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The St. Paul school board announced Wednesday it intends to keep Superintendent Joe Gothard at the helm of the state's second-largest school district.

Members agreed unanimously at the close of a positive, closed-door job review in July to pursue a new deal with the schools chief, Vice Chair Jessica Kopp said Wednesday.

Gothard is in the final year of a three-year contract paying him $240,000 annually.

The move to negotiate came after the board determined Gothard had raised his performance in four of six assessment areas from "effective" a year ago to "highly effective" — the highest mark given. This is after a year that saw St. Paul narrowly avert a teachers strike and enact a districtwide consolidation plan that closes and merges schools.

Board Member Jeanelle Foster, who served as chairwoman for much of the pandemic, said Gothard was a stabilizing force for kids and their education during that time.

"There's a road map for success for our students, and I would like you to be able to see the fruits of that labor," she told him during Wednesday's board meeting.

Said Gothard: "It is a great honor for me to lead the students, staff, families and community. ... It's something that I do not take for granted and that I work very hard at in terms of my individual craft [in determining how] we truly become the premier educational institution for the children in this community."

The board said there also was room for improvement and outlined three "key areas for growth," among them the development of reports monitoring student outcomes, a look into how culturally relevant instruction is affecting students and a dive into how the district can engage the community in a more culturally responsive way.

Gothard took over as superintendent in July 2017 and has seen considerable turnover among his school-board bosses. Foster and Zuki Ellis are the only members who have served throughout his tenure.

In recent years, Gothard has gone to the state Capitol to advocate for increased funding of schools. He has said not enough is being provided to cover services to special-education students and non-English speakers, leading to the siphoning of general-fund dollars.

At home, Gothard was credited in his job review with having visited more than 40 schools in just under six weeks near the end of the 2021-22 school year.

"These visits, which the superintendent noted were valuable to his understanding, included both joyful and difficult conversations with students and staff," the summary of his evaluation stated. "The board would like to see more of these two-way engagement opportunities as they increase understanding, trust and morale."

The board also noted that Gothard recognized early on that the district would face workforce shortages related to substitute teachers and bus drivers, and he employed strategies that included raising wages to try to keep pace.

The district reported recently that it had steered federal COVID relief money to private companies to help them with the recruitment and retention of bus drivers. The use of federal dollars for retention bonuses also was key to averting a teachers strike.

A recent tally of retention bonuses for licensed staff members — most being teachers — put the total cost at $10 million. Another $6.4 million went to nonlicensed staffers.