After Saturday’s interviews, decision will be made on how many superintendent finalists to invite back for a second round of interviews on Wednesday, Jan. 31
The first three of six finalists for the Crookston School District superintendent position that will become available when Chris Bates retires in June interviewed at Crookston High School Thursday evening. Three more will interview Saturday, after which the school board is expected to whittle the field of finalists and invite those who remain back for a second and final round of interviews on Wednesday, Jan. 31.
Ten applied for the position. The consultant assisting the board with its search, Sandy Gundlach, director of school board services for the Minnesota School Boards Association, said her committee of five that went through the 10 applications unanimously recommended a trio of candidates for interviews, and had three more “on the bubble.” The school board earlier this week agreed to bring all three who were on the bubble in for interviews as well.
In addition to the school board interviewing the first trio of finalists Wednesday, the interviewees also rotated between interview sessions conducted by a staff interview committee and a community interview committee.
Interviewed Thursday were Michael Rowe, Bruce Houck and Dennis Goodwin. On Saturday, Jeremiah Olson, Paula Foley and Jeffrey Wilson will interview with the three groups.
Here are some highlights from Thursday’s three interviews with the school board.
Of the six finalists, Rowe is the least experienced and the only one lacking previous experience as a superintendent. He’s currently an “instructional coach” in Cold Spring-Rocori who helps teachers in that district. He’s also the high school football coach.
Rowe has ties to the area, most prominently his wife, who’s a graduate of the University of North Dakota and has family in the area.
Given his lack of superintendent experience and many of the board’s questions being based on various experiences as a superintendent, Rowe’s interview was shorter than the other two on Thursday.
He said his greatest strengths are his leadership abilities and the way he’s able to work with a variety of people in the schools and community. He said he takes pride in his communication skills, and his big into technology and using things like social media to be innovative when it comes to spreading the district’s message and mission. Rowe said he believes he’s very ethical, honest, and he’s a “relationship builder.”
When asked if he had any questions of the board, Rowe said he’d done a lot of reading online about the Crookston district, and said he’d be keenly interested in being involved with efforts to stop the district’s enrollment decline and, specifically, reducing the out-flow of students via open enrollment.
Houck has spent many years as a school district administrator in North and South Dakota and Minnesota. He said he’s attracted to the Crookston job because the district has a solid reputation and strong community support.
Houck has previous superintendent experience on Native American reservations in the dakotas. His most recent experience was in Minnesota, at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton. He volunteered to the board that there were “complaints filed” and “investigations” in RTR, but they ended up being “unfounded” and he noted that the school board there paid for his attorney fees.
Houck said his biggest strength is in financial management. He said multiple times during his interview that he doesn’t like surprises, especially when it comes to budgeting.
Regarding his philosophy when it comes to learning, Houck said all students can learn, but not at the same pace. He said standardized test scores and other benchmarks have value, “But in the end, it’s what do kids need to have in order to be successful in life?” That doesn’t necessarily mean making sure every student goes to a four-year college, he added.
In RTR, he said they started an after-school program for all grades that runs until 5:30 p.m. and includes a free meal and bus transportation home.
Houck said he believes in forming various advisory committees to get consistent feedback from stakeholders in the district.
As far as open enrollment, he said he has a history of bringing significantly more kids into the district than go out to other districts. “You have to be strategic in how you market your district, and then you have to measure how those efforts are doing,” Houck said.
In studying Crookston, he said he noticed that standardized test scores are relatively strong before they start to drop in eighth grade. “We’d want to address that,” he said.
Goodwin has previous work experience in Minnesota, but is currently a superintendent in Arizona, where he and the board there have mutually agreed that he will not seek a contract extension when his current one expires this summer. Goodwin was first educated as an engineer and started his career in that field, but when his wife died of cancer, he said he grew tired of the engineering and business world and, once he got a taste of teaching, he was hooked. So he went back to school and started a new career path in education.
His dissertation focused on small, rural schools, and said the Crookston district seems like the perfect size to him. “This size of district gives you a chance to know the kids,” Goodwin said.
Arizona has more charter schools than any state in the country, he said, and his current district has a “very transient” student population and socio-economic struggles. When noting the high percentage of Native American students and his district’s 76 percent student eligibility for free and reduced meals and other struggles many of his students face, Goodwin became emotional and had to pause to compose himself several times.
“Who fights for these kids?” he said. “I think that’s part of my job, to fight for those kids. How do you reach those kids when no one else can?” In his district, he said it involves several visits to the students’ homes, accompanied by various counselors and even the school resource officer. “Maslow’s hierarchy (of needs) has to be in place before you can educate kids,” Goodwin added.
Goodwin said he likes to excite kids about school, and coming to school. “There are different ways to entice a child to get excited about school,” he said. “What turns a kid onto school? Is it band, art, drama, musicals, sports, math, science, English? You find those buttons to push to get them excited.”