Rochester Public Schools names interim superintendent
The School Board unanimously supported the decision.
Rochester Public Schools has named Kent Pekel as the interim superintendent for the next year, pending contract negotiations and a background check.
The Rochester School Board unanimously supported the decision Thursday night after discussing the merits of Pekel and the other two finalists.
During Thursday's meeting, the board members pointed out what they appreciated about Pekel's interview Tuesday. They also read comments they received from some of Pekel's references, and highlights from 27 community stakeholders who watched the process.
"So much of his professional experience and work in applying research dovetailed with the priorities that the district has right now and over the next year," said board member Cathy Nathan. She went on to say she was impressed to hear how he would work with the district's leadership "to not just have a static year, but to have a dynamic year of progress."
During Thursday's meeting, Board Chair Jean Marvin asked each member to name their first choice. Five of the seven board members named Pekel immediately. The other two board members said they supported Pekel as a choice, but wanted to sift through a couple issues before officially backing him.
Board members briefly discussed the fact that Pekel hasn't had any recent experience in a school setting. Since 2012, he has been the president and CEO of Search Institute. According to its website, the organization's mission is to partner "with organizations to conduct and apply research that promotes positive youth development and advances equity."
Pekel held a number of other positions prior to his time with Search Institute. For two years in the late '90s and early 2000s, he served as special assistant to the deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Education. From 2000 to 2005, he worked as the executive director for research and development at St. Paul Public Schools.
He received his undergraduate degree in East Asian studies at Yale University, his master's in social studies from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and his doctorate in organizational leadership, policy and development from the University of Minnesota.
Despite his notable roles, board member Melissa Amundsen said Pekel's lack of recent experience in a school district setting made her a little hesitant until she spoke to some of his references.
"While on paper, it may look like he is not working within the schools, he is working within multiple school districts at once through his current employment," she said. "That breadth of knowledge about how multiple districts work I think will go a long way toward making up any concerns somebody may have."
Other board members specifically pointed out his "nontraditional" career path as a strength.
"I was really taken with the sort of nontraditional route that Dr. Pekel has taken to get to this place — having worked in education at the local, the state and the federal level, (and) having taught overseas in China," Marvin said. "Sometimes in nontraditional times like now, you may need someone with a nontraditional approach."
In addition to his interview with the board, Pekel has been featured giving a TED Talk. Board member Julie Workman said Pekel's TED Talk was influential in her decision to support him for the position.
The board's current superintendent, Michael Muñoz, has resigned, effective June 30. The board decided to find an interim superintendent to allow more time to find a permanent replacement.
Pekel will hold the position for a year. However, in discussing the matter during a previous meeting, the board indicated it would not bar the interim superintendent from seeking the permanent position. The board members clarified, however, that the interim superintendent would have to go through the same application process as any of the other candidates for the permanent position.