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Peebles stays but needs to improve; Harvey may leave St. Paul schools
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Thandiwe Peebles will continue as Minneapolis school superintendent. But the school board said Tuesday she must improve her job performance in several areas. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
The Minneapolis school board has put Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles on notice that she must improve her job performance. Peebles and board members emerged from a private meeting Tuesday, pledging to work together to address her management shortcomings. But supporters of the superintendent remain angry over an evaluation process that they claim was unfair to a new leader.

Minneapolis, Minn. — When Thandiwe Peebles signed her contract with the Minneapolis school district last year, she received a base salary of just over $163,000. She also agreed to participate each year in a thorough evaluation of her job performance.

Peebles ended two days of closed-door discussions with school board members by acknowledging her performance needs improvement. She says she wants to be more accessible and accountable to the public.

"There were serious concerns with the board about management, and concerns that rose to the level where the community was losing credibility in the Minneapolis public schools," says Peebles. "We are working together on those specific goals and objectives, with the intent of enhancing accountability and improving the services we provide to all stake holders district-wide."

I hope this doesn't happen every year, because we're going to be evaluating the superintendent every year. That's part of good professional management.
- Joseph Erickson, Minneapolis school board chairman

Educators and parents have described Peebles' management style as intimidating. She admits she needs to work on what some critics see as an abrasive approach.

Peebles came from Cleveland with a reputation for turning around failing schools. She's given much of her attention the past year to helping the worst performing schools in Minneapolis. Most of those schools are located on the city's north side. Peebles says she will broaden her focus.

"I need to be superintendent for the entire city ... and be all over the place with everyone, making sure that I'm addressing all needs," Peebles says.

About two dozen supporters of the superintendent gathered at school district headquarters before the start of the board meeting. Several African American leaders claim the school board has put Peebles under unfair scrutiny after less than a year on the job. Duane Reed, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said Peebles deserves better.

"She's the superintendent that has closed the gap. In the last eight years, there's no superintendent that has done more in less time than her," says Reed. "We're not talking about style. We're talking about due process. We're talking about things that are in the best interest of all children, not just black children, all children in this district."

School board members are also praising Peebles' successes of the last year. They're pleased with the rise in test scores. Board Chairman Joe Erickson said he thinks the protests are the result of a misunderstanding of the situation. He stressed the board is conducting a normal, annual evaluation that is called for in the superintendent's contract.

"Unfortunately they didn't get that message, and felt like this was some sort of special effort to kick her out," says Erickson. "I hope this doesn't happen every year, because we're going to be evaluating the superintendent every year at this time of year. And that's part of good professional management, and the superintendent wants that."

The superintendent also wants her supporters to stick around. She thanked the people who had gathered at the school district office on her behalf, and asked them to stay involved to help her reach her goals.

School board members have not yet finalized the list of areas where Peebles must improve her performance. They also haven't set a timeframe. Another meeting is planned sometime in the next week to continue the discussion.

At the same time, uncertainty hangs over the St. Paul school district. Superintendent Pat Harvey learned on Monday that she is one of three finalists for the top job at Denver public schools. She had taken herself out of the running for that position last week, but then decided over the weekend that she wanted it.

Harvey, 58, has headed the St. Paul schools since 1999. She said she realized Denver was where the real professional challenge was, and her desire to stay in St. Paul had to do mostly with strong personal connections.

St. Paul school board chairwoman Elona Street-Stewart said it's too early to know if the board will try to change Harvey's mind. St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly said through a spokesman Monday he will do everything he can to keep Harvey in St. Paul.

In 2002, when the Portland, Ore., schools announced Harvey was one of two finalists for the superintendent's job there, St. Paul's political and business leaders pleaded with her to stay. She later withdrew from consideration for the post.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)