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Peebles out as Minneapolis superintendent

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Thandiwe Peebles has resigned as head of the Minneapolis public school system, ending a turbulent 18 months during which Peebles was criticized for an abrasive personality and use of district resources for personal business. Student test scores improve significantly during that time. (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
The Minneapolis school board has accepted the resignation of Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles, less than two years after she was hired. During her tenure, Peebles became embroiled in controversies over her management style and over allegations that she used district employees to conduct personal business for her. The board has named former school board chair Bill Green as interim superintendent.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Peebles was hired in June 2004, and controversy followed shortly thereafter. Almost immediately, there were complaints of Peebles' no-nonsense communications style, and several longtime district employees left.

Then, last year, allegations from an anonymous former employee surfaced. That employee claimed Peebles used district employees to run errands for her, during working hours. An investigation ensued.

Even though Peebles' lawyer says the investigation didn't contain any substantive evidence of wrongdoing, school board members reportedly began talking about how to get rid of her.

"We have accepted the resignation of superintendent Peebles," School Board Chairman Joseph Erickson said Friday morning to a crowd awaiting the news. "And we'll be moving forward, accepting her resignation and a settlement to complete her contract."

I and the school board understand that a close working relationship is essential for the improvement work to continue. And for a variety of reasons, that relationship has eroded.
- Thandiwe Peebles

Under the terms of the separation agreement, the board will pay Peebles some of the value left on her contract. And both sides agree not to talk in detail about the conditions under which Peebles resigned.

The district could have wound up paying Peebles around $250,000, but they settled on a total of $179,500. The agreement states that nothing in the settlement should be considered an admission that either party did anything wrong. And both sides agree not to make disparaging remarks about each other.

Peebles apparently took that to heart when she spoke at a community gathering Friday afternoon. She thanked her supporters, and told them she was leaving because she and the board couldn't work together.

"I and the school board understand that a close working relationship is essential for the improvement work to continue. And for a variety of reasons, that relationship has eroded," said Peebles. "I recognize that without the support and confidence of your employer, the work on behalf of children can't go forward."

The agreement can't and won't stop some members of the African American community from criticizing the board and its treatment of Peebles.

The announcement of her resignation at district headquarters was attended by a number of Peebles supporters. Some peppered school board officials with angry questions and statements. They accused the board of acting in secret, and against the best interests of students.

The Rev. Randy Staten co-chairs the Black Church Coalition and the African American Leadership Summit. He says Peebles was making improvements, and the board put that progress at risk by forcing her out.

"Let me talk about what she has accomplished. The entire district in the state of Minnesota was under academic watch under No Child Left Behind. There were eight corrective schools, seven were in Minneapolis. Dr. Peebles had led the leadership, that all of those schools that were under watch, right now have progressed are not under watch," said Staten.

However, Staten and other critics of the school board offered little criticism of the board's choice of Bill Green to serve as interim superintendent.

Green is a history professor at Augsburg College and former chair of the Minneapolis School Board. Green chaired the board during the late '90s, when activists and parents who were part of an educational adequacy lawsuit against the state regularly held noisy protests at district headquarters.

Green was greeted by a few hecklers who challenged his credentials. One audience member accused the board of using Green as a way to pacify angry black community members.

"I don't think the school board, certainly not the black community, is going to be easily misdirected just because I'm African American," said Green. "I think that you're not going to decide that everything is fine just because I'm here. I understand that."

Green says the first thing he wants to do is help stabilize the district, and help heal some of the rifts that have opened recently. However, he's offered no indication that he'd like to hang onto the job permanently. Green says he's happy teaching and isn't ready to move on just yet.

Board chair Joseph Erickson says the district has no immediate plans to begin the search for a new superintendent.