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Carol Johnson leaving Minneapolis for Memphis schools position
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Minneapolis School superintendent Carol Johnson has decided to return to her home state of Tennessee, to become head of the school district in Memphis. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
Minneapolis schools superintendent Carol Johnson says she's accepted an offer to return to her home state and lead the public school system in Memphis, Tennessee. Johnson has been in the Minneapolis district for nearly 30 years, including six as superintendent. School board leaders say they'll take their time trying to find a qualified successor.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Carol Johnson grew up in Tennessee, graduating from Fisk University in Nashville. All but a few years of her three decades working in public education have been spent in the Minneapolis school district. She turned down an offer two years ago to lead the Nashville school district.

After six years on the job as superintendent, Johnson says Memphis presented a challenging opportunity to serve in the place of her roots. Still, she calls leaving the most difficult decision of her career.

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Image An emotional farewell

"Minneapolis is a wonderful city and it's given me a wonderful opportunity to serve and work with great people," Johnson. "I think we have a wonderful board and people who really care about the children of Minneapolis."

Over the past six years, Johnson says she's seen improvements in test scores, attendance, graduation and community involvement. She says those are the accomplishments she's most proud of.

"I hope those things continue, and I think that working with other great people, I helped contribute to it. And so it makes it hard not to continue with those things," Johnson says.

Minneapolis school board members say they reluctantly accepted the superintendent's resignation. Chairwoman Sharon Henry-Blythe says she regrets Johnson is leaving, but respects her decision. She says Johnson is stepping down with a long list of contributions to Minneapolis schools.

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Image Regrets Johnson is leaving

"Dr. Johnson has clearly articulated a standard for the district -- academic excellence for all students," Henry-Blythe says. "And throughout her tenure she's provided outstanding leadership for attaining that goal."

Henry-Blythe says Johnson will remain on the job through the end of September. She says the district's chief operating officer, David Jennings, will serve as interim superintendent until a successor is hired.

Jennings, a former state legislator and corporate executive, has worked for Minneapolis schools for a year and a half. He says the district has a solid plan to follow.

"Carol Johnson is, and always has been, a gifted consensus builder. And so the plans that are in place weren't something she jammed down people's throats from above and when she goes are suddenly going to disappear," says Jennings. "She brought everybody into the room and brought them all around to a consensus of what we need to do, and that's still what we need to do. So that's what we'll do."

You don't find a Carol Johnson every day. I mean she was a gem, and she'll be tough to replace.
- Scott Croonquist, Association of Metropolitan School Districts

The Minneapolis school board is expected to hire a search firm to help locate qualified superintendent candidates. Sharon Henry-Blythe says the appointment of Jennings as interim leader will allow the board to take as much time as necessary. She says she'll also be looking at Jennings as a potential candidate.

"I think he's extremely qualified. I mean, if his name came forward, I think he'd be in the group to consider," says Henry-Blythe.

Officials in large urban school districts often struggle to find superintendent candidates that meet their high expectations. Some educators say there's a nationwide shortage of good superintendents. Still, Scott Croonquist of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, says Minneapolis should fare well in its search.

"You don't find a Carol Johnson every day. I mean she was a gem, and she'll be tough to replace. But Minneapolis, I think, is an attractive city and an attractive school district. So, I think they'll be able to attract a good, solid pool of candidates," says Croonquist.

School board members have yet decide their next move in searching for a superintendent. They say a series of public forums will be held later this year to gather input on the search.

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