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New superintendent chosen

Lance Bagstad has accepted the offer of superintendent of the Park Rapids School District.

Lance Bagstad has accepted the position of Park Rapids Area Schools superintendent.

Bagstad, current superintendent of Renville County West in southern Minnesota, notified board chair Sherry Safratowich of his decision Wednesday evening.

"I'm excited to be a part of the Park Rapids community," he said Thursday morning in a phone interview.

"Everything has to be the right fit," he said of the decision. "Park Rapids is a great place to work, raise a family and continue with the challenges of the educational process."

Bagstad is no stranger to his predecessor. He worked with retiring Park Rapids superintendent Glenn Chiodo in Renville for three years, Bagstad as high school principal, Chiodo as superintendent.

When Chiodo stepped into the role, the school was facing statutory operating debt. "Two million dollars in the hole and no operating levy in place. It was in shambles," Chiodo recalled.

Chiodo began the "painstaking process of re-establishing relationships." The district voters subsequently approved an operating referendum and Chiodo wrote a seven-year plan to rid the district of its debt.

Bagstad stepped into the role of Renville superintendent in 2007. He considers Chiodo his "mentor for the past nine years. This is a good opportunity, with the respect I have for him, to work with him again."

Chiodo said the Renville district has "moved forward under (Bagstad's) leadership. He's done a great job," despite facing declining enrollment, forcing the closing of two of the district's three schools. Bagstad worked on a $7 million bond for the modernization of the facilities.

Renville County West is a combination of three districts, Sacred Heart, Renville, where the school's located, and Danube.

"I cherish the memories I have here," said Bagstad, who was originally hired as a fourth grade teacher in Renville, his tenure with the district spanning 16 years. "I feel good about the experience. I've made great friends and partnerships. But I always look to the next challenge. I feel Renville will continue its success, to move forward."

Renville High School was recognized by Newsweek magazine as one of the best high schools in the United States, he said - this while the district was still in SOD.

Park Rapids, he said, "is doing good things curriculum-wise." Now that the district is fiscally sound, "what can we do for the kids and staff to bring it to the next level?"

Bagstad said his family is "very excited" about the move. Members include wife Anita; his computer savvy daughter, Isabel, who's 13 and an eighth grader; sixth grade "sports fanatic" Gabe, 11, and "adorable sweetheart" Amelia, 6, a first grader.

The family will be moving from prairie farmland to what Bagstad considers a convergence of prairie and forest in Park Rapids.

Bagstad will formally submit his resignation to the Renville County West School Board the evening of Monday, Aug 23. He spoke with board members and school staff informally Thursday about the decision.

The Park Rapids School Board will convene at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23 and, subsequent to a phone call from Bagstad confirming the resignation, the board will take official action on hiring him.

The item will not be listed on the agenda as a precautionary measure, Safratowich explained of the procedure.

Bagstad's agreed upon annual salary is $109,000 with benefits as defined in the current superintendent's contract.

His start date has not been determined, but Bagstad will arrive to "meet and greet" teachers prior to school opening.

Plans call for engaging staff and community to discuss the schools' vision, to determine "the perception of the education students are receiving.

"I will do research, and built on that, find out how I can move the district into the future.

"That's what moves me."

'A wonderful place to be'

The Park Rapids School Board met Tuesday afternoon to interview the final three candidates for the position.

In addition to Bagstad, the candidates included Menahga School superintendent Mary Klamm and Kevin Wellen, the current superintendent at New Richland, Hartland, Ellendale and Geneva School and former principal at Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.

Jordan superintendent Kirk Nelson withdrew.

The candidates were interviewed by board members, each responding orally to seven questions, and wrote essays on three of five questions posed.

By approximately 7 p.m., the school board reached a unanimous decision to offer the position to Bagstad.

During the interview, Bagstad said he'd researched the Park Rapids area, commending the "vision" expressed on the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber website.

"Our children are our most precious resource," he said, quoting John F. Kennedy, "and best hope for the future."

Bagstad stressed partnerships he plans to form in the community, and the systematic process of defining and assessing goals, planning and programming - citing technology upgrades - and implementation. This will be followed by evaluation: Was the goal reached?

"It boils down to accountability between the school and community," Bagstad said. "Taxpayers have given us their two most important possessions - their children and their money. We must be accountable."

Each board member posed a question:

"As a leader, what strategies would you use to get the highest level of performance?" Safratowich asked.

Bagstad advocated "paying teachers well," to achieve "an A game, going 110 percent every day." He recommends setting high levels of expectation, and providing training to support the goals. "Work with them; give them tools." He suggested principals "serve as role models."

Gary Gauldin asked what he saw as the biggest challenge.

Bagstad said each district has a distinct culture. The superintendent is the key communicator. "The superintendent should be humble, honest, transparent and approachable. Mr. Chiodo has done a wonderful job. How can we enhance this?"

Stephanie Carlson asked about his "philosophy on delegating authority. How do you then maintain accountability?"

A trusted person is key, he said. "But if something goes wrong, it goes back to the superintendent. Difficult? Yes. There are a number of variables.

"Be specific, monitor but have trust," he said of his role.

"First off, I'll be talking to people," Bagstad said in response to Karol Savage's question on determining the district's strengths and weaknesses. Plans call for communicating both internally and with the community.

Bagstad said he will employ text messages, e-mail and other means of communication to keep board members up to date on school issues, in response to Dave Otterness' query. A board update will be available each Friday. "I don't want board members to be surprised and I don't want to be surprised by board members."

There will be "constant communication," he vowed.

That will include strategic planning work sessions, he said in response to Dennis Dodge's question on building a "good working relationship between the board and superintendent."

"If you can't have an open, honest relationship with board members, we're in trouble," he said.

"I do," he answered concisely to "Do you see yourself as the superintendent of schools in Park Rapids?"

"I see this as a challenging, rewarding position," he said candidly. "I'm excited, yet anxious. Given the opportunity, this would be a wonderful place to be."