Board poised to officially offer him the job Tuesday; if he accepts, contract negotiations would commence.
After two finalists for Crookston School District superintendent spent much of Wednesday touring the three public school buildings and the community, meeting with staff and administration and interviewing for a second time before the board and a staff/community interview committee, the board Wednesday evening identified Jeremy Olson as their choice to succeed Superintendent Chris Bates when he retires at the end of the current school year.
Olson is superintendent in the Underwood and Henning school districts, both in Minnesota. He is married and has four daughters, including twins. He was one of 10 to apply for the position, six of which were interviewed last Wednesday before the school board narrowed the field to only Olson and Wilson, who returned to Crookston Wednesday for a second and final round of interviews.
Wilson is principal at the Hinckley-Finlayson school district in Minnesota. He has no superintendent experience. He’s married with three kids.
After the interviews during the board’s deliberations, Board Chair Frank Fee asked the board for a show of hands in favor of offering the position to Olson, and every board member raised their hand.
Next up, on Friday, a couple board members will travel to Underwood and Henning for a site visit. Fee and board member Kari Miller will make that trip. “It’s nothing negative against Mr. Olson, but we had said we’d make this trip, so we’ll go down there,” Fee said. “It’s obvious he’s a strong candidate.”
Those who interviewed both finalists Wednesday filled out score sheets, and Olson came out ahead. Fee said he also spoke with some of Olson’s colleagues in Underwood and Henning and heard “nothing negative at all.” He said they told him Olson is fair, honest, strong on finances, and is a strong presence in the school who places students at the top of his priority list. “They said they’d hate to see him go, but that he’s a young man on the move,” Fee said. “He sets the bar high, but then he works with staff to achieve those goals.”
The board will likely schedule a special meeting Tuesday morning, Feb. 6 to officially offer the job. If he accepts, contract negotiations would commence, likely the next day.
Olson was already superintendent in the Underwood School District when, in 2014, he was hired as superintendent in nearby Henning School District. Before that, he was superintendent and principal at Pingree-Buchanan School District in Pingree, North Dakota. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Jamestown College and his master’s in education leadership from the University of North Dakota in 2006. He earned his doctorate in education administration from the University of South Dakota four years later. Prior to his superintendent experience, Olson taught history at Four Winds High School in Fort Totten, N.D. and was a high school principle in Timber Lake, South Dakota.
Spoke to two groups Wednesday
While Wilson interviewed for a second time before the school board, Olson was meeting down the hall at CHS, in the band room, as part a question-and-answer session with district staff and interested community residents. Then the two finalists alternated between rooms.
Olson was asked about his feelings on standardized testing, special education law and other topics, but he seemed to score the most points when he spoke about his role as a superintendent in the district and community. He said his goal is to get out of his office and walk the school hallways and poke his head into classrooms as much as possible.
“When you’re a superintendent, you have some things, some days that aren’t so great. You’re handling complaints, you’re dealing with concerns,” Olson told assembled staff and citizens in the band room. “I want to be in the schools to recharge, to see students and teachers in action; there’s a part of me as an educator who misses that. It reminds you why you’re in this business, for kids, first and foremost.”
Olson said he’s a big marketer of his school districts, and noted that if the superintendent doesn’t get out and about and communicate with teachers, staff and students, it’s going to be that much more difficult to share the good things happening in the local schools. “I’m just trying to create genuine relationships,” he said. “When I see someone in a hallway and chat with them, it’s completely different than if they’re sitting in my office. I want to build relationship capital.”
Olson said he likes to communicate on social media, specifically Twitter, to share positive things happening in the schools. “I want the community to know and understand what we’re doing in the schools,” he said. “We need to tell our story and we need to tell it well. We’re so guilty as educators sometimes, we do these great things in our classrooms but we never tell anyone.”
Olson said he simply wants to be a visible superintendent. “People aren’t going to trust a person they don’t know,” he added.
Well aware of the Crookston district’s open enrollment problem, when asked how he’d go about making the school district a “destination” for both local families as well as families down the road, Olson said it mostly comes down to providing a variety of excellent programs, whether they involve academics, arts, athletics or something else.
“You expose students to that excellence and to a staff that truly cares that’s supported by a school leadership team,” he said. “Then you push forward, you be progressive, you don’t stay stagnant. You move forward, you take things to the next level. Then you share that story.
“If you’re not telling your story, then you’re only a destination school for yourself,” Olson continued. “We have to open that up and let our community and other communities know. You’re only a destination school if other communities think you’re a destination school.”