March 26, 2006

5 Finalists Will Meet and Greet: District Expected to Pick New Superintendent This Week After Public, Private Auditions

By Doug Belden, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Mar. 26--Five finalists for the St. Paul schools superintendent job will meet the public Monday. Among them are a pilot, an avid backpacker, a book-club devotee, a news junkie and one who grew up in a family of 17.

All but one are seeking to leave their current jobs after two years or less to lead an organization that prides itself on keeping its chief executives for three times that long.

They'll audition to take over an urban district that many say is heading in the right direction.

Test scores improved during Superintendent Pat Harvey's six years, though black and Hispanic students in particular struggle to close the achievement gap with whites.

The district has had to cut $65 million from its budget in the past six years, and an $8 million deficit is forecast for 2006-07. Right away, the next superintendent will be faced with the prospect of rallying public support for a levy renewal this fall.

Another challenge: Enrollment. The district's has declined about 9 percent in the past seven years because of changing demographic and housing patterns in the city, as well as competition from charter schools. The slide has been at the heart of two controversial initiatives this school year: revamping Humboldt Senior High and the proposed breaking up and relocation of Parkway Elementary. A new superintendent inherits the controversy.

Even with the lagging student numbers, St. Paul is the state's second-largest district. Its 42,000 students are divided into roughly equal populations of black, Hmong and white -- at just under 30 percent each -- with 12 percent Latino and 2 percent American Indian.

School board members and citizens have said a key criterion they'll use in evaluating candidates over the two-day round of interviews is their experience successfully managing in diverse environments.


Who: Meria Carstarphen, 36, chief accountability officer for District of Columbia Public Schools since 2004, married.

Key experience: Oversees assessment, professional development and student services for 60,000-student district. Past experience as executive director for comprehensive school improvement and accountability in Kingsport (Tenn.) City Public Schools; special assistant to the superintendent of Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools; principal intern at a middle school in Boston; teacher in Selma (Ala.) City Public Schools.

Why here: Trained to work in urban district, and St. Paul is "a model school system in a sea of urban districts."

Potential pluses: Seen by some as rising star; administrative and classroom experience; significant authority in a challenging district.

Potential minuses: No ties to Minnesota. Youngest candidate, has had six jobs in the last 10 years. She says the short job tenures reflect her ability to pack years' worth of work into a year's time.

Personal: Enjoys photography, kayaking and water skiing, flying planes, gourmet cooking.

Judy Elliott

Who: Judy Elliott, 45, assistant superintendent in Long Beach (Calif.) Unified School District since 1999, single.

Key experience: Credited in current job with rebuilding special-education delivery system in 94,000-student district. Past experience as researcher and teacher at University of Minnesota; school psychologist and high school special-education teacher in New York; adjunct professor at State University of New York at Buffalo.

Why here: Seeking new challenge after seven years, committed to urban education, loves Twin Cities, impressed by gains St. Paul made under Pat Harvey. "I've been watching St. Paul, the movement and the growth."

Potential pluses: Experience in diverse urban district, expertise in special education, long tenure in current job.

Potential minuses: On paper, focus on special education may seem narrow, though it is a crucial area for schools and Elliott has expertise in other areas as well.

Personal: Avid backpacker, plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this summer.

Bernadeia Johnson

Who: Bernadeia Johnson, 46, deputy superintendent of Memphis (Tenn.) City Schools since 2004, married, two children.

Key experience: Currently works to develop principals in 119,000-student district led by former Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson. Past experience as principal at Elizabeth Hall Community School in Minneapolis; assistant principal at Saturn Riverfront Academy in St. Paul (now Wellstone Elementary); teacher at Highwood Hills Elementary in St. Paul; financial analyst for First Bank System in Minneapolis.

Why here: Opportunity to work in district that's focused on challenges of urban students and "has a quiet confidence about it." Also emotional pull to area where she has roots and family ties. (Her husband is living in the Twin Cities while her daughter finishes her last year at Johnson High School in St. Paul.)

Potential pluses: Strong local ties; mentored by known and respected superintendent.

Potential minuses: No doctorate, though she is done with all but her dissertation at the University of Minnesota. Relatively brief experience as district administrator.

Personal: Has enjoyed book club, investment club, involvement in her children's activities.

Bernard Oliver

Who: Bernard Oliver, 56, director of University of Florida Alliance since 2005, married, four children.

Key experience: Current work aimed at improving low-performing schools. Past experience as assistant superintendent for high school education in Virginia Beach City Public Schools (76,000 students); professor and director of Center for Educational Partnerships at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; dean/professor at College of Education at Washington State University; dean of the College of Education at St. Cloud State University.

Why here: Trained to work in urban schools, has applied for several superintendent positions in recent years, impressed by Harvey's work in St. Paul. "You don't want to wipe out the progress that she's made." St. Paul should strive to provide "world-class education."

Potential pluses: Experience forming school partnerships; focus on needs of urban schools; work with diverse populations.

Potential minuses: Most of career spent in higher education, not K-12. Also a few hiccups on his public record, including receiving a no-confidence vote while at UMKC and being named in gender-discrimination suit while at Washington State. He says no-confidence vote was while he was education school dean, and such votes were not uncommon for that position. The discrimination suit at Washington State involved him in his role as dean, but "those claims were not against me," he said. "My record in terms of diversity speaks for itself."

Personal: Likes to golf, read and garden. Grew up in family of 17. Birthday is Tuesday, the day the board is scheduled to make its hiring decision.

Kent Pekel

Who: Kent Pekel, 38, senior policy associate at the National Center on Education and the Economy since 2005; married, three children.

Key experience: Currently working with states to develop educational systems that replicate worldwide best practices. Past experience as executive director of research and development for St. Paul Public Schools under Pat Harvey; special assistant to deputy secretary of education in Washington, D.C.; social studies/global studies teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Bloomington; English language instructor for Yale-China Association in Wuhan, China.

Why here: Enjoys current job, but "I've always planned to apply for the superintendent job in St. Paul, since before I left the district." Says he represents continuity, but "continuity in St. Paul right now is going to require change." His vision will be "education for globalization."

Potential pluses: Knows the district; seen by some as logical heir to Harvey; product of St. Paul Public Schools and has kids in them (eldest, 10, at Capitol Hill).

Potential minuses: No doctorate, might be seen as lacking relevant experience. Some concern about his ability to meet licensure requirement in timely manner. He says state would allow him to operate as licensed while working toward complete licensure within two years.

Personal: "News junkie," spending time with family, active in church in St. Paul.

Doug Belden can be reached at [email protected] or 651-228-5136.


5:30 to 6:30 p.m. -- Meet the candidates, Arlington High School, 1495 Rice St.

6:45 to 9:35 p.m. -- Candidate presentations and Q&A. Questions can be submitted at the meet-and-greet event, online at or at the district office at 360 Colborne St. The event will be televised live on St. Paul cable channel 16 starting at 6:45 p.m.


8 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. -- School board interviews candidates at 360 Colborne St. Public welcome. Board expected to announce hiring decision Tuesday evening.


Copyright (c) 2006, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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