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Willmar School Board moves ahead with superintendent succession plan

Willmar Public Schools has posted a job opening for an assistant superintendent, part of a plan to find a successor for Superintendent Jeff Holm, who plans to retire in 2024. The hope is that an assistant superintendent could succeed him and keep the district's multi-year improvement programs on track.

File photo of two school buses parked near each other in Willmar with a staff member and students walking in the parking lot in the distance.
Students walk to class after exiting Willmar school buses in this undated file photo.<br/><br/>West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — The transition to the next superintendent for Willmar Public Schools has begun.

A job opening for an assistant superintendent has been posted on the district’s website and other sites listing jobs for education.

The position is part of a succession plan to find a successor for Superintendent Jeff Holm. At a March 3 Willmar School Board workshop meeting to discuss the board’s three-year agenda, Holm announced his plans to retire in summer 2024.

Jeff.Holm
Jeff Holm, Willmar Superintendent
Contributed / Willmar Public Schools

The board formally approved the three-year agenda at its meeting Monday, and Holm told the board he had posted the job opening. Willmar has not had an assistant superintendent for about 20 years, and that assistant eventually was named superintendent.

The person Holm hires could succeed him, but that would be a board decision in the future. Holm will hire his assistant, as he is in charge of hiring all employees of the district. The only employee hired by the School Board is the superintendent.

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In the future, the board could decide to hire the assistant superintendent for the top job, promote another person from within the district or do a formal search for a new superintendent, Holm said.

The school district is engaged in some multi-year improvement efforts that may not be completed by the time Holm retires. He and the board have discussed finding a way to continue those initiatives under new leadership.

A new employee evaluation system is in development, to make evaluations more meaningful and offer improvement strategies.

020520.B.WCT.Bos.jpg
Justin Bos

The district is also implementing a system of standards-based learning. The plan will take several years to implement, and will develop consistent plans and goals and a common way of discussing instruction across the district.

Board Chairman Justin Bos said he has heard support for the plan from people in the community.

“We’ve got things in motion, and we want to keep that moving,” he said.

Board member Tammy Barnes said she felt the plan was the best for the district and its students in the future. In addition, that person could help Holm “with some of the things that may have gotten pushed to the side because of COVID.”

Tammy Barnes
Tammy Barnes, Willmar School Board
Briana Sanchez / West Central Tribune file photo

Holm said the initiatives in the work may be fully implemented over a few years, but the work will never be done completely.

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“It’s continuous improvement,” he said. “I think we are on the cusp of a breakthrough that’s going to impact learning for our students going forward, potentially for decades to come.”

If a new superintendent decided to move in a different direction, “that’s a lot of wasted time and energy, and it could set us back,” Bos said. “We’ve invested a lot of resources into that.”

Holm said the board would need to decide at some point whether it wanted to keep the assistant superintendent position, too.

At times, he said, “I’ve had a goal, and something happened that caused that goal to sit by the wayside; there’s more than enough work.”

In other business, the board approved a $394,000 contract with Kue Contractors of Watkins to give the entrance at Roosevelt Elementary School a facelift and improved security this summer.

A separate visitor entrance will be built next to the main entrance to increase security, said Aaron Pilarski, buildings and grounds manager. The project will also replace concrete in front of the school and mount new lighting on the building, eliminating light posts in front of the building. The change will aid in snow removal, Pilarski said.

The front of the building will be updated to reflect the look of other buildings in the district.

Business and Finance Director Kathryn Haase reported that enrollment has remained steady this year and had 4,222 students in grades K-12 as of last Friday. Enrollment was 4,193 to begin the school year. In December, it was 4,218.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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