More from MPR
Minneapolis, Minn. — The Minneapolis school board put its superintendent finalists through a grueling two-day evaluation last week. The three candidates toured schools, participated in community forums and then sat down for formal interviews. Cheryl King, Joseph Olchefske and Thandiwe Peebles outlined unique leadership skills and experiences. School Board chairwoman Sharon Henry-Blythe says the choice was difficult.
"As some people have said to me, if we could take each one and either put them all together, roll them into one person or put them in the places we think they have the greatest strength in, we'd have one dynamite superintendency/staff thing going on," says Henry-Blythe.
With neither a three-headed superintendent nor a triple-hire as options, Henry-Blythe joined her six board colleagues in supporting Thandiwe Peebles for the job.
Peebles, 61, is currently regional superintendent in the Cleveland Municipal School District, where she specialized in turning around troubled schools. She also spent several years as a teacher and principal in New York City.
School Board member Judy Farmer says Peebles fits the priorities and needs of the Minneapolis school district.
"This is a woman who is extraordinarily focused on children, who has a very deep knowledge of teaching and learning, of instruction and curriculum," Farmer says. "And she hasn't just talked about this. In Cleveland, she's put points on the board. They have made a lot of progress in closing achievement gaps."
You have to make the community believe in the schools. That's very important. And any initiative you begin to implement has to be with community support.
Farmer says Peebles is also someone who can easily form relationships, and connect with community members. That's exactly what the next Minneapolis superintendent has in mind. Reached by phone in Cleveland, Peebles says she was pleasantly surprised with the board vote. She says she wants to meet elected officials and community leaders in Minneapolis as soon as possible.
"It's important if you're going to survive. It's all about relationships. After you get finished with leadership and what you're going to do in the schools, you have to make the community believe in the schools," Peebles says. "So, that's very important. And any initiative you begin to implement has to be with community support."
During her school board interview last week, Peebles talked about holding town hall meetings and forming a faith-based council to involve church leaders in the public schools. She also admitted having no first-hand experience in labor negotiations.
Louise Sundin, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, says union leaders in Cleveland speak highly of Peebles. She says Peebles' lack of time at the bargaining table is not drawback.
"Most superintendents don't get involved directly in labor negotiations. What's important is the tone that is set by the leader in the district," says Sundin. "That tone needs to be one of respect for the employees and valuing employees. That's the No. 1 tenet of quality management."
The hiring of Thandiwe Peebles won't be official until her own contract is negotiated. Her starting date has not yet been determined. The salary range for the job is $150,000 to $185,000 annually. The Minneapolis school district has been without a permanent superintendent since last summer's departure of Carol Johnson, who left for a job in Memphis. David Jennings remains under contract as interim superintendent until June 30.