MPS names new superintendent

Lisa Sayles-Adams began career as teacher in North Minneapolis, and is neice of former Minneapolis mayor

Minneapolis Public Schools is getting a new superintendent in February.
On Dec. 1, with the support of both southside school board directors, the Minneapolis Public School (MPS) Board of Education approved the selection of Lisa Sayles-Adams to become the next superintendent of the city’s public school system. 
“This is a full-circle moment for me,” said Sayles-Adams. “I began my career in education working as a teacher in North Minneapolis and that’s where I learned that strong schools make a strong community. I am honored and thank the school board for their vote of confidence in my commitment to serve as the next superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools. I look forward to partnering with teachers, students, staff and the community to make sure every student gets the high-quality education they deserve.”
On Dec. 12, the board approved a starting date of Feb. 5 and a salary of $107,423 to finish out this 2023-24 contract year. They also approved a three-year contract that runs from July 1, 2024-June 30, 2027, with salaries of $266,000, $271,000 and $276,000 each year.  
Rochelle Cox, who has been serving as the interim superintendent since the resignation of Ed Graff on June 30, 2022, was also awarded a contract and will stay on as associate superintendent. 
“We are thrilled Dr. Sayles-Adams will lead Minneapolis Public Schools into the future and are excited about her deep educational experience, passion for lifting students up and proven track record of improving student performance at public schools,” said Board Chair Sharon El-Amin. “She will provide both a vision and a strategy for continued growth for every student at MPS regardless of their background or zip code.”
The selection of Dr. Lisa Sayles-Adams, who is currently the Superintendent of Eastern Carver County Schools in Minnesota, followed a formal search process that started this fall and culminated in the two finalists, Dr. Sonia Stewart and Sayles-Adams getting a “Day in the District” that included community meet and greet events and school board interviews on Nov. 27 and 29.  
This was followed by a discussion and vote by the board at the meeting on Dec. 1. 
‘Leader we need right now’
Most school board directors spoke in favor of Sayles-Adams. Southside’s District 5 Director, Lori Norvell, cited Sayles-Adams’ experience working with union leaders, improved graduation rates and her history working in Minnesota as reasons for hiring her. District 5 includes most of greater Longfellow, Nokomis, and Standish-Ericson. “She is knowledgeable about Minnesota state budgets,” Norvell said. “She is ready to hit the ground running.” 
Faheema Feerayarre is the southside’s District 3 Director. District 3 includes Phillips, Central, Powderhorn Park, Corcoran, Bryant, Seward, Cedar Riverside and parts of Longfellow and Cooper.   
“Sayles-Adams is the leader we need right now,” said Feerayarre. “She knows what it’s like to be a teacher in our district. She knows what it’s like to be a leader in our district and I think she will make a positive change.” Feerayarre highlighted a student superintendent advisory group Sayles-Adams discussed at her interview and said, “We need someone who can connect with not just the leadership but also the families and the students and values their opinions, asks about what they want, and how they feel and what they need.”
Some preferred outsider
Sayles-Adams grew up in the area, graduated from St. Paul Public Schools, and attended the University of Minnesota. Her aunt is former Minneapolis mayor and city council member Sharon Sayles-Belton, who now lives in the Cooper neighborhood.  
After working as a teacher and principal in Minneapolis, Sayles-Adams was a principal for a high school and two elementary schools from 2004 to 2012 in Clayton County Schools in Georgia. Then she returned to be an assistant superintendent in St. Paul, before moving to Eastern Carver County in 2020. 
Stewart has no experience living or working in Minnesota. She is currently Deputy Superintendent for the Hamilton County Public Schools in Chattanooga Tenn. and has also worked in Los Angeles, and Chicago. 
The two southwest area MPS directors, Ira Jourdain from District 6 and Adriana Cerrillo from District 4, spoke in support of Stewart as the new superintendent and were the only directors of the nine who did not support Sayles-Adams.
“It’s time to take a leap of faith and have an outsider, versus having an insider,” said Cerrillo. “When we talk about having a superintendent who serves as a healing presence, we better have no strings attached. We better have an individual that is not going to be coming to MPS to benefit their career or their political future.” 
“I just cannot in good conscience hire a director who has seen a decline in test scores among our students with the most needs, our African American students, our Latino, Black and Brown students, our Native American students,” said Jourdain. He pointed to research about Eastern Carver County schools showing that, while graduation rates have increased in recent years for students of color, standardized test scores had not. 
At-large Director, Joyner Emerick cited Sayles-Adams’ work in St. Paul. She said, “There is tremendous value to knowing some of the history in Minnesota and in the metropolitan area pertaining to this long-term work pertaining to the intersection of race and disability for our students.”
‘This is a no brainer’
Her history with the city and metropolitan area has been noted by non-board members, as well. 
“I’m a Sayles-Adams team all the way,” said former school board director and Powderhorn resident, David Tilson. “I thought her interview was, well actually kind of inspiring. I also like that she’s local and committed to staying for more than a few years. This revolving door of Superintendents has not been a good thing.”
“This is a no brainer in my opinion,” said Dan McGuire, a former MPS teacher who lives in Ericsson. “Dr. Lisa Sayles-Adams is a Minnesotan. She started working in the MPS the same month that I did, in August 1996. She’s moved for work and gained perspective from other environments, but has roots in the Twin Cities.”
“It’s possibly good that she knows the school system, and therefore will have a better understanding of the issues,” said Elizabeth Greenbaum, who lives in the Howe neighborhood. Greenbaum is the Executive Director of Articulture, an arts education business located in Seward, and has partnered with the schools to provide art classes. Her two children attended MPS schools. 
“Reports imply that she is both level-headed and community minded,” said Greenbaum. “With that in mind, having experienced extreme contention with the last superintendent, I feel it can only go up from here.”
“Transition of leadership is one of the most crucial periods for any school district,” Sayles-Adams said in her interview. She said, if selected, she would consider it “crucial to establish a formal entry plan to create a culture of trust, transparency and collaboration that reflects the mission, vision and values of Minneapolis public schools.”
‘Rebuild the broken trust’
“I wish she would come up with a growth plan for the MPS and not just accept the gradual chipping away that’s been the norm for so many years,” said McGuire. “What would it take for the MPS to be a district of choice in the metro area?” 
“The board needs to have discussions and set clear expectations for the new administration,” said Tilson. “This needs to include of course the budget and the spending crisis.” Tilson noted that buildings, consolidations, and contract negotiations are all critically important things to address, as well as top-heavy administration, class sizes, arts, social workers, nurses, counselors, enrichment, and special ed. 
“If the general public believed that every Minneapolis school should have facilities like Wayzata or Minnetonka, her job would still be very difficult, but manageable,” said McGuire.
“I think this is going to be an incredibly, incredibly tough job,” said Norvell. “I totally think that Dr. Sayles Adams is up for the challenge.”
“I’m excited to have her come in and help us rebuild the broken trust, the broken relationships and build everyone together,” said Feerayarre.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here