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School Board focuses on qualities of new superintendent

WILLMAR -- The new Willmar superintendent should have a clear vision for the school district, have good communication skills, and appreciate the value of the community's diversity.

Representatives of the School Exec Connect search firm heard that message two weeks ago when they talked with members of the School Board and conducted meetings with eight focus groups.

The results of those meetings are included in a report the firm provided for the School Board recently.

The report also incorporates comments from surveys that were available to community members online and at school offices.

The board hired the firm to help in the search for a successor for Superintendent Kathy Leedom, who plans to retire this summer. Leedom has been superintendent since 2000 and was assistant superintendent in Willmar for six years before that.

She announced her retirement in December.

The meetings with community members went well, said Kenneth Dragseth, a principal with School Exec Connect.

"I think we got a lot of good information from the community," he said. "We have a variety of groups in town and within the staff." The public will have a chance to provide input during the interview process, too.

The report listed several qualifications that came to light at the meetings, including having a vision for the future and being able to communicate it to the staff and to the public. Understanding the value of the economic, ethnic and cultural diversity in the district was listed as an important trait, along with the ability to promote learning and success for all students.

People interviewed also said they wanted a superintendent who could maintain the district's financial stability.

People interested in the job have until April 18 to submit their applications, but search consultants are already busy reviewing applications.

"We call them and talk to them, look at their papers, checking references," Dragseth said. "We try to make sure we are recommending the right people."

Dragseth said the firm's consultants have also contacted people they believe might be a good fit for the district.

So far, about 20 people have applied. It's not unusual for applications to be filed in the final two weeks, after people have had time to do their own research on the district, he said.

School Board Chairman Mike Carlson said he was pleased with the report from the consultants.

"What I took from that is a desire that our superintendent continue to be accountable to the district and to the community as a whole," he said. "I was encouraged by a lot of references to forward thinking."

The meetings helped give the consultants a good idea of what the community and staff wants to see in a superintendent, Dragseth said.

The report will be given to job applicants, too.

The candidates who are invited to the first round of interviews on April 22 and 23 will have done their own research and are likely to be quite knowledgeable about the community, Dragseth said.

Carlson said he thought the list would be helpful to job candidates.

Those who come for interviews in April "are going to see a district that really is engaged with public education," he said.

School Exec Connect was hired to help the board conduct a preliminary review of applicants, which is what's going on now, Carlson said.

The search firm's preparatory work will allow the board to start interviewing a few days after the application period closes. "I'm really happy with where things are at this point," he said.