by Mike Knaak
The Sartell-St. Stephen school district superintendent told the school board he intends to retire at the end of June.
In a letter to the school board, Jeff Schwiebert, who has led the district for seven years, thanked the community for its support. During his tenure, Schwiebert oversaw the funding and building of a new high school, major remodeling of the former high school and realignment of the district’s schools. As communities struggled this past summer with discussions of racism, he researched and the school board approved conducting an equity audit of the district’s practices and policies.
Schwiebert said he’s most proud of bringing stability to the district and helping to foster trust among the community, staff and school board.
He announced his retirement now, with six months of the school year left, so the board has time to conduct a search.
“There are a lot of things to get done in the next six months,” Schwiebert said.
When his time in the Sartell-St. Stephen school district ends, Schwiebert will have served 19 years as a superintendent – seven years in Sartell, five years in Eldridge, Iowa and seven at Mount Vernon, Iowa. Schwiebert’s career started as a teacher in Mount Vernon after graduating in 1981 with bachelor’s degrees in history and education from Cornell College in Mount Vernon. He then earned a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Iowa and a superintendent certificate from the University of Northern Iowa.
“Of all those places I’ve been, my wife and I consider the Sartell-St. Stephen community as our home,” he said.
A search for Schwiebert’s replacement is underway. At its Dec. 21 meeting, the board hired search firm School Exec Connect. Two longtime Minnesota educators and former superintendents, Bob Ostlund and Ken Dragseth, will lead the search for the firm. Ostlund outlined the process for the board starting with a Jan. 4 meeting to lay out the process and set a schedule. The firm will first conduct surveys and research that will be compiled into a candidate profile submitted to the board in late January. Then the firm will recruit and vet candidates and forward a slate of five to seven possible hires to the board in late February or early March. The board will narrow the applicants to two or three finalists for more in-depth, daylong interviews.
School Exec Connect also conducted the search that led to Schwiebert’s hiring in 2014.
Schwiebert wrote to the board: “My wife and I have enjoyed our seven years in the district, and we are now planning the next stage of our lives, retirement! We are not sure where we will end up but a major focus will be spending more time at the lake, traveling and spending time with our grandkids.”
Students will return to classrooms on Monday, Jan. 11, with pre-kindergarten through fifth graders returning to in-person instruction and sixth- through 12-graders moving to a hybrid schedule.
After Christmas break, students will continue distance learning Jan. 4-6. There will be no classes on Jan.7-8 as teachers prepare for a return to the classroom.
There will be no school on Friday, Jan. 22, a previously scheduled professional development day. If COVID-19 cases remain under control, grades six through 12 will tentatively return to in-person learning on Tuesday, Jan. 26.cIf in-person learning returns, there will be no classes for grades six through 12 on Monday, Jan. 25, as teachers prepare for the switch. The district will confirm plans for the week of Jan. 25 on Thursday, Jan. 14.
“Our kids need to get back to school,” said Human Resources Director Krista Durrwachter while outlining the plan for the school board.
Case numbers and absences have been dropping through Dec. 17 and show 22 student cases with 49 absences. Among staff, there have been five cases and 35 absences.
After the Dec. 21 Truth in Taxation, the board gave final approval for taxes to be collected in 2021. The board approved a levy of $11,701,873.28, a 3.11 percent increase from 2020. On a $250,000 home, the property tax will go down 2.95 percent from 2020 to $1,448. With a 7 percent market value increase on the $250,000 home, the property tax will increase 4.42 percent to $1,678.