Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff will leave the school district when his contract expires on June 30, signing a six-year tenure with the district marked by major remodeling and the first teachers’ strike in decades.
The district announced his impending departure on Wednesday, and Graff emailed school board members of his decision.
“For the past six years, the Minneapolis Public Schools board of directors has given me the extraordinary opportunity to fulfill a life calling and make a difference in the lives of children,” Graff wrote in a letter to board members. He noted that after prayer and careful consideration, the decision was a difficult one.
Graff did not respond to a request for an interview on Wednesday afternoon.
Board chairman Kim Ellison said in a statement that Graff “has brought about equity-driven structural change and ensured that students and staff have remained safe and learning during a pandemic.”
“Always with students as a focus, Chief Inspector Graff has brought systemic and transformational change to MPS during an extremely challenging time in our history,” she wrote.
The news of the leadership change comes just days after the district’s 28,700 students returned to class after the teachers’ strike that lasted nearly three weeks.
But some members of the Minneapolis school board, union leaders and people in the community have questioned Graff’s leadership for months.
The Minneapolis school board voted 5-4 in October to negotiate a contract extension with Graff. That extension had not yet been returned to the board for approval.
The district said it will soon share plans to appoint an interim chief and a search for a permanent inspector.
That October vote came after board members met in a private meeting to evaluate Graff’s leadership in literacy, district finance, human resources and student support. Board members determined that Graff’s effectiveness in literacy was “evolving” and that he was an “effective” leader in two other areas, Ellison said at the time. The board rated him “very effective” in the student support category.
In his letter, Graff listed achievements he was proud of, including centralizing the city’s magnet schools, making ethnic studies courses mandatory for graduating seniors, overhauling the district’s enrollment and lottery processes, and expanding its offerings. in Hmong and Somalia.
Leaders of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers released a statement urging the district to “name an interim superintendent committed to bringing our school communities together to collectively decide who should be our next superintendent.”
Union Chapter presidents Greta Callahan and Shaun Laden said they look forward to working with the school board, families and employees to find an inspector “through an open and authentic process.”
School board member Adriana Cerrillo, who voted against Graff’s contract extension, said she was “relieved” to receive Graff’s letter.
“Leadership is important. He made the right decision not to seek a new contract,” Cerrillo said on Wednesday. “My hope is that we come together as one for the sake of our children.”
Board members received the letter the morning after a controversial Tuesday evening meeting.
That meeting was interrupted by students who opposed changes to the school calendar to make up for lost learning time during the strike.
Graff left the meeting shortly after the students entered, chanting into megaphones. When students questioned his departure, he said he would not tolerate their profanity. He did not return.
Board member Nelson Inz said the past month has been difficult for district leaders, students and families, and he “hopes we can turn the page and move forward constructively for the sake of our children.”
Inz said Graff “led with great integrity.”
During Graff’s tenure, the district has undergone a controversial reclassification plan that involved revising attendance limits — sending thousands of students to new schools last fall — in an effort to distribute resources more fairly.
The decision to go ahead with that redesign during the pandemic sparked outrage from some parents.
While district leaders want the redesign to attract new families to the city’s schools, gains aren’t predicted for the foreseeable future, and the drop in enrollment this year has been even stronger than the district’s projection.
The district has had more than 7,000 students since Graff started as an inspector.
The district expects enrollment to continue to decline by at least 1.5% per year over the next five years. Falling numbers probably also mean less money from the state, which distributes money per student.
Before the contract agreements with the union were reached, the district projected a $21.5 million budget deficit, despite using $75 million in one-time federal aid funds.
The costs of the union agreements have not been disclosed.
Kenneth Eban, the executive director of the Advancing Equity Coalition, said in a statement that Graff’s departure this summer “comes at a particularly vulnerable time” for the district.
Changes in leadership, potential budget cuts and some of the biggest academic differences in the nation mean the next inspector will have “tough decisions ahead of them,” he said, adding that he hopes the next leader focuses on improving academic results for students of color and native students.
Sondra Samuels, president and CEO of Northside Achievement Zone, echoed the sentiment in a statement, writing that the district has a chance to reset.
Samuels thanked Graff for his leadership, which “helped lay the foundation for creating a more racially just neighborhood” by supporting protection of teachers of color, reducing the number of racially isolated schools, and centralizing magnet schools.
In his letter to the school board, Graff reflected on his tenure, referring to the effects of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.
“The unforeseen challenges we have endured reinforced my belief that it is critical for major urban districts not to follow the latest fads or drop initiatives in search of a quick fix after one or two years,” he wrote. “To this end, we stayed focused on the key levers previously identified to improve outcomes for all students.”
Graff, who is originally from Bemidji, was hired to lead the district in 2016 after two failed searches by the inspector.
Before coming to Minneapolis, he was the superintendent in Anchorage, Alaska. There he had spent most of his career in education, as a teacher, principal and administrator.
Read Graff’s letter to the board below:
Staff Writer Emma Nelson contributed to this report.