Kjergaard looks to build on structure district now has in place

WILLMAR -- Experience, integrity and a plan to "hit the ground running" were some of the attributes that made Jerry Kjergaard the top candidate for the Willmar superintendent's job.

WILLMAR -- Experience, integrity and a plan to "hit the ground running" were some of the attributes that made Jerry Kjergaard the top candidate for the Willmar superintendent's job.

After spending much of the day in the school district on Thursday, the Willmar School Board chose Kjergaard from a field of 24 applicants and six finalists. Kjergaard was one of three invited back for a second interview this week, and the board chose him Thursday evening.

At a board interview Thursday afternoon, Kjergaard outlined a plan for his first months in the district. It included meeting a lot of people and spending time listening and learning about Willmar and the district.

"You won't see me come into this district and make huge changes unless I see there's a real problem," he said. "I'm assuming this district is a good district, but even champions need coaches."

His plan, he said, would be to build on the structure that is already in place.


Board member Dion Warne asked him if it would be difficult to work in Leedom's shadow. Kjergaard said he would work with the board and then added, "I think I'm pretty darn good. ... There may be some strengths I have that she doesn't, and vice versa."

Kjergaard talked with the board about his ideas for seeking an operating levy from the district's voters. "I think you should only go for it if you think you're going to win," he said. "If you don't think you are going to pass it, you're not going to pass it."

He suggested surveys to gauge the voters' views and the use of a community group to promote the group.

During a community meeting in the afternoon, Kjergaard had asked people at the meeting to leave their names if they were interested in serving on a citizens' community. He added that he was only half-joking in the request. He also recommended against using children to promote a referendum.

In response to other board questions, Kjergaard said he would be willing to follow due process to dismiss a teacher not doing his or her job, but the responsibility to document the problems with that employee and begin the process would rest with a building principal.

He said he understood that he would take the heat for unpopular board decisions and accepted the responsibility of being the district's official spokesman. "If you can't do that, don't be a superintendent," he said.

He had experience working with parents from different cultures in the Sioux City, Iowa, schools, he said, and he learned from them that they wanted the same things for their children that he wanted for his -- a quality education, respect, fairness, and "they wanted their kids to be loved when they walk in the building. ... I think that's what we strive for."

Kjergaard said he would be open to the idea of having a blog, although he hasn't had one before, and he thought an active, up-to-date Web site would be important for the district.


At the board interview and at the community meeting, Kjergaard talked about changes coming in education.

"I don't recognize the field I came into 30 years ago," he told the board. "I can't even picture what it will look like in the future." Young people learn differently now, he said, and he gave humorous descriptions of the multi-tasking he sees young people accomplish.

"We're going to have to change and continue to change," he said.

The board gave Kjergaard a chance to ask questions, too. He asked them what they saw as key issues in the district. The list included depreciation of old buildings, addressing diversity and mobility rates and keeping a tight rein on finances.

When he asked what they most wanted to preserve in the district, the answers were about academic programs, the arts, and retaining a high quality staff.

Eric Roberts asked Kjergaard about his doctorate degree. Kjergaard said the degree had opened some doors for him, but that he got it for himself, as well. "I'm the son of a truck driver," he said. "For me to get this was personal."

Before he left, Kjergaard asked to address rumors that have circulated about him being fired or asked to leave his current job. He has a contract that runs through the end of next year, he said, and he has never been asked to leave a job, "from bartender to superintendent."

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