Olson, Wilson to interview again on Wednesday

    The final three of six candidates for the Crookston School District superintendent position interviewed Saturday morning at Crookston High School, and, later, two of those three were chosen as finalists for the job. Jeremiah Olson, superintendent in the Henning and Underwood school districts in Minnesota, and Jeffrey Wilson, principal at Hinckley-Finlayson School, also in Minnesota, will interview a second and final time on Wednesday, Jan. 31. After those interviews, the Crookston School Board could pick either Olson or Wilson and make a job offer.

    The goal is for the school board to approve a contract with the new superintendent by late February as current Crookston School District Superintendent Chris Bates retires at the end of this school year.

    Interviewed Thursday were Michael Rowe, Bruck Houck and Dennis Goodwin (who, on Friday, withdrew from consideration saying the job wasn’t the right fit for him), and, on Saturday, Jeremiah Olson, Jeffrey Wilson, and Paula Foley sat in front of the school board.

    Here are some highlights from Saturday’s three interviews with Olson, Wilson and Foley.

Dr. Jeremiah Olson

    Olson has a background as an elementary, middle school, and high school principal and teacher, and has previously worked in North Dakota and South Dakota school districts. In 2014, he was hired as the Henning School District superintendent alongside his current superintendent position with Underwood School District.

    He says he’s interested in Crookston School District as he’s heard of their good reputation and thinks they can “do good things together.”

    Olson says that he’s probably the only person who gets excited about finances and loves looking through pages of the budget, plus that he has experience adopting and managing budgets. He likes to be very “hands on” with finances, monitor it on a monthly basis and make sure that it “promotes student achievement.” Olson adds that he has previously had to make budget reductions and set priorities, but did not reduce staff or cut student achievement.

    When asked how he would be involved and approachable in the schools and the community, Olson says he enjoys attending school activities and sporting events, and has volunteered with various organizations such as the Lions, plus likes going to community events. He says he has previously sat down with people who didn’t have kids in his districts to get their opinions as well as build relationships with people in the community.

    Some ways he has specifically addressed student achievement is work with teams to accomplish goals, see what other districts are doing that work, and develop PLC (professional learning communities) groups to help identify weaknesses and figure out their strategy.

    On increasing school enrollment, Olson says he would like to look back and see what things Crookston has that other districts don’t, and attach district strengths to marketing material (word of mouth, newspaper, radio, social media, etc.) to put out a better perception, also to build up the district’s programs. He says his “gut” tells him that there are some perception things that need to be reversed while tackling enrollment head on.

    Questions that Olson had for the board included asking the board what they thought they were most proud of with Crookston schools, to which School Board chair Frank Fee replied saying, “Everything,”, and School Board member Adrianne Winger replied saying the community, teachers, students and families have “great dedication” and that people are “proud to be a Pirate.” He also asked what they expect the next superintendent to “tackle” to which School Board member Tim Dufault said, “doggone open enrollment.”

Jeffrey Wilson

    Wilson graduated with a degree in Elementary Education from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa and received his Masters and Principal Licensure from Saint Mary’s University. He has been the Hinckley-Finlayson Elementary principal since 2012 coming from Renville County West where he was their K-12 principal. Wilson added that he was a “farm kid” growing up and that he thought Crookston looked like a nice size.

    While Wilson admits he has “zero experience” as a superintendent, he is very “resourceful” and can adapt to what they will need from him. He has worked with budgets every year, specifically title budgets, and thinks that districts are there to “invest in kids” so “protecting the entity of the school system” is important to him. Wilson adds that the district he works with has a hired attorney that handles district/teacher negotiations and that, while it costs money, it’s an investment well worth it.

    Wilson says when they moved to the area they’re in now, he made the “tough decision” to place his children in a different school but that he has worked well with trying to be the “face” in both communities. When asked how he would accomplish being a visible and approachable leader in the district and community of Crookston if hired, he says he would just “be out there” and gave examples of how he coaches his kids in Pine City basketball and helped pass a referendum in Hinckley-Finlayson at the same time.

    “Be the face out there so people know who you are whether it’s tee time or coffee time,” said Wilson. “I’m not the guy who likes to sit at a table all day, I need interaction with people and kids, and, at the same time, want parents to know I have an open-door policy.”

    When asked how he would keep staff motivated and morale high, Wilson says it’s the “culture of the climate” and that he likes to have a leadership team. He likes to keep a “laundry list” of what can be done better and often asks teachers how he can help and support them. Wilson cites developing a “rapport of trust” with faculty and staff, and says people appreciate when you invest interest in what they’re doing. He adds that the “gals” in the front office, his administrative assistants, are great and they could “run the school” if they wanted.

    Wilson says, while there is not a “quick fix” for student enrollment, he’d like to build from the “ground level” to keep kids connected, and find the correct approach to doing so. He suggests he would “build within” encouraging staff to help market the schools and develop partnerships with the colleges and universities that have district students there attending PSEO (Post Secondary Enrollment Option.)

    Wilson closed his interview asking the school board what they were “most proud of” with the district to which School Board member Patty Dillabough replied saying that students have ‘Pirate Pride’ and Fee added that they have an “outstanding” staff.

Paula Foley

    After a long-winded introduction describing her experience and background, and after Fee joked that it was now the conclusion of her interview after she finished, Foley summarized that she has over two decades of education experience with spending 25 years in the St. Cloud school district and that she was superintendent for the Warroad School District for two years before starting as Aspen Academy’s executive director in July 2017.

    Foley says, if she had been hired, she would “challenge the status quo and not in a bad way” and give kids the opportunity to be a part of “something great.” She describes her management style as “engaging” and that she has previously kept morale high by being approachable and acknowledging the good work of staff. Foley adds that the best way to market a school district and address open enrollment is start from the “trenches” as the “people that are here” do the work and can best market the district.

    She suggests the next superintendent should “have the conversation immediately” about enrollment concerns and continue to strive towards better student achievement.

    Foley described her strengths as a candidate as being passionate, having overcome challenges, and that she wants to “make a difference” first and foremost for kids.