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Editorial: Question for Willmar School Board: What’s the real issue?

It was disappointing to see a split 4-3 vote Monday by the Willmar School Board in renewing the contract of Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard, especially following the recent positive improvements in student achievement.

This split vote reflects a possible board fracture, which could become a disturbing development.

Mike Carlson, Linda Mathiasen, Nathan Streed and Liz VanDerBill voted to renew Kjergaard’s contract. Dan Croonquist, Mike Reynolds and Jackie Saulsbury voted against renewing the superintendent's contract.

The first disappointment is that this vote reflects a lack of communication between some board members and the superintendent. Several of the dissenting board members had not spoken asbout their concerns with board chair Streed or Kjergaard. According to Streed, only one of the dissenters had expressed concern to him. Kjergaard said no one had spoken to him.

The second disappointment is that the dissenting board members offered no clear picture of their concerns, other than alleged poor morale and wanting to go in a different direction. These simplistic reasons raise questions about the true motivation here, such as is this really just a personal dislike, an alternative agenda or some other situation?

Kjergaard’s evaluation completed in August by the entire board listed six specific accomplishments, including changes in the elementary schools and the adoption of the broad iPad use in the district. The evaluation also listed 11 Kjergaard strengths, including his knowledge and experience, and the strength of his administrative team. The evaluation listed no weaknesses.

Document: Willmar School Board's evaluation of Superintendent Kjergaard - August 2013

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There are three primary functions of a superintendent: put the education of the district’s children first, establish and maintain a solid financial condition and implement appropriate change for district improvements.

Kjergaard appears to be producing positive results in all three areas.

Willmar is under order of the state Department of Education to improve student achievement and close achievement gaps. The recent test results have shown significant improvement in the Willmar School District in these areas.

Hopefully the school board members can be better communicators as they move forward with Kjergaard during the next two years.