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Taking the helm: Crookston welcomes new superintendent

Jeremy Olson has been the superintendent of Crookston Public Schools since July 1. "I'm really excited about this new challenge," he said. "People here are just awesome." (Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

CROOKSTON—Jeremy Olson was looking for a larger school district to lead when he began thinking about leaving his job as superintendent of the Underwood and Henning, Minn., school districts.

He found what he was looking for in Crookston.

"I'm really excited about this new challenge," he said. "People here are just awesome.

"The community is very supportive of education in general."

Olson, who officially started as Crookston's school superintendent July 1, will oversee an $18.2 million annual budget and a staff of about 200.

The Underwood and Henning student enrollment is about 940, he said. Crookston's enrollment is about 1,150.

"At each level, you have to grow as a superintendent," said Olson, who brings 10 years of experience as a superintendent to his new position.

After interviewing six candidates, the Crookston School Board voted in February to hire Olson to replace Superintendent Chris Bates, who retired after six years on the job.

Frank Fee, school board chairman, said Olson's financial management and communication skills, as well as his experience with open enrollment, were qualities that led to his selection.

Members of the board and groups of community and district staff members met with Olson during the interview process.

"In all three groups, we were unanimous in what we wanted in a superintendent," Fee said. "He was the sole candidate that each group wanted."

In the Crookston School District, Olson said, "the biggest goal is looking at stabilizing enrollment."

Open enrollment policy, which allows parents to send their children to any school they wish, is a concern for Crookston and other rural Minnesota school districts, Fee said.

Olson "has quite a bit of experience in open enrollment," he said. "We're hoping we've leveled out on that and can get somewhat of a steady enrollment."

Stabilizing enrollment is important "because that dictates what your budget will be," Fee said.

Part of the solution is putting a greater emphasis on "telling our story," Olson said.

"In education, so often, we are so terrible about tooting our own horn, and talking about the great things that are happening."

Olson also will focus attention on increasing student achievement and continuing the positive relationship between the district and the community, he said.

Concerning the district's facilities, Olson said a plan is needed to address the deteriorating bus garage.

"It's an issue that needs attention," he said. "What are we going to do long term?"

To accomplish these and other goals, Olson will take a "very collaborative approach," he said. "I'm a big believer in building capacity with the leadership team, within the direct reports that we have."

Among the strengths of the district is the staff, Olson said. "We have a really good staff."

Also, "the course offerings at the high school level are really strong," he said. "The school district is large enough to have a range of course offerings, with the advantages of smaller schools."

He also cited the "expanding CTE (career and technical education) programming" and the "multitude of sports," which increases opportunities for student athletes, as strengths of the district.

'Very impressed'

Even before officially starting the job, Olson "made it a point to come to Crookston numerous times and met with staff in all of our buildings," Fee said.

"He's also attended board meetings, and asked questions. So on July 1, he was right after it."

Fee has introduced Olson to leaders and others in the community, and "he's been well-received by everybody I've talk to after they met him," he said.

Olson "has good ideas," Fee said, and he's already organized a long-range planning committee that meets Monday for the first time to discuss short- and long-term goals.

"I think I can speak for the board when I say, so far, we're very impressed with him," Fee said. "Right now, he looks like everything we thought we were getting."

As superintendent, Olson will be paid $137,700 in the first year, under a three-year contract. In the second year, his salary will be $140,700 and in the third $143,700.

The salary is on par with that of superintendents in comparable districts, Fee said.

"It's probably more than we expected to pay," Fee said, but added that Olson's advanced degrees and experience were taken into account.

And "if the former superintendent would have signed on for three more years, we would probably be in the same price range," he said.

Experienced leader

A native of Sartell, Minn., Olson attended Jamestown (N.D.) College where he earned a bachelor's degree in history education. He holds a master's degree in educational leadership from UND and a doctorate from the University of South Dakota.

Olson taught high school in Fort Totten, N.D., and, from 2006 to 2008, served as principal of the Timber Lake, S.D., secondary school.

From 2008 to 2010, he was superintendent and high school principal at Pingrey-Buchanan, N.D.

In 2010, he was named superintendent and K-4 principal at the Underwood School District, where, after four years, he also became superintendent of the nearby Henning School District, and stepped down as principal at Underwood.

Olson and his wife, Becky Olson, have four daughters: Naomi, 11; twins Abby and Lydia, 9; and Anna, 6.