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First three candidates interview for Willmar schools' superintendent position

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School Board interviewed the first three candidates Tuesday evening in the search for a new superintendent.

Barry Olson of Blooming Prairie, Mark Miley of Willmar and Bill Strom of Mountain Lake each met with the board for an hour.

Today, the board will meet with three more candidates. After the last interview the board is scheduled to meet to choose two or three candidates to return to the district for a second visit next week.

The candidates to be interviewed today will be:

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

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

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

The interviews are open to the public. They are in the board room on the first floor of the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

The board is searching for a new superintendent because Superintendent Kathy Leedom plans to retire on July 31.

During the interviews, board members took turns asking a set of questions. Each candidate received the same questions dealing with their knowledge of school operations and how they might address a variety of situations.

The board members did not discuss the interviews. The search consultants hired by the board recommended that they not do that until they gathered after the six interviews are concluded.

Barry Olson

Olson has been superintendent, with principal duties as well, at Blooming Prairie Schools since 2001 and has worked in the district since 1999.

According to 2006-07 information from the Minnesota Department of Education, Blooming Prairie has 754 students. The ethnic breakdown is 90 percent white, 8 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Asian. One-quarter of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The district has a 96 percent attendance rate and reported a 100 percent graduation rate.

Olson graduated from high school in Minnetonka and earned his bachelor's degree at Dana College in Blair, Neb. He earned his master's degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and his superintendent licensure at Mankato State University.

Earlier in his career, Olson taught and coached at schools in Nebraska before returning to Minnesota to teach and coach in Blooming Prairie. He also taught and coached in Owatonna before returning to Blooming Prairie as an administrator.

Olson told the board he was proud of his current district's ability to move out of statutory operating debt in 2001 and built a general fund balance of 8 percent or larger. He also expressed pride that former students who have gone on to college compliment the district on the quality of the education they received.

He called himself a strong advocate of public education. "I think it's the backbone of our country."

Mark Miley

Miley is principal at Willmar Junior High and has worked in the district since 1996. He served as an assistant principal at the Junior High and at the Senior High before returning to the Junior High as a principal in 2006.

According to the state's 2006-07 statistics, Willmar's 4,177 students had an ethnic breakdown of 67 percent white, 28 percent Hispanic, 4 percent black, 1 percent Asian and 1 percent American Indian. Forty-six percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 12 percent have limited English proficiency. The attendance rate is 93 percent and the graduation rate is 89 percent.

Miley is a graduate of Anoka High School and completed his bachelor's degree at North Dakota State University at Fargo. He earned a master's degree and his superintendent's licensure from St. Mary's University in Minneapolis.

Before coming to Willmar, Miley taught social studies and economics at high schools in Anoka, Champlin Park and Hastings. He has also coached wrestling and football.

Miley said he thought his community knowledge and involvement would be an asset to him as a superintendent.

Miley drew laughter at the end of the interview when he was given an opportunity to ask questions of the board members. He said he'd had trouble thinking of questions that wouldn't be answered with, "Hey, Mark, how come you didn't know that?"

Bill Strom

Strom has been superintendent of Mountain Lake Public Schools since 1999. He also has principal duties.

The state's 2006-07 numbers indicate that the district had 459 students, including 70 percent white, 15 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian and 1 percent black. Forty-five percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches and 19 percent have limited English proficiency. The district has a 96 percent attendance rate and reports a 100 percent graduation rate.

He is a graduate of Marshall High School and has a bachelor's degree from Crown College in St. Bonifacious. He earned his master's degree and superintendent licensure at Mankato State University.

Strom also works as a graduate instructor for St. Mary's University in Minneapolis. Before becoming superintendent in Mountain Lake, he was the administrator of a Christian school in Mountain Lake for 14 years. He previously taught in Bloomington Public Schools and at a Christian school in Deephaven.

Strom said he was pleased that he had been able to guide his district from an operating deficit to a fund balance of about 20 percent. He was proud of the relationship he had been able to build between the district and its teachers. It took just one negotiations session to settle the last contract, he said.