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New Willmar School Board members look forward to serving

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School District will begin the new year with a major change in its School Board.

Three new board members will replace outgoing members who each had nine years of board experience.

Dan Croonquist, Linda Mathiasen and Nathan Streed were chosen from a seven-candidate field in the Nov. 2 election and will take office on Jan. 10. They will succeed Mike Carlson, Brad Schmidt and Dion Warne, who all are retiring from the board.

A week ago, the new board members spent a day at the district offices, meeting with administrators and principals from across the district. Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard had arranged the day-long orientation session.

The incoming board members heard about efforts in the various school buildings to meet the needs of the district's 4,100 students. They also met with administrators who deal with food service, maintenance, technology and finances.

Croonquist and Mathiasen said they absorbed a lot of information in their local orientation. Streed did not return calls for this story.

"It's a lot to know," Croonquist said. "I'm just trying to go in and learn as much as I can."

The new board members said they found it particularly helpful to meet with outgoing board members.

The experienced board members pointed out that the board needs to have a broad, long-term view of what's happening in the district, Croonquist said.

The former board members "talked about having to be forward thinking," Mathiasen said, and they reminded them that they will be making decisions that affect children who haven't been born yet.

Croonquist said he was pleased to learn more about the district's finances. Willmar has a healthy fund balance and is in fairly stable financial condition. "Being in (statutory operating debt) and coming out of it is an experience people don't want to go through," he said.

Mathiasen said she had heard some of the information presented in the meetings but learned some new things, too. She said she found it interesting that the district was able to set attendance areas to distribute its elementary students so evenly between two school buildings.

She also appreciated discussions about the importance of community involvement.

When the district tries again next year to pass an operating levy, community volunteers will be needed, she said.

Principals also shared information about the difference volunteers make in their schools.

"Volunteerism is a huge piece of what makes our schools successful," she said.

Both said they are looking forward to the challenges ahead of them on the School Board, and they praised Kjergaard for arranging their orientation.

"I look forward to serving on the board," Croonquist said. "I'm optimistic, despite all the challenges, we'll be able to keep offering the opportunities Willmar has been known for."

All three new board members have already attended or plan to attend Minnesota School Boards Association orientation sessions for new members. More MSBA orientation sessions will be held in January.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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