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Willmar School Board selects finalists for superintendent

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board will interview six superintendent candidates today and tomorrow.

Board members met Monday afternoon to review candidates and discuss how the interview process will proceed. The discussed the process of Ken Dragseth, a retired superintendent now working with the School Exec Connect search firm.

The board is seeking a new superintendent because Superintendent Kathy Leedom is retiring on July 31.

The candidates and the times they will be interviewed:

- Barry Olson, superintendent at Blooming Prairie, 6 p.m., Tuesday.

- Mark Miley, principal at Willmar Junior High, 7 p.m., Tuesday.

- Bill Strom, superintendent at Mountain Lake, 8 p.m., Tuesday.

- Gregory Schmidt, superintendent at MACCRAY, 6 p.m., Wednesday.

- Jon Kringen, superintendent at Mahnomen, 7 p.m., Wednesday.

- Jerry Kjergaard, superintendent at Waconia, 8 p.m., Wednesday.

The interviews are open to the public and will be held in the board room on the first floor of the Willmar Education and Arts Center, 611 Fifth St. S.W.

During the interviews, each of the seven board members will have two or three questions to ask the candidates, and they will use the same questions for each interview.

After the last interview on Wednesday, board members will meet to discuss the candidates and choose two or three of them to bring back for more extensive interviews next week.

A total of 24 candidates completed the application process for the job. Another nine expressed interest but did not complete applications.

"That's a huge amount of interest," Dragseth said, and it was a strong field of candidates.

Eleven of the applicants were from Minnesota and 13 from other states, he said.

Of the six finalists, Dragseth said, "These are people I think you can work with."

The five finalists who are superintendents are all successful ones, Dragseth said. He talked to the chairs of their school boards, and all said they didn't want to lose the superintendents but knew that they would eventually move on to other opportunities, he added.

Several have experience with diverse student bodies, and several also have experience in larger districts.

In the case of Miley, already a school district employee, Dragseth said he has less experience than the other candidates but has solid credentials, knows the district and has strong local connections.

Dragseth said he usually recommends interviewing a qualified internal candidate who has gone through the trouble of completing the application process. He said he doesn't suggest it as a courtesy but as a way to let board members talk with the applicant and "look at him in a different way."

There are no women among the finalists. A few women applied who were not good candidates for the job, and his firm did try to recruit women who would be qualified, he said.

Toni Johns, also with School Exec Connect, talked to nearly a dozen women who did not apply, he said. Some work in the Twin Cities and didn't want to leave the area. Others work in rural Minnesota already but weren't interested in moving, he said.

Board members decided to interview all six finalists Dragseth presented to them. Board member Brad Schmidt said the six interviews would give them ample information for making comparisons.

When those chosen for a second interview return next week, each will come for a visit that lasts through the afternoon and evening. The second visit will include a tour of the district; meeting with administrators, staff and the community; dinner with the board; and then a final board interview.