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Nevis School picks top applicant for superintendent

By Nick Longworth

Nevis may have a new superintendent.

The Nevis School Board held an open session Wednesday, May 21 to interview their two remaining candidates in an effort to pick one and begin negotiations on a contract that would eventually replace current superintendent Steve Rassier.

Over the course of three hours, Bemidji Middle School Assistant Principal Gregg Parks and competing candidate Shane Tappe (K-12 Principal of the Ashby School District) each gave a Power Point presentation on school budgeting and finance in this final round of interviews.

Then both candidates faced questioning from members of the school board on a wide range of topics including personal interests, strengths and weaknesses, leadership qualities and styles, future goals and team building, and more.

Once both candidates finished their separate presentation and question-and-answer sessions, the school board had discussion

After a 20-minute period of discourse over each candidate’s strengths and possible fit within the district, school board chairman Ed Becker presented a motion to authorize the finance committee to begin negotiations with Gregg Parks as the new superintendent. Seconded by Marv Vredenburg, the school board unanimously voted to approve the motion.

After a long night of presentations and deliberation, Parks was chosen the victor of the position he desired.

Soon a contract will need to be negotiated in order for Parks to officially accept the position and officially usher in a new regime in the Nevis superintendent’s office.

“My goal was to establish a good, comfortable relationship with the members of the hiring committee and school board. I tried to consistently send a message about positive leadership, good relationships and working together as a team. I think at the end of the evening we came to a pretty clear agreement,” said Gregg Parks, referring to the hiring process that has now concluded with his nomination by the school board.

“I am very happy about their decision. I’m also very humbled by it because I know there are a lot of quality candidates who were in line for the position as well,” he said. “I applaud them for digging as deep as they did. This is a position that I want and I think that you have to expect to have some challenges thrown in there. I’m very excited to be their candidate and begin a working relationship with the school board and the community. My ultimate goal is to make sure that all of our students achieve as much as they can.”

Numerous times throughout their discussion the school board said they were delighted to have such a “good problem” on their hands when considering the two final candidates they had left.

However, the pros and cons had to be weighed; there can’t be two superintendents at Nevis.

“There were a lot of strengths in each candidate; both of them were strong in their leadership abilities,” said school board chairman Ed Becker.

“I liked Gregg’s approach to answering the questions. He was very interested in taking notes to make sure he addresses each and every concern within the question,” Becker said.

Vredenburg, who has been a school board member for 23 years, had similar concerns.

“Gregg is more polished, a little more experienced, and I think just a little bit better fit. I can’t take anything away from Shane because he was excellent too,” Vredenburg said. “We just felt a little more comfortable with Gregg than Shane. Although I think Shane would have done an amazing job for this district also.”

At day’s end, the school board felt strongly that Parks displayed the signs of leadership – having a background in the military and also a history with coaching athletics – that they were looking for. They also felt that he displayed very solid organizational skills when presenting his power point display on district revenue, expenditures, and fiscal year budgeting.

However, although qualified, residents may still reasonably expect a learning curve from the current administration to the next.

Speaking on school budgeting during his presentation, Parks said that, “Students equal money. That’s really the bottom line for us. Enrollment equals revenue, and that’s really a constant theme that we will work with. The higher the enrollment level you have the more money that you’re going to generate as revenue for the district.”

However, a May 3 article by Jean Ruzicka of The Enterprise reported that “For the first time since open enrollment debuted in Minnesota, Nevis is imposing a moratorium on accepting students from out of the district due to numbers topping 578 in grades K-12 this spring. Grades five, seven and 11 are still accepting open enrollees, but open enrollment is closed in the remaining grades until Aug. 1, when numbers will be reviewed.”

When reached by phone to comment on this seeming contradiction between his philosophy and recent action taken by the district, Parks responded by saying, “It wasn’t just about Nevis but also budgets in general across the state. The point I am trying to consistently make is that enrollment equals revenue, because the state bases all of its funding on enrollment. Nevis is in a position to cap open enrollment in order to keep in line with their vision of small class sizes and also make sure they have adequate space to meet the needs of students within the school district first.”

Parks went on to say that he wasn’t entirely certain about what open enrollment numbers may look like with him at the helm.

“At this point, I really can’t make an accurate prediction one way or the other; I really don’t have all of the data in front of me. It will be part of my initial homework as a leader to take a look at where we are going as district. Steve Rassier has laid a very effective groundwork, and I am very pleased to take over a district that is growing in size and financially stable; those are the things that I will focus on first,” Parks said.

Tappe, when reached by phone, was understandably disappointed that he won’t have the opportunity to work within the Nevis School District going forward, although saying he felt good about his presentation and interview as a whole.

“I think I got across my point. It’s important to have a strong leader and vision, and guidance is going to be essential to continue going forward. I wanted to portray to the board who I am, and the strengths that I could bring to the district. I wanted them to know who I was, and what I could bring to the district,” Tappe said.

Although disappointed, he said he plans to use the experience as a learning one.

Tappe said he would “consider the options that were available” should the school district’s negotiations with Parks breakdown, and the district approach him again.

The finance committee will now begin negotiations with Parks on a contract’s salary, length, and considerations – with the hopes of striking a deal sooner than later.

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
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