by Mike Knaak
The team leading the search for a new Sartell-St. Stephen school superintendent found focus groups and online survey responses agreed on the district’s goals, strengths, challenges and a profile for the next district leader.
During six focus groups Jan. 14-15, Bob Ostlund and Ken Dragseth from School Exec Connect interviewed about 80 people. The focus groups included parents, community members, staff, teachers and school board members.
“To a very high degree, the input correlated between the groups,” Ostlund said. “That’s reflective of a healthy situation.”
The focus group responses closely matched responses from the 372 people who answered an online survey. Ostlund said 73 percent of the responses were from parents of current students or whose children were students in the last five years.
“I’ve never seen parent participation that high,” Ostlund said.
By early March, the school board aims to hire a superintendent to replace Jeff Schwiebert who is retiring on June 30 after seven years leading the district.
The team’s research revealed the new superintendent’s goals should be to improve and enhance academic achievement, implement the equity audit now underway and address student mental health needs.
The survey summary showed district strengths include a high regard for staff and the high expectations they set. Responses also cited new facilities, strong academics, the amount of parent and community support and the many academic and activity options for students.
Addressing equity issues and embracing diversity was by far the top challenge, Ostlund said. “The district’s lack of diversity makes it harder to prepare students for life outside the district,” he said.
The online survey reinforced those opinions with an emphasis on maintaining programs for all types of students’ needs, addressing emotional and mental health and maintaining the district’s strong fiscal health.
In searching for a new superintendent, the next leader should be a team builder, be visible and approachable, address equity issues and build a positive working relationship with the board. The profile also includes leadership issues such as hiring and motivating a talented staff and setting high expectations.
In the final report, board member Matt Moehrle asked that addressing mental health services as students return to school following COVID-19 restrictions be a high priority. He also sees dedication to equity and diversity issues as a priority.
“Equity needs to be a goal,” Moehrle said. He’s looking for a superintendent with experience with equity issues and experience implementing ways to learn.
School Connect Exec’s final report will be used when the focus groups interview candidates to see how candidates match that profile.
Superintendent recruitment will take place through Feb. 24. On March 1, the consultants will present five or six candidates to the board. The board will pick two or three finalists for in-depth interviews and then make an offer to the top candidate.
2021-22 school calendar approved
The school board approved at its Jan. 25 meeting the 2021-22 school calendar. Classes will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 7. Friday, June 3, 2022, will be the last day of school with high school graduation on Saturday, June 4, 2022. Spring break will be the week of March 28-April 1, 2022.