Launch of the search for the superintendent with survey and focus groups

by Mike Knaak

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The search for a new Sartell-St. Stephen’s school district superintendent gets off to a quick start. A survey is expected to go live on Friday January 8 and focus group meetings will take place next week, according to a schedule approved by the school board on January 4.

The district hired School Exec Connect consultants to conduct the research after Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert told council last month he planned to retire at the end of June.

A survey asking questions about the district’s strengths, goals, and desired characteristics of a new superintendent will be available from a link on the district’s website. Starting next week, Bob Ostlund and Ken Dragseth of the research firm will be hosting five focus groups. Both men are longtime Minnesota educators and former superintendents.

Focus groups will be organized for district administrators, teachers, support staff, high school students and community members / parents. Each focus group will consist of 10 to 15 people and will last approximately 45 minutes.

Normally, focus groups are conducted in person, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, they will likely take place virtually.

The consultants will present the results of the focus groups and the survey as well as a profile of a future superintendent to the Board of Directors at its January 25 meeting.

While the research is going on, the publicity and recruiting of candidates will begin and run through February 24.

By March 1, the board is expected to receive kits for five or six candidates that will include multi-page application forms, reference letters, transcripts, a cover letter and authorization documents from exercise. If the board approves the list of candidates, one-hour telephone interviews will follow. Next week, two or three finalists will participate in one-day interviews. Focus groups will meet with applicants for approximately an hour and then provide feedback to the board. In the evening, the candidates will have an interview with the jury.

Board members and consultants aim to select a candidate right after interviews and negotiate a contract before the March 15 meeting.

Council members asked Ostlund and Dragseth what the timeline is and how many other districts are looking for leaders. Ostlund called the schedule “tight” as the recruiting period is about a week shorter than normal. At the moment there are no other openings in the region and he has said that, perhaps because of Covid-19, administrators are “pulling back” and not changing jobs.

Ostlund described Sartell-St. Stephen as an “attractive” district and he doesn’t care about finding good candidates.

Schwiebert led the district for seven years. School Exec Connect also conducted the research that led to Schwiebert’s hiring in 2014.

The chosen leaders

Two newly elected members and one re-elected member joined the board for its first meeting of the year. New members Matthew Moehrle and Patricia Melling were elected in November along with longtime board member Jason Nies. The direction of the board remains largely the same, with Jeremy Snoberger remaining as chairman, Nies as vice-chairman and Amanda Bryd as clerk. Moehrle was elected treasurer. All the officers were chosen without opposition.

The next council meeting will be on Monday, January 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the high school.

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