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Parents, others describe what they want in superintendent

Retired school official Norm Dutot suggests to Kenneth Dragseth, President of School Exec Connect, attributes that the firm might look for in their search for a new Superintendent of Schools in Grand Forks to replace Larry Nybladh who's retiring June 30, 2018. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Parents and others gathered at an open forum Tuesday to describe challenges facing the Grand Forks school district and what traits would be important in the next leader of the school system.

The forum was led by Kenneth Dragseth, president and owner of School Exec Connect, the Edina, Minn., firm which has been hired by the Grand Forks School Board to conduct the search for the successor to Superintendent Larry Nybladh, who is retiring effective June 30, 2018.

Members of the School Board superintendent search committee Monday set a salary range of $180,000 to $215,000 for the next person who will lead the school district. Nybladh's salary is $231,210.

About 20 attendees also described the attributes of the school district, in response to the question, "why would someone want to come here to be superintendent?"

Audience members mentioned strong community support for schools, highly trained staff, and a diverse curriculum.

One woman cited the Career and Technical Education program as a particular strength—a program that offers "a lot of opportunities for students to explore various careers," she said.

Vince Ames, retired Grand Forks Central High School science teacher, said, "We have good principals, good teachers and staff who really care about students."

Melissa Buchhop, a fourth-grade teacher at Century Elementary, said "available technology, starting one-to-one in the fourth grade" is a strength.

Among the challenges facing the district, adequate funding was noted as one of the most pressing, especially as it relates to the district's aging buildings.

"Resources will always be limited," said Les Klevay. "(In the superintendent's job) we need someone who can do more with what he gets."

Ames, who taught in the district for 34 years, said that with the shift to standardized testing "our best kids got lost in the transition."

Student behavioral issues were noted by several in the audience.

"Schools are becoming warehouses for social services," said Janet O'Hara, director of the Red River Valley Education Cooperative. "And it's getting worse every year ... but it's not unique to our district."

Characteristics and skills many hoped to see in the next superintendent included the ability to engage with people.

"A superintendent who is engaging would really make a big difference," said Norm Dutot, retired teacher and school administrator. "The School Board should endorse those qualities. It would be a huge boost in morale."

"Administration is important to setting the tone, setting the expectations," said Yee Han Chu, a teacher in UND's special education program and parent of two school-age children.

Tom Young, president of the Grand Forks Education Association and a choral teacher at Red River High School, said he hoped the new superintendent would be "able to convey a unified sense of purpose and mission."

Others wanted to see evidence of the candidate's track record in solving problems and working collaboratively with principals and other school leaders.

A woman in the audience said the next superintendent should be "innovative and forward-thinking."

Dragseth and his colleagues are conducting individual interviews Wednesday with School Board members and meeting with focus groups representing the district's students, teachers, staff and administrators; parents; community leaders, and others to develop a "new superintendent profile," a template of the ideal candidate.

The template, detailing eight to 12 characteristics and skills, will be used to evaluate each superintendent candidate.

All the information they gather will be given to School Board members.

"We want the board to get a good sense of what you're looking for in the next superintendent," Dragseth said. "We want to find the superintendent who fits your needs, fits your profile."

He and his firm "have done 50 searches (of this type) so far in the past year," he said.

Those who were not able to attend the forum can provide input for the search process anonymously, by filling out an online Survey Monkey form at

Nybladh is serving in his 10th year as superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools.