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East Grand Forks Superintendent Mike Kolness among Bemidji finalists

Mike Kolness, the new superintendent of schools in East Grand Forks, is photographed on the new turf at the Senior High field this week. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

BEMIDJI—Bemidji Area Schools board members Thursday narrowed its list of superintendent hopefuls, including East Grand Forks Superintendent Mike Kolness.

Consultants from School Exec Connect presented the board with a list of five candidates, which they had culled from a field of 24 total applicants. The board approved that five-person list for a round of interviews on Saturday, which made the candidates' names and other information about them public.

Kolness has been superintendent in East Grand Forks since July 2016. A native of Hendrum, Minn., he worked in the Ada-Borup (Minn.) school district starting in 1990 and as superintendent there from 2009 to 2016. While in East Grand Forks, he oversaw the $20.6 million renovation and expansion of the Senior High School.

In addition to Kolness, the candidates are:

• Tim Lutz, superintendent at Kelliher Public Schools

• Jim Wagner, superintendent at Kimball Area Public Schools

• Rochelle Johnson, superintendent at Cass Lake-Bena Schools

• Tony Kinkel, executive director at the Minnesota Board of School Administrators

School Exec Connect consultants handed out large packets of information about each candidate to school board members. The public is entitled to considerably less information under state law.

The board also approved a standardized list of questions they'll ask each candidate on Saturday.

Interviews are scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at district offices and are expected to wrap up around 4 p.m. After that, the board is scheduled to narrow their choice to two or three finalists.

And next week, those finalists are scheduled for all-day interviews with community members, district staff and students before second interviews with the board over dinner.

On April 18-19, the board is scheduled to narrow its choice to one candidate then negotiate a contract with him or her over the next week. Board members are expected to approve the next superintendent's contract in May, and whomever board members choose would officially start their new job July 1.

The new hire will replace outgoing Superintendent Jim Hess, who's helmed Bemidji Area Schools since 2004. Last August, Hess announced that this school year would be his last at the district. He was named a finalist for a job at Grand Forks Public Schools, but board members there ultimately chose a high-level administrator in that district.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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