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School Board delays superintendent decision until next meeting

Bob Ostlund (righ), a partner with School Exec Connect, introduces Terry Brenner, a finalist for Grand Forks superintendent, at a public forum Thursday at the Mark Sanford Education Center. Brenner is the third and last finalist to be interviewed by the School Board. The School Exec Connect firm was hired to conduct the search. (Photo by Pamela Knudson/Grand Forks Herald)

The Grand Forks School Board on Thursday decided to postpone discussion and a decision on whom to hire as the next superintendent until its next regular board meeting Monday.

The decision followed comments by several board members who said they were not ready to make a selection and wanted more time to reflect on what they've learned in interviews with the three finalists this week.

The reason for the delay is, "overall, we want to make sure we're making the right decision," said School Board President Doug Carpenter, "not because we are not comfortable with the candidates we have interviewed."

He said some board members might want more information or to review input from the community.

Some board members said they've received numerous emails and phone calls.

"I've had more emails in the last five days than in the last five years," said Matt Spivey.

Eric Lunn said he's received comments questioning why the board is "rushing this process," though the search was started in November.

Carpenter reminded board members to not communicate with each other about the finalists, as that would violate the state's open meeting laws.

Terry Brenner, 57, the only internal finalist for the position of Grand Forks superintendent, was interviewed by the School Board on Thursday.

Brenner, who has worked for Grand Forks Public Schools for 23 years, is director of curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development.

He also served as principal at Carl Ben Eielson Elementary School at Grand Forks Air Force Base and Wilder Elementary in town.

He said that, if he was to be selected as superintendent, his top priorities would be the district's internal and external communications; "reconciling" the district's budget, and "addressing and staffing appropriately to meet the mental health challenges we have in our K-12 environment."

"There used to be a saying, 'If children don't know how to read, nothing else matters,' " he said.

Now, it's critical for children to learn how to regulate their social-emotional levels, he said. "We're in a new era, with challenges we've never had to deal with before."

It's important to help children with "lagging skills and unsolved problems that haven't been addressed, learn how to work their way out of a situation."

In response to a question from Spivey about being an internal finalist, Brenner said that "has made that hill a steeper climb for me."

But it is also an advantage, because "I know where we're at and where we want to go."

The superintendent's role is "complex, dynamic and fluid," Brenner said, noting that he believes he has some of the skills to fulfill the demands.

"We have tough, tough decisions ahead of us," he said, but added that the processes put into place for decision-making would allow everyone to speak and be heard.

"And, even if the outcome is not what some wanted, they'll understand how we arrived at that decision."

Brenner said, if chosen as superintendent, he would continue, as part of a "90-day entrance plan," his pattern of visiting individual schools and classrooms for two to four hours a week.

He would engage the district in a "zero-based budgeting exercise," involving teachers, directors and others in the district, to review the budget and lay the groundwork for future financial planning, he said.

He would also assemble a "bullying task force" of 15 to 22 students to review and make recommendations on how to curb or eliminate that type of behavior.

"In light of what happened in Florida yesterday, we're never doing enough," he said, "and I don't think we'll ever do enough."