the Area C Working Group of Southwest parents. “I support him because I think he is capable of making a functional school district.”
Kirk praised Green for building relationships within the district and reaching out to community members.
Margaret Richardson, another Armatage Montessori parent, said she was “very happy” with Green. Richardson said the impressive staff he has assembled, including Chief Academic Officer Bernadeia Johnson, was proof of his skilled management.
Still, she saw that Green’s big-picture approach has the potential to draw resources out of Southwest classrooms. And like a number of public school parents, Richardson said she is willing to look elsewhere to get the best for her children.
“I have chosen to move my son out of public schools into a private school because that was in the best interest of my child,” she said. “I think I will take the same view with my daughter.”
Declining enrollment is just one of the many issues Green will tackle as he seeks to move the district forward.
“It is a tall order,” Green said after the Feb. 13 board meeting. “There is an element of anxiety.”
But anxiety, he said, is a sign you’re on the cusp of something big.