Bubna comes from charter school in southern Minnesota
The Crookston School Board at a special meeting Friday morning unanimously approved (Tim Dufault was absent) the hiring of Eric L. Bubna as the new Crookston High School principal.
Bubna was a science teacher at Spectrum High School in Elk River, Minn. before becoming "administrative dean" at the charter school home to sixth through twelfth grades. He will replace Jason "J.J." Vold, the first-year CHS principal who submitted his resignation earlier this year but is staying on until the end of the school year.
Bubna agreed to a two-year contract, which will pay him $83,000 in 2014-15 and $85,000 in 2015-16.
"My wife (Kaia) and I are very excited to be making the move up to Crookston," Bubna told the Times in a phone interview Friday. "My wife has family in Karlstad and we've been looking to relocate a little closer and put some roots down in a smaller town."
If Bubna's background sounds familiar, that's because it is. Vold, too, was young and relatively inexperienced and he, too, came to Crookston from a charter school in southern Minnesota. When Vold was hired, Crookston School District Superintendent Chris Bates called him a "diamond in the rough." Friday morning, when telling board members about Bubna, Bates again used the "diamond in the rough" reference, while acknowledging that he's aware he said the same thing a year ago when Vold was hired.
"I'm excited and I think everyone on the two committees who interviewed (Eric) is excited," Bates said. "He was the clear choice by everyone who was involved."
In all, nine applied for the position of CHS principal and five were interviewed. When the position was first advertised earlier this spring, a half-dozen applied and three were interviewed. After the interviews, the interview panels chose not to offer the position to anyone, and the job description was subsequently tweaked and the position was advertised a second time. Since then, three more applied and two were interviewed. Bubna was the final applicant and the last one to be interviewed.
"Both committees felt strongly that he is what we're looking for, and we are what he is looking for, too," Bates said.
Bubna's background, philosophy
Bubna said he was born in Michigan and his family moved overseas when he was three years old, where his parents worked as missionaries. He spent most of his childhood in Brazil. Upon returning to Minnesota, Bubna did his undergraduate and graduate work at Crown College in southern Minnesota, and earned his administrative license from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. He taught high school science for four years at Spectrum High School before becoming administrative dean two years ago.
He said one of the things that attracted him to the CHS job was its similarity to Spectrum High School, both in the grades enrolled at the schools and the enrollment, which are both in the 500 to 600 range.
His top priority coming into his new job? To listen.
"I want to hear what the teachers and administrators have to say, what the community has to say, what the students have to say, because this is going to be a learning experience for me," Bubna said. "When people ask me about my priorities, I'm going to put the question back on them. What are the teachers' top priorities? I'm there to facilitate the work of teachers and provide leadership to them. I'm going to listen and learn so I can get a sense of the school, the student body, the culture and the community."
He's confident he can make the transition from a charter school setting to a public high school setting. "I know what I don't know, and that's key," Bubna said. "I'm not going to come in and make assumptions that I know how everything works and what exactly needs to be done and how and when we're going to do those things. My leadership style and personality is to listen, build relationships and then work positively with people. I'm a learner, too, and we're all in education so we should all be constantly learning.
"I'm not coming in with all the answers," he continued. "We'll figure out together where we need to go."
Bubna said Spectrum High School has "built many successes" with the community college located in Elk River, so he's excited to have a University of Minnesota campus located directly north of CHS. "I want to talk to people to see what's gone on between the two schools and what the long-term vision is," he said. "Obviously, that's a huge asset located right there."
Bubna will officially start on July 1, but he said he and his wife's home in Elk River will be on the market Saturday. "A lot depends on how our housing situation goes, but we'd like to get to Crookston as quickly as we can," he said.
Inexperienced but mature
Bates said he found Bubna to be "very mature" despite his limited years as a teacher and limited experience as an administrator. Many public school principals are coming through the charter school ranks, the superintendent said, noting that he asked Bubna if charter schools are sort of the "junior varsity of principals" and was impressed with his answer. "First of all, he sent me his job description of what he currently does, which is highly unusual," Bates said. "He appears to be a very good listener, very empathetic, and his answers had substance and he connected things."
Bates said Bubna talked about data and diversity and school culture, and that his experience at Crown College – Bates spoke to the provost there – taught him about the importance of having good processes and procedures in place. "That's really what it's about, more than just going with your gut," Bates said.
The superintendent said he's well aware that another young, inexperienced person is being tapped as the new high school principal. "I got into education to work with young people, and the older I get that often means staff," Bates said. "But he seems to have a good handle on the skill-set that the principal of this school is going to need."
He compared it to a teenager taking behind-the-wheel driving lessons from Rodd Olson, and then getting behind the wheel for the first time alone as a licensed driver. "You're never going to drive it like Rodd taught you, you're out there on your own, released to do things on your own, and you're going to learn a ton when you're the person making those decisions," Bates said. "Eric has got things to learn, of course. But what he brings to the table is very strong."
Bates said he’s hoping to make an announcement early next week on the hiring of a new activities director. Earlier this week, Scott Butt, Greg Garmen, Joshua Hardy, all who work and/or coach in Crookston, and Dave Cresap of Perham were interviewed.
The current AD, Don Donarski, will become dean of students at CHS in the fall.