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School Board interviews first superintendent finalist

Eric Lunn (right), Grand Forks School Board member, shares a lighter moment with Dennis Goodwin, finalist for the superintendent position, prior to Goodwin's interview with the board Monday evening. (Photo by Pamela Knudson/Grand Forks Herald)

Dennis Goodwin, the first of three finalists for the Grand Forks superintendent position, highlighted his strengths in strategic and financial planning, communication skills, and working collaboratively to ensure student success in an interview Monday with the Grand Forks School Board.

Goodwin, who has been superintendent at Camp Verde Unified Public Schools in Camp Verde, Ariz., for three years, said, "Every person is important to the success of the district."

One of his top priorities, if hired, would be "to integrate myself into the district and the community," said Goodwin, 60.

He pointed to his routine of "walkabouts, where three or four times a week, I'm in all the different buildings, classrooms and hallways, visiting with staff and custodial people," he said.

"I'm a relational leader; I like building those relationships, because when things happen you can get ideas."

As he's visited with people in Grand Forks recently, he said, he's found that "there's a desire for a more focused direction" for the school district.

As superintendent, he would "try to get an understanding of where the district is at, to get the pulse of the community."

"From feedback and the surveys I've seen, definitely, the thing they want is a clarity of direction," he said, and then for the superintendent to communicate that vision broadly.

Goodwin said he considers Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin as "home," because he spent 27 years in the area.

"The energy level in Grand Forks is absolutely amazing, when you're in and around town, it's very positive, and I really like that," he said. "It's contagious."

Goodwin also stressed the value of smaller learning environments.

"I believe the small classroom is still the most effective way to work with students," he said.

In his current post, he's proud that, last year, for the first time, all the senior students from the Yavapai-Apache Nation who were enrolled in his district, graduated high school.

Before moving into education, Goodwin worked 20 years in the technical arena, including work as a software development manager for Cray Research in the Twin Cities.

He taught for 10 years in the Woodbury, Minn., School District—math, chemistry and physics in middle school and business courses in high school.

In Grand Forks, the question of how to move forward is key.

"Change is inevitable in education," he said, but "one of the dangers" is embracing the latest fad or trend.

"That's dangerous, because that's not what schools need," he said. "The decisions we make will affect us for years. We need to make sure the decisions we're making are not going to put us backwards."

In response to a question from School Board President Doug Carpenter concerning a possible decision by Goodwin's current school board to have him work at home and be available by phone, Goodwin said that action is intended to make it easier for him to transition to his next position. Goodwin told his board in December that he would not seek to extend his contract there beyond June 30.

"It was the (board) president's way of thanking me (for my work). He said, 'It's a way to support you as you make this transition,' " Goodwin said. "I'm not losing the title of superintendent. ... This is a positive, not a negative."

James Hess, superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools, and Terry Brenner, director of curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development for Grand Forks Public Schools, will meet with the groups Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

Members of the public are invited to meet with each finalist from 5 to 6 p.m. on those days at the Mark Sanford Education Center, 2400 47th Ave. S.