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June 22, 2005
Minneapolis public schools Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles is making good on her pledge to do a better job representing the entire city. Peebles found a welcoming audience in southwest Minneapolis Tuesday night as she held a town hall meeting on issues facing the school district. The appearance came just one week after school board members put the superintendent on notice to improve her leadership style. But parents at the meeting appeared more worried about school finances than leadership style.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Thandiwe Peebles met privately with Minneapolis school board members last week to review her first year as superintendent. Reports that her job might be in jeopardy transformed the process into a public spectacle. Peebles emerged from the evaluation promising to change an approach that some had described as too abrasive. Peebles showed her softer side to about 200 parents and school district employees who gathered at Burroughs elementary school. She also highlighted some tough decisions she's made this year.
"As you know there were seven corrective action schools in the state of Minnesota, eight actually, seven were in Minneapolis," Peebles said. "I took direct supervision of those schools. And we began to do some kind of things in those schools that would enable the achievement to move forward."
Peebles appeared comfortable and confident fielding questions from the audience. Concerns about her style never came up.
Parent Dan Berg briefly thanked Peebles for her leadership and blamed last week's dust up on what he viewed as rumors, misinformation and racism. He then moved on to his concerns about budget cuts and the loss of young teachers.
"I'm sure each of us in this room could tell you a story about how some inspiring, young teacher has affected our children and their classmates and been rewarded with a pink slip," Berg said.
No school in Minneapolis has been immune to teacher layoffs, and the issue was repeated often during the meeting. The Minneapolis school district is facing a $24 million deficit this year and another round of painful budget cuts. Declining enrollment numbers are compounding the financial pinch.
Following the meeting, parent Pam Hermanson said she likes Superintendent Peebles' style. But she doesn't like the school district's direction, which she described as a downward spiral.
"This is the worst situation I've ever been in in trying to parent a child in a school system," Hermanson said. "And I'm in a total quandary about what to do."
This was the superintendent's third town hall meeting. Previous sessions were held on the city's north side. Another criticism raised during last week's job review was that Peebles might be spending too much time on the north side. After her session at Burroughs, Peebles said parents throughout the city are raising the same key points.
"Budgeting, shortage of dollars and how it's affecting programs." Peebles said. "So, I think it's something collectively we do have unity and have something that we can begin to rally around in terms of the future."
Peebles said she hoped the people who attended the meeting got a better understanding of what she's trying to do as superintendent and where she's trying lead the school district. She declined to evaluate her presentation, but one school board member offered a glowing review. Peggy Flanagan said Peebles surpassed all expectations.
"I think she did a really good job," Flanagan said. "I was quite moved and really excited. I think that this is the positive energy that we need, and after last week, a way to get us back on track. And I'm just sort of renewed in my excitement to work with her."
Flanagan said she wants the superintendent to hold more town hall meetings. Peebles announced plans to continue the series, with at least two more events later this summer.