Whether Jeremiah Olson or Jeffrey Wilson is hired, we need a superintendent with no biases and no subjective views shaped by past experience to come into this district and ask, "What's not working?"
If you've ever interviewed for a job, or been on the other side of the table and been the hiring authority interviewing people for a job you're charged with filling, you know that the telltale sign that signals almost all the time that an interview is about to wrap up is the job-seeker being asked if they have any questions to pose of the interviewers.
Most applicants have learned over time to make sure they come up with at least one half-decent question to pose. If the interviewee simply says, "Nope, no questions from me!" the thinking is that the candidate for the job really hasn't done his or her homework, or apparently isn't interested enough in actually landing the position to conjure up at least one reasonably reasonable question.
Given all that, it's notable how often during last week’s interviews of six finalists for the Crookston School District superintendent position the district’s enrollment decline, triggered mostly by an outflow of open enrolling students came up. And it wasn’t always the interviewers bringing it up, sometimes the finalists themselves brought it up when answering questions, or asking their own near the end.
During one interview, school board members Frank Fee and Dave Davidson had a good answer, or at least a refreshing one. A third party, who's not being paid, is in the process of doing exit interviews with the dozens and dozens and dozens of families whose kids open enroll to Climax-Fisher and Climax-Shelly schools. That contact with similar families is apparently going to continue into the future.
Anyone hoping to be hired as superintendent here, when Googling for news on the local school district, would likely conclude that better addressing open enrollment as the top priority here. It's priority two as well. And maybe even three, four and five. Curbing the tide should be job one with three exclamation points for whomever is hired. Turn the gusher of outgoing students into a trickle, and the superintendent will be viewed as a smashing success.
But open enrollment might never be reduced to a trickle here. It almost compares to the lack of City of Crookston yellow garbage bags we see on curbsides on garbage-collection days. Why? Because there's a free trash service right here in town already; sure, you have to bring your garbage to the Polk County Transfer Station on Ingersoll Avenue, but you can't beat the price. It's similar with the district's open enrollment problem; there are two smaller school districts within 16 miles of town, and both send buses into Crookston every day to pick up kids in the morning and bring them home in the afternoon. For whatever reason they choose, Crookston parents can easily and conveniently open enroll their kids to the two school districts right down the road. No point arguing if that’s fair or not, it’s the law.
Whether Jeremiah Olson or Jeffrey Wilson is hired, we need a superintendent with no biases and no subjective views shaped by past experience to come into this district and ask, "What's not working?" When he finds out what's not working – it’s likely to be several things in various states of disrepair and not one glaring malfunctioning thing – he needs to say, after working with others to get the answers he’s looking for, "Here's how we're going to make it work." If the changes result in a smaller gusher of open-enrolling kids each day, then that means the district will be better and stronger than it was beforehand, and that’s good for everyone, including the students and families who have stayed here all along. (It warrants a mention, too, that less open enrollment means more state money in the revenue ledger.)
First and foremost, that’s how a new superintendent in this district can best take the reins and lead.