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R-P seeks input on Supt. post

Fri, Mar 30th, 2007
Posted in Education

RUSHFORD - "We have the opportunity to reshape this district for years to come," said Jim Kitchens, R-P school board member. "We have that responsibility right now."

Kitchens' comment came during a meeting with the public to discuss the recruitment process for a new superintendent for the district, and to consider restructuring administration.

In the absence of board chair, John Nitecki, who was out of town, Roger Metz led the meeting using a "town meeting" type format. Approximately fifteen people, the majority of them district teachers, attended the meeting.

Metz worked at stimulating discussion by asking questions, for example-why should a potential candidate for superintendent want to come here?

"We get complacent," Metz said. "We don't take time to look at what we do have."

After some prodding, the group came up with a number of answers.

"We're one of the few growing small communities in the area," said Kitchens.

Others mentioned academic awards, strong athletics, considerable parental involvement with the school, a large, active Booster Club, and "good kids" as being plusses for the district.

Metz emphasized that the scenic bluffs, rivers and streams make the area a dream for outdoor enthusiasts.

When asked to consider the drawbacks, or "challenges" in the area, board member George Ingram piped up with "our buildings" at the same time that his colleague, Dan Munson, answered "facilities."

The group considered that the ever-present variables in state funding make it hard to plan for the future in a district, and that Fillmore County is "financially challenged."

Ingram said that the biggest "burden" on the district is having two facilities, five miles apart. Member Greg Smith said the situation with the two locations is "touchy." District citizen Susan Koenen pointed out that having two locations makes the district "inefficient," and Mike Honken agreed that the "logistics of the district" would be a challenge to a superintendent coming in.

Metz then assigned people to small groups to brainstorm about the qualities they desired in a superintendent. The group came up with a long list, topped by things like "leadership," "future vision for the district, and the ability to bring the district forward into that vision", and a good background in finances and business.

"Their first priority should be students and learning," said fifth grade teacher, Pat Hatlevig.

The group wanted someone with experience, but not so much experience that they're close to "transition" (Metz: "Don't call it 'retirement'!").

The recruitment process has not yet been decided, although the board wants to get the word out immediately that they're looking for a new superintendent. According to Metz, there have already been inquiries about the position that will be vacant at the end of this school year.

"We need to get the (recruitment) process started," said Kitchens. "But we don't need to be in a hurry. We want to make the right decision."

The final question the board asked those present to consider was a possible realignment of principals. "We were hit double," Metz said, referring to the retirement of elementary principal Bruce Blixt coming so close to the board's decision not to renew the contract of superintendent Jeff Miller. Miller also served as middle school principal. Could the district save by not having three principals?

That decision is still ahead for them. Ingram expressed his idea that one person could fill the roles of superintendent and principal in Rushford for the elementary and high school, then another principal in Peterson for the middle school.

Kitchens had differing thoughts, preferring the idea of one principal for Pre-K through 8th grade, a fulltime superintendent, and maintain the high school/athletic director position held by Brad Johnson.

Mike Honken, a faculty member currently filling in for Johnson who's on medical leave, expressed disagreement with the idea of cutting back on principal coverage in the elementary school, pointing out that the elementary has 291 students, middle school has 130, and high school has 230.

"I don't see how we can move ahead by taking away any of the (administrative) support the elementary has now," Honken said. "They deserve more than half a principal."

Metz thanked the group for their time and ideas and reiterated that the board will truly consider the wishes of district staff and citizens when making these decisions. The board will take up the questions at their April meeting.

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