Graduate of St. Thomas' Collaborative Urban Educator Program picked to lead Minneapolis schools

While working as a financial analyst nearly 20 years ago, Bernadeia Johnson tried her hand at some volunteer work with the Minneapolis Public Schools. It got her thinking about a new career and in 1991 she signed up for a new program -- just starting at the University of St. Thomas' School of Education -- that was designed for people just like her: women and men from underrepresented populations who want to become teachers.

Johnson graduated as a member of the first cohort of the St. Thomas Collaborative Urban Educator Program (CUE) the following year.  She received her teaching license under the program and went on to complete her master's in curriculum and instruction here.  Today, she is on track to become superintendent of the Minneapolis Public School District.

The district, third-largest in the state with more than 34,000 students and a staff of more than 6,000, announced Jan. 20 that Johnson will lead the district when Bill Green, the current superintendent, retires this summer.  The Minneapolis School Board is scheduled to take a formal vote on her appointment on Feb. 9.

A public-private partnership, CUE now has 347 graduates who, like Johnson, have begun new careers in Twin Cities-area schools as teachers and administrators. 

The program was launched with support from the Minnesota Legislature who saw an increase of students of color in the state's urban school districts but a decrease in the number of teachers from underrepresented populations.  The legislature has continued to support the program, along with support from St. Thomas, urban and suburban school districts, and other private and public sources.

The CUE program was spearheaded by Dr. Trudi Taylor of the St. Thomas School of Education, who was joined by Ava Nielson of the Minneapolis School District and Dr. Jeanne Mortinson of the St. Paul School District.

"We couldn't be more proud and happy for Bernadeia," said Mortinson, who is now director of CUE.  "What the Minnesota Legislature did back in 1990 really set the stage and has allowed us to develop a cadre of CUE graduates who could join the school districts as teachers and eventually as leaders.

"Many factors had to come together for this to happen, but Bernadeia is truly an example of someone who needed to be in the field of teaching. She is approachable, fun and very bright. She always demonstrated the ability to see the big picture. We could see her potential when she was in our first CUE cohort; it was obvious from the way she quickly picked up on things."

Johnson, 50, was born in Selma, Ala., where she attended segregated schools until the fifth grade.  She often visited Minneapolis, where her grandmother was a principal of two elementary schools.  After graduating from Alabama A&M University with a degree in speech pathology, she worked in banking from 1979 until 1991, when she entered the CUE program.

She began her new career as a fifth-grade teacher at Highwood Hills in St. Paul in 1992, and went on to serve as an assistant principal and principal in St. Paul and Minneapolis schools. She served as deputy superintendent of schools in Memphis from 2004 to 2005, when she returned to Minneapolis as deputy superintendent and later, chief academic officer.