SALT LAKE CITY — A Minnesota educator has been selected as the next superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District.

The Salt Lake City Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to select Timothy Gadson III, associate superintendent of high schools with Anoka-Hennepin Schools in Anoka, Minnesota, as the district’s top administrator. He will be extended a two-year contract and will start in July.

Gadson is believed to be the first Black educator to lead a Utah school district, according to the Utah School Boards Association.

“If it is the case, I think it’s an honor and privilege. I think it’s the Salt Lake City School District Board, really being bold and audacious and wanting the best candidate for the position. I think that I bring some things to the district and I’m excited,” Gadson said.

Asked why the Salt Lake superintendency piqued his interest professionally, he said he has aspired to lead a diverse, urban school district. Ethnic minorities make up more than half of the Salt Lake district’s student population.

“I tell people being from the South and East Coast, Utah was a whole other world for me. I strive to be an excellent leader in an urban school district,” he said, adding that he has an uncle who lives in Los Angeles so the position will bring him closer to him.

“I’m looking for a district that actually needs me, not one that just needs a superintendent. When I looked at some of the issues and what’s happening in Salt Lake City, I thought that I was the person that the district was calling and I thought I could fill that need.” — Timothy Gadson, newly appointed Salt Lake City School District superintendent

“I have a 1-year-old who will be starting school soon and I’m looking for a district that actually needs me, not one that just needs a superintendent. When I looked at some of the issues and what’s happening in Salt Lake City, I thought that I was the person that the district was calling and I thought I could fill that need,” he said.

Board President Melissa Ford in a statement said the board selected “three great finalists,” but “Dr. Gadson stood out for his focus on putting students first. In a district with so much diversity, robust academic programming and a wide variety of student needs, we need a leader who will keep the focus where it needs to be: on our students.”

Board Vice President Nate Salazar added, “Dr. Gadson is a model of the most important attributes our community told us they wanted, and I know we’ll see great things from him here in the Salt Lake City School District.”  

Once on the job, Gadson said he plans to “listen and learn. I’ve really got to know from the inside out what is going on in the district, where their needs are and what resources we have to address those needs. I really don’t want to announce any big changes that I will bring because I think that devalues people and the work that’s already taken place in Salt Lake City and there have been some great things that I see taking place there.”

He said his focus will be to build on strengths, “strengthening what needs to be strengthened and getting rid of those things that are ineffective and a drain on resources so that we can bring in other things that will be more of a support for our students.”

One initiative Gadson said he plans to initiate is working with the school district foundation and community organizations to bring mental health therapists into Salt Lake schools.

“That’s a model that we have in my current district where students are able to see a therapist on the school campus during the school day and receive therapeutic treatment, and so providing that support where teachers are trained to identify and our student services staff, the psychologist, social worker, school counselors are there as a safety net to to work with students that need that support,” he said.

Asked about tumult on the school board that led to the resignation of Lexi Cunningham, the previous superintendent, and the district’s long-time business administrator Janet Roberts and other infighting that made headlines in the past year, Gadson said he can’t address what happened prior to his arrival but he plans to work on building relationships with board members “to make sure we keep students as our focus.”

The board’s unanimous vote for his selection was a vote of confidence, he said.

“They want to work with me and I want to work with them. I look forward to a strong and lasting relationship with the board,” Gadson said.

Gadson said he was teaching a graduate-level course in education leadership Tuesday night while also watching the Salt Lake School Board meeting on the internet “so like multitasking. I announced to my students what was going on and they gave me applause and that just made me feel even better. So I’m on cloud nine right now, extremely excited and just having to contain myself because I want to get to work right now.”

Gadson said his course syllabus says he aspires to be a superintendent.

“So tonight when I told them that my aspiration is no more because I have just been appointed a superintendent, they gave me a round of applause.”

Gadson was selected among three finalists, who also included Jharrett Bryantt, an executive leader in the Houston Independent School District, and Wendy González, superintendent of Page County Public Schools in Luray, Virginia.

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The board conducted a nationwide search and received 33 applications for the position with candidates from 19 states. The search was facilitated by the executive search firm Ray and Associates, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The finalists were announced on Feb. 10, and the candidates traveled to Salt Lake City last week for interviews with the school board, to visit schools and talk to employees, students, parents and community stakeholders.

Gadson received his bachelor’s degree in business economics and secondary education from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida, and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.

He has served as an assistant principal and principal at various levels in Broward County and Palm Beach County in Florida. He was also district director of secondary education while employed with Palm Beach County School District. He also led reform and transformation efforts at several high schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a private firm from 2010-12.

Gadson supervised high school operations for the Austin (Texas) Independent School District, served as associate superintendent with Atlanta Public Schools and was executive director of curriculum and schools with Robbinsdale Area Schools in New Hope, Minnesota. 

The Salt Lake City School District serves 21,460 students K-12. About 54% of Salt Lake students come from low-income households and more than one-third of its students are learning English as a second language. Some 90 languages are spoken by families in the district.

Larry Madden, a longtime science educator and administrator, has served as interim superintendent since July. He did not seek a permanent appointment and plans to retire from the school district later this year.

Madden succeeded Cunningham, who along with Roberts, served until the end of the 2019-20 school year.

Cunningham was later selected as the executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association.