Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff will leave the school district when his contract expires June 30, closing out a six-year tenure marked by a sweeping redesign and the first teachers strike in decades.
The district announced his coming departure Wednesday, and Graff notified school board members of his decision by e-mail.
"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 the decision was a difficult one made after prayer and careful consideration.
Graff did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday afternoon.
Board Chair Kim Ellison said in a statement that Graff brought "equity-driven structural changes, and kept students and staff safe and learning through a pandemic."
"Always with students as the focus, Superintendent 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 following a nearly three-week teachers strike.
But some Minneapolis school board members, union leaders and people in the community have questioned Graff's leadership for months.
The school board voted 5-4 in October to begin negotiating a contract extension with Graff. That extension had not yet come back before the board for approval.
The district said it will soon share plans about appointing an interim leader and a search process for a permanent superintendent.
The board's October vote came after members met in a closed meeting to evaluate Graff's leadership across standards of literacy, district finances, human resources and student supports. Board members determined that Graff's effectiveness on literacy was "developing" and he was an "effective" leader in two other areas, Ellison said then. The board rated him "highly effective" in the student-support category.
In his letter, Graff listed major accomplishments, including centralizing the city's magnet schools, mandating ethnic studies courses for graduating seniors, revising the district's enrollment and lottery processes, and expanding offerings in Hmong and Somali.
Leaders of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers issued a statement urging the district to name an interim superintendent "committed to bringing our school communities together to collectively decide who our next superintendent should be."
Union chapter presidents Greta Callahan and Shaun Laden said they look forward to working with the school board, families and employees to find a superintendent "through an open and authentic process."
Board Member Adriana Cerrillo, who voted against renewing Graff's contract, said she was "relieved" to receive Graff's letter.
"Leadership matters. He made the right decision to not seek another contract," Cerrillo said 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 contentious Tuesday night meeting marked by interruptions from students opposed to school calendar changes to make up for time lost during the strike.
Graff left shortly after the students, chanting into bullhorns, burst into the meeting. When students questioned his departure, he said he would not tolerate their profanity.
Board Member Nelson Inz said the last month has been difficult for district leadership, students and families, and he "hopes we can turn the page and move forward constructively for the benefit of our children."
Inz said Graff "led with a great deal of integrity."
During Graff's tenure, the district undertook a controversial redistricting plan that redrew boundaries — sending thousands of students to new schools last fall — in an attempt to distribute resources more equitably.
The decision to move forward with that redesign during the pandemic prompted an outcry from some parents.
Though district leaders want the redesign to attract new families to the city's schools, the gains aren't predicted to come in the near future, and the enrollment decline this year was even steeper than the district's projection.
The district is down more than 7,000 students since Graff began as superintendent.
Enrollment is anticipated to continue dropping by at least 1.5% each year for the next five years. Declining numbers also likely means less money from the state, which allocates funding per pupil.
Before the contract agreements were reached with the union, the district was projecting a $21.5 million budget shortfall, despite the use of $75 million in one-time federal relief money. The cost of the union agreements has not been released.
Kenneth Eban, executive director of the Advancing Equity Coalition, said in a statement that Graff's departure will come at a "particularly vulnerable moment" for the district.
Leadership changes, potential budget cuts and some of the largest academic disparities in the nation mean the next superintendent will have "tough decisions ahead of them," he said, adding that he hopes the new leader focuses on improving academic outcomes for students of color and Indigenous students.
Sondra Samuels, president and CEO of Northside Achievement Zone, echoed the sentiment in a statement, writing that the district has an opportunity to reset.
Samuels thanked Graff for his leadership, which "helped lay the foundation for creating a more racially equitable district" by supporting protections for 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, making reference to the effects of the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd.
"The unforeseen challenges we have endured reinforced my belief that it is critically important for large urban districts not to chase the latest fads or drop initiatives after one or two years in search of a quick fix," he wrote. "To this end, we remained 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 unsuccessful superintendent searches.
Before coming to Minneapolis, he was the superintendent in Anchorage, Alaska, where he 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.