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Minneapolis schools chief's performance under scrutiny
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Minneapolis schools superintendent Thandiwe Peebles met with the school board Monday morning to evaluate her performance after one year on the job. Peebles has reportedly alienated some staff and faculty. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
The future of Minneapolis Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles remained unclear Monday following a closed-door school board meeting. Board members met for two hours to discuss the superintendent's job performance and her contract but recessed without making a decision. They'll take up the matter again Tuesday.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The Minneapolis school board voted unanimously a year ago to hire Thandiwe Peebles as superintendent. Peebles was a regional superintendent in Cleveland, where she specialized in turning around troubled schools.

She's used the same approach in Minneapolis, and early results show some improvement in test scores. But Peebles' leadership style and reorganization of the district administrative offices have offended some educators and parents.

School Board Chairman Joseph Erickson acknowledged that he's heard complaints about Peebles. He also said such feedback is common.

"Every superintendent I've known has received their fair share of criticism. Even ones for whom we look back and we look at fondly, like Richard Green and Carol Johnson. There were people who accused them of all sorts of things," said Erickson. "So, every criticism is not valid, and every criticism does not lead to the board being concerned."

Still, Erickson said board members do take criticism seriously, and they share it when appropriate with the superintendent.

Erickson described the closed meeting as part of a regular review process. He would not speculate on whether Peebles' job is actually on the line. Erickson said board members needed additional time to reach a decision. Board member Colleen Moriarty said the public feedback she's received will be factor in her decision.

"You take all those things into consideration. First your policy role as an elected official, then your being a conduit for the community. So all those things are taking into consideration in a good evaluation. You can't separate them," said Moriarty.

While school board members offered guarded comments, Peebles said nothing. She quickly left the meeting without speaking to reporters. A spokesman said she would make a statement after the Tuesday meeting.

Supporters of Peebles lined up to add their voices during an interview program on KFAI radio. Several African American leaders took turns praising Peebles and blasting the Minneapolis school board during the "Conversations with Al McFarlane" show.

The Reverend Ian Bethel of the New Beginnings Baptist Tabernacle described the school board's scrutiny of Peebles as "crazy."

"If you're going to evaluate her, evaluate her on her performance, not her leadership style," said Bethel. "You don't like her leadership style? That's personal. This should not be personal. You hired her to do a job. She's doing the job."

Evaluate her on her performance, not her leadership style. This should not be personal. You hired her to do a job. She's doing the job.
- Rev. Ian Bethel, Peebles supporter

Bethel claimed school board members might be trying to fire Peebles in retaliation for what he and other black leaders did to derail an earlier superintendent selection. The board originally picked David Jennings to succeed Carol Johnson as superintendent. But opposition from Bethel and others led to Jennings withdrawal as a candidate.

Peebles, who is black, has many supporters in the African American community. But school board chairman Erickson said the concerns raised about her performance do not fall along racial lines.

"The kinds of concerns that we hear don't seem to be merely as they've been characterized, as north vs. south or black vs. white. No," he said.

Erickson stressed the board's No. 1 goal is to close the achievement gaps between students of color and their white classmates.

Results from this year's Minnesota Basic Skills Tests showed some progress in Minneapolis. A clearer measure will come later this summer when other state reading and math scores are released.

But Erickson said those scores won't be a factor in Peebles' evaluation.