Brenda Cassellius

Most Recent Role:

Brenda Cassellius led the Minnesota Department of Education from 2010 until stepping down at the start of a new governor’s administration in January 2019.12 Under her leadership, Minnesota implemented a new alternative licensure system, passed new principal and teacher evaluation laws, and expanded access to quality early childhood education. 13As a leader, Cassellius developed a reputation for crossing partisan lines and engaging staff at all levels to improve department operations.

Home District Snapshot:

Minnesota’s public schools enroll 889,304 students,14 including more than 56,00015 students in public charter schools. Hispanic students make up 10% of enrollment in the state (compared to 42% of BPS students), and African American students make up 11% (compared to 34% of BPS students). English Language Learners make up 8% of enrollment statewide (compared to 32% of BPS students).

Previous Work Experience:

Cassellius began her education career in Minneapolis Public Schools in 1989 before rising to assume Assistant Principal roles in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.16 In 2004, she began a three-year tenure as Academic Superintendent of Shelby County Public Schools in Memphis, Tennessee. She returned to Minnesota in 2007, serving in Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent roles until her appointment as State Education Commissioner. 

Of Note:

  • Standardized Testing. In 2018, Cassellius said, “[O]ver the last two decades we have wrongly defined student success based solely on standardized tests, and our children’s access to rich and engaging learning environments has suffered because of it.” 17This position contributed to Cassellius’ decision to include attendance among the achievement based metrics used to hold schools accountable in Minnesota.
  • Charter Schools. Cassellius has established a balanced position on charter schools, actively seeking out federal grants for high-performing charters while also insisting that regulators must proactively intervene if charters underperform.18
  • As of April 2019, Cassellius is a semi-finalist in the running to become superintendent of Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District in Minnesota.19

Awards & Achievements:

  • Cassellius obtained federal approval to develop a homegrown accountability framework called the North Star system, which tracks schools across five metrics: academic achievement, academic growth, progress toward English language proficiency for students learning English, four- and seven-year graduation rates, and student attendance.20
  • Cassellius led the State Education Department in successfully applying for $45 million in federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grants to further develop and strengthen early education efforts.
  • Cassellius led the State Education Department in successfully applying for $28.2 million in Federal Public Charter Schools grants to design and implement high-quality charter schools.

11Photo Credit: MPR News.
12Minnesota Education Chief’s 5 Lesson’s Learned,” MPR News, January 2, 2019.
13Dr. Brenda Cassellius,” Minnesota Department Of Education.
14Statewide 2019 Enrollment By Race/Ethnicity,” Minnesota Department Of Education.
15A Primer On Minnesota Charter Schools,” Minnesota Association Of Charter Schools.
16Brenda Cassellius,” LinkedIn.
17New State Education Plan Aims For Equity, Designates More Help To More Schools,” Duluth News Tribune, August 30, 2018.
18Twin Cities Charter Schools More Segregated & Underperforming, Report Says,” MPR News, February 24, 2012.
19Former Minnesota Education Commissioner Tries For Burnsville Schools Top Job,” Twin Cities Tower Press, April 9, 2019.
20Minnesota’s New School Accountability System: How Is It Different — And How Is It Being Received?,” MinnPost, September 21, 2018.