The Minneapolis Public Schools board of education interviewed two candidates for superintendent, Dr. Sonia Stewart and Dr. Lisa Sayles-Adams, earlier this week prior to selecting a finalist on Dec. 1. The selection will replace Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox as a permanent superintendent, the first since Ed Graff resigned in March of 2022

The board voted to delay the search in January of 2023 in the midst of community engagement for the superintendent search. Community members said that they wanted trust, authentic relationships and communication from the new superintendent throughout the community engagement listening sessions.

Sonia Stewart

The board interviewed Stewart, the first of two finalists for the permanent role of superintendent, on Monday. Stewart is currently serving as the deputy superintendent of Hamilton County Public Schools in Tennessee. 

The district includes Chattanooga and surrounding communities.

After Stewart presented her plan for her first 100 days as superintendent, board members asked pre-written questions, and did not respond to Stewart’s answers.

Stewart shared some of her experiences relevant to Minneapolis. During her time working in Tennessee, the state adopted a “science of reading” approach to literacy instruction. Minneapolis Public Schools is currently beginning the process of moving to “science of reading” as part of The Read Act approved by the legislature in May.

To address persistent gaps in academic outcomes for students of color, Stewart said she believes that access to high quality core classroom instruction for all students is the single most important strategy districts can use.

According to Stewart, Hamilton County schools are in the midst of a facilities consolidation process similar to what the Minneapolis board is calling “school transformation.” She shared that in response to community feedback on an initial plan, the district has already made some changes.

Like Minneapolis Public Schools, Hamilton County schools also use a priority-based budgeting process. Stewart said that in her role as deputy superintendent she has been involved in all parts of the district’s budgeting process.

Some of Stewart’s answers highlighted the differences between school districts in Tennessee and Minnesota. For example, she has not had any experience negotiating with public sector unions during her time as an administrator. And she shared about working with county and city politicians to secure additional school funding in Hamilton County. In Minnesota, school funding is determined primarily by the State, while local voters can approve some additional funds through the referendum process.

In her answers, Stewart shared personal details, including her experiences as a student of color in a predominantly white school system, the importance of basketball in keeping her engaged in school, and that she is the mother of four adult children, grandmother of two and married for twenty-eight years.

Prior to her work in Hamilton County, Stewart worked for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Stewart earned her doctorate from Vanderbilt University.

Lisa Sayles-Adams

The board interviewed Sayles-Adams, the second of two finalists for the permanent role of superintendent on Wednesday. Sayles-Adams is currently serving as the superintendent of Eastern Carver County Schools in Minnesota. The district includes Chanhassen and Chaska. 

As requested by the board, Sayles-Adams presented her plan for her first 100 days as superintendent, which included a commitment to engage with diverse stakeholders and communicate with transparency. Board members asked pre-written questions, and did not respond to Sayles-Adams’s answers or presentation.

Sayles-Adams described herself as a “data-driven” leader. She explained how, in her current role, she developed a strategic plan in collaboration with district staff that includes key metrics for measuring progress at both the district and school level. She also shared that Chanhassen Elementary School, one of the schools in Eastern Carver County, was recently named one of 353 Blue Ribbon Schools nationwide.

Eastern Carver County Schools is currently operating under a federal consent decree agreed to after six Black students filed a lawsuit against the district alleging systematic racism in Chaska schools. The consent decree was reached in 2019, before Sayles-Adams became superintendent in 2020. The allegations involved students in elementary, middle and high school. Sayles-Adams described the anti-racism and anti-bullying training the district has undertaken to comply with the consent decree. 

Sayles-Adams began her career as a teacher in Minneapolis 28 years ago. She told the board that returning to the district as superintendent would bring her “full circle.”

Prior to becoming the superintendent in Eastern Carver County, Sayles-Adams worked in St. Paul Public Schools and North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale as an assistant superintendent. 

The board will vote on a permanent superintendent on Friday at 4 p.m. Community members can reach out to board members in support of either candidate prior to the meeting. The meeting is open to the public at Davis Center, or can be streamed online.