Ready to build on past success: New ACGC superintendent ready for school start
GROVE CITY — As the new superintendent of the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District, Nels Onstad said there isn't much to change here.
Praising the district's strong financial standing, academic achievements and position as a "well-respected district," Onstad said his job is "not necessarily to change things at ACGC but to continue to grow the positive success stories at ACGC."
Onstad began his new job as superintendent July 1, following the retirement of longtime Superintendent Sherri Broderius.
Previously, Onstad worked at the state Department of Education as director of the Educator Licensing Division, but his family and career roots are in rural Minnesota.
"I'm really not a city guy," Onstad said when questioned about moving from the metro area to ACGC.
Onstad, who grew up in Pope County near Cyrus, spent his first six years in education as a math teacher in northern Minnesota and for 14 years was a principal at the West Central Area District, a large, sprawling district that includes schools in Barrett, Elbow Lake and Kensington.
He then took the job with the Department of Education in 2015 but knew he wanted to return to a hands-on job in education.
With numerous job opportunities for district superintendents, Onstad decided to pursue that career avenue, while also finishing a doctorate program at St. Cloud State in education leadership.
This is his first time serving as a superintendent.
His decision to accept the job at ACGC was made easier because of the district's healthy status, a positive response from the school board and staff during the interview process and a "comfort level" that he said made the job a "right fit."
Since moving into his office — where, during a recent interview, artwork was waiting to be hung on the walls and there was a serious absence of clutter on the desk — Onstad said he has been learning the behind-the-scenes aspects of the district.
He praised Broderius for helping with the transition.
Already this summer he has participated in a school board retreat and committee meetings where issues including teacher negotiations and facility needs were discussed.
Onstad said his first goal as superintendent is to establish relationships and "earn the respect and trust" of the students, staff, community and school board.
He said he's eager to meet the new and returning teachers during workshop sessions before school starts.
Once the classrooms and halls are full when school starts Sept. 5, Onstad said he will get to know the students and watch and learn how ACGC flows and functions.
"I'm eager to see how the education process works here," he said.
Although his main office is at the 5-12 school in Grove City, Onstad said he will also spend time at the elementary school in Atwater.
As a "member of the team," Onstad said he will work with the school board and staff to identify long-term priorities, including mining student test score data to guide future education goals and identifying maintenance needs for the district's facilities.
He said past decisions by the school board and administration that dramatically raised test scores and dug ACGC out of statutory operating debt — a feat that was accomplished in part by going to a four-day school week — helped set the course for future accomplishments.
Besides Onstad, the district's administrative team includes Elementary Principal Kodi Goracke and Middle School Principal Robin Wall.
This is the first time in seven years ACGC has had a full-time superintendent. Broderius had a dual role as superintendent and high school principal.