The search is on for new school leader
Brian Boettcher, the managing partner of the firm hired to find candidates for the Park Rapids Schools superintendent position, arrived in the area a day early, to scope out the area resources before meeting with members of Progress Park Rapids Monday.
He motored up from Mankato to determine why someone would want to live here, Itasca State Park on his itinerary, a "loonatick" joke his reward.
Boettcher views the decision from both the candidates' perspective and the district's, "to bring in a candidate that fits."
The conversation Monday morning was a means to develop a "profile of leadership" based on input from community members. This will be presented at a board meeting and subsequently used "as a tool for recruitment," Boettcher explained.
Community members and school staff as well as the school board will take part in the interview process.
The Progress panel and Boettcher agreed Park Rapids is looking ahead to a bright future.
"Main street has come a long way," said Boettcher, the consultant when Glenn Chiodo was hired. "Nine years ago, the district couldn't pass a referendum. Now groups meet to share success."
"There's a sense of optimism," said Cliff Tweedale of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, who leads the meetings. "The best days are ahead. There's a sense of hopefulness." He said this "unbridled sense of optimism" is not a common trait in the five-county area where he works.
"People in a leadership position try to get along, to do what's in the best interest of the community, find common ground," said Mahube director Leah Pigatti. "It wasn't always that way."
"There's a higher sense of expectations today," Tweedale said. "Ten years ago, we were hoping to keep the doors open," he said of the statutory operation debt the district faced.
County commissioner Kathy Grell cited the area's relatively low per capita income, noting jobs are service-related and seasonal.
"It's a great place to live - if you bring your own job," she said, drawing agreement from peers.
Two-thirds of employers employ four or less, area developer Alan Zemek said. "These are small, entrepreneurial employers." Most jobs are in construction, which has waned, hospitality and health care.
"Park Rapids imports money," Zemek said of tourism and seasonal residents. "The challenge is to retain talent. If we stopped importing money, half the stores would be gone," he predicts.
"The child poverty rate is at 19 percent," Pigatti said. "That's one out of five. Affluent, retired folks support the community. A number of families are struggling."
Bill Steen advocated strong communication between business and the school, the superintendent key.
"These are big shoes to fill," downtown business owner Cynthia Jones said of Chiodo. "We need partnerships. The foundation is there. We must reach out to the community to build partnerships."
"I hope to get back to the concept it's our school, not the superintendent's," said Mark Hewitt of Northwoods Bank. "It's an education island - until there's a bond issue."
The remark rankled school board chair Sherry Safratowich, who noted with the exception of the press, community members do not attend board meetings.
Hewitt apologized, commending the school board for the progress shown and noting the last two superintendents were able to "relate to the community."
He encouraged hiring someone from outside the metro. "It doesn't work," he cautioned of bringing someone acclimated to city amenities.
Tweedale agreed the candidate should have a "deep affinity for the rural area."
But Jim Johnson pointed out the area "is not entirely rural."
Boettcher questioned "how diverse" the pool of candidates should be - race and alternative lifestyles, as examples, and the need for a PhD.
"This community is open to change," Zemek said.
"Bring the candidate to the school board and let us decide," former administrator and board member Gary Gauldin said.
"I've known people with PhDs I wouldn't trust with a dog," Tweedale said. "Other credentials carry more weight."
"Steal from the best," Ken Grob advised. "Steal shamelessly. Find someone who does the best and implement the processes."
But Tweedale noted those talents come with a hefty price tag. "It will take our breath away."
"As long as we can gauge performance," Steen said. "We need to reach out, build partnerships, challenge the school board to get more people at meetings. The only time we get people there is when someone wants to cancel a sports program."
Pastor Marty Giese pointed out a superintendent is among the "top three most difficult positions in the American environment. I'm grateful," he said, "there's no adversarial relationship between the school and churches.
"I say amen to the notion of collaboration," Giese said. "It's a very complex position that demands a premium in the market place."
"Twenty years ago, there was so much distrust," Hewitt recalled, spurring the formation of a committee to oversee the operating levy expenditures. "There's been a huge turnaround. What are the characteristics of Glenn we can clone?"
LuAnn Hurd-Lof recalled hours of interviews during the last hiring process. "What set Glenn apart was he was a great communicator," she said.
"People want someone who's genuine," Tweedale said.
A special board meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, June 25 to review and approve candidates.
The first round of interviews begins at 11 a.m. Thursday, July 12 with board members making site visits and conducting interviews in the ensuing days.
The final round of interviews with candidates is slated for Tuesday, July 17.
Community members on the superintendent search committee are Roger Stewart, Ben Koppelman, Pigatti, Dennis Mackendanz, Al Judson, Paul Dove, Cynthia Jones, Rory Palm, Diane Dennis, Tweedale, Kathy Henry and Mark Andersen.
School staff members are Shawn Andress, Bob Kapsner, Jackie Griffin, Jeff Johnson, Jolene DeLaHunt, Carol Hutchinson, John Schumacher, Cindy Leach, Joe Grimes, Angie Kuehn and Mike Hartung.