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Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm says he plans to retire in two years, gives School Board time to plan

Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm has announced his plans to retire in two years. While it sounds like a long time, hiring a new superintendent can take months. The School Board discussed its next moves at a meeting Thursday, and will likely hire an assistant superintendent who might be able to move into Holm's job in two years.

Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm
Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm speaks to staff at the beginning of the school year in this file photo from 2015.
Rand Middleton / West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMARWillmar Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Holm announced his plans to retire in June 2024 at a Willmar School Board meeting Thursday evening.

He would have preferred to keep his plans to himself for a while longer, he told board members, but he wanted to give them ample time to consider options and plan for the transition to a new superintendent.

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

Holm pointed out that the school district is a $70 million operation, and a transition to a new leader is an important time. Holm came to the school district in 2015 from Minot, North Dakota, where he had been assistant superintendent.

Hiring a superintendent is a months-long process, and the state currently has several dozen open superintendent positions.

The board discussed two options at the meeting: either beginning a search for a new superintendent in the next year or hiring an assistant superintendent this year who could learn the operations of the district and possibly take over in a transition plan when Holm retires.

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The consensus during the meeting was that the board would ask Holm to hire an assistant superintendent.

Mike Reynolds, the longest-serving member on the board, said he has been through both types of transitions. “I like a transition plan if we can bring in somebody,” he said. That type of transition can be less stressful for the staff, he added.

Ray Queener, a consultant from Teamworks International of Centerville, told the board a transition plan could give the district a relatively seamless transition to the next superintendent. He had come to the meeting to discuss the three-year agenda, and Holm asked him to address the superintendent transition, too.

The three-year agenda includes a general outline of the board’s duties during a year and includes a review of one-third of its policies each year, the annual evaluation of the superintendent and orientation of new members after elections.

Superintendent Jeff Holm visits schools
Superintendent Jeff Holm visits with Willmar seventh-grader Bashir Abdi in John Whalen’s English Language Learners class at Willmar Middle School in this file photo from November 2015. Holm schedules one day a week to visit schools in the district and talk over building issues with principals.
Rand Middleton / West Central Tribune file photo

Renegotiating the superintendent’s contract was listed for the 2024-25 school year.

Given the size of the district, the board may want to consider developing succession plans for other leadership positions, too, Queener said. A $70 million business would most likely have succession plans ready for its top executive positions, he said.

Queener said the person hired to be Holm’s assistant would not be guaranteed the top job. “You always have the fallback of a search,” he said.

Some board members asked if they would be involved in the hiring process. Others said Holm is the only employee hired by the board, and he is responsible for managing the district — including hiring employees.

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Holm said there is plenty of work to keep two people busy. Other top administrators often take on extra duties that could be handled by an assistant administrator, he said.

“I don’t intend to glide to an easy finish,” he said.

Board member Scott Thaden asked if the position was important enough to have board input in the hiring. Board member Randy Frederickson suggested it may be beneficial if constituents thought it was a board decision.

Other board members and Queener said the board should follow its traditional practice of having Holm hire all other employees.

The board would still approve the budget that included the person’s salary and would decide whether to hire the person to be superintendent, Queener said.

Holm said he would ask the board members to weigh in on the qualities they would like to see in the person.

Administrators at the meeting — Director of Human Resources Liz Windingstad, Director of Teaching and Learning Carrie Thomas and Director of Business and Finance Kathryn Haase — said they supported the plan of hiring an assistant who could succeed Holm.

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The district’s work on a new system of teacher evaluations and developing a system of standards-based instruction have created a unity from classroom to the administrative team, Thomas said.

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A rough transition could slow that work, Windingstad added.

After the meeting, Chairman Justin Bos said he appreciated the two-year notice Holm gave the board, because it will help plan for a smooth transition for the improvement plans underway and for the district’s employees.

“I think the whole group is meshing well, and we want to do what we can to keep that in motion,” he said.

The board plans to recap its discussion at its March 14 regular meeting.

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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