Strom sees challenges, says he's ready to lead the Willmar School District
WILLMAR -- Mountain Lake Superintendent Bill Strom made no secret of the fact that he would face a big adjustment if hired as Willmar's new superintendent.
As School Board member Eric Roberts pointed out Tuesday evening, "We have more staff than you have students."
Strom told the Willmar School Board during a job interview Tuesday evening that he believed he could handle the transition from Mountain Lake to Willmar, with a student body about eight times as large.
The School Board is talking to three candidates this week in a second round of interviews to find a successor to Superintendent Kathy Leedom, who is retiring on July 31.
Depending on the district's professional staff would be an important part of his transition, Strom said. And he would spend a lot of time talking to staff and people in the community to learn about the district.
At Mountain Lake, Strom handles budget and personnel matters and acts as a principal. As a result, he said, he doesn't have much time to get involved in organizations that promote education or in community organizations.
Board member Sandi Unger told him that she would expect him to be more involved in Willmar.
Board member Dion Warne echoed that, and said he wrote the word, "Yikes!" in his notes a week ago when Strom said during his first interview that he wasn't now involved with service clubs or his local chamber.
"The excuse I'll make is that I'm busy in the district," Strom said, but he added that he would be interested in more community activities.
"The inspiring part of the job is all the things Kathy does," he said.
After spending time with Leedom on Tuesday afternoon, he said, he was confident that he would be able to make the transition and be able to expand his community involvement.
"Kathy would be a model for that," he said. "I would try as much as possible to be an individual but to emulate what she brought to the job."
Board member Shawn Mueske asked Strom how he would handle controversial curriculum issues like comprehensive sex education or evolution/creation.
Both can be thorny issues, Strom said, and someone who wants to make an issue in either case can create problems for a district.
On the sex education issue, he would try to gauge the feelings of people in the district in a curriculum. In Mountain Lake, a curriculum that presents abstinence and prevention is taught, he said.
Legal issues on the evolution/creation issue have already been decided, he said. Creation might be addressed as part of a social studies class or addressed in a teacher-approved special project, but not taught in science class. If he received a recommendation to purchase a text with intelligent design/creation ideas in it, "it wouldn't be approved, ... however much I might sympathize with those views."
Strom said he was impressed with the different programs Willmar was able to offer and would strive to work toward the school board's goal of providing a world-class education. In a small district like Mountain Lake, the goals are simpler, he said, "but I'm not incapable of that vision."
In addition, "you've got people here who, if I'm not thinking of it, they are," he added.
In response to other questions from the board, Strom said he would be willing to follow proper procedures to discipline or dismiss a tenured teacher or other employee for cause.
In those situations, he said, his main goal is to find the truth.
Strom said he has a situation in his district now, with an administrator being investigated with maltreatment. Board chairman Mike Carlson asked if he had followed all policies and procedures in that case, and Strom said he had. Roberts wanted to know if anything about his handling of the case could embarrass the Willmar district if he was hired, and Strom said it would not.
About 30 people, including members of the School Board, attended the community meeting Tuesday afternoon.
The search team from School Exec Connect moderated the meeting by reading written questions from audience members.
In one question, Strom was asked what his staff would call his best accomplishment. The level of integrity and stability he'd brought to the district, he said. His staff also knows that he will do his best to answer questions honestly, he said.
As to what his staff would say was his biggest mistake, his first answer was, "Nothing." As his audience chuckled, he turned serious and talked about the investigation of a staff member. He said he had made no public statements about it, citing data practices considerations. His staff and people in the community wanted him to say more, but he hasn't.
Strom said he saw funding, building relationships with minority groups and addressing building needs as the three biggest issues facing the district in coming years.
He promised to be accessible to the community. "I will visit with anybody who wants to talk to me," he said.