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Nelson gets high marks in first review

Most District 833 school board members said Superintendent Tom Nelson met or exceeded expectations in his first year leading the district.

Nelson's performance evaluation was part of a recent school board retreat held at the River Oaks Golf Club in Cottage Grove.

The school board's goals for Nelson included raising student achievement on state tests, delivering a structure for long- and short-term planning and providing leadership in the district and community.

Board Chair Ron Kath said monthly columns in the Bulletin newspapers are a good idea, adding that Nelson followed up on concerns from the community and the board.

"From a board perspective, thank you for a great year," he said.

Board Member Marsha Adou said there has been positive feedback about Nelson from the community.

"It's a welcome change," Olson said. "It's so refreshing to have someone look at new ways to get things done."

"I believe this year has gone reasonably well and much too fast," Nelson said. "I inherited a strong group of managers making my transition go fairly smooth. There were and are many major issues needing attention and I believe we have made progress in most areas."

The board also discussed the relationship between Nelson and school board members. Board members asked Nelson what the role of board members should be regarding personnel issues.

"The day-to-day issues are mine where performance is an issue," Nelson said. "If you feel I'm not doing it, then you should deal with me. You will hear about district employees not doing their job. It's your job to give those to me. Hiring and firing is my responsibility."

School board members also wanted to know how administrators pared a proposed list of more than $3 million in education enhancements to $2 million?

Districts seldom have extra money to spend on education enhancements and changing the way education is delivered, Nelson said, and staff members might have been "gun shy" because of budget cuts in the past. It took a second round of proposals for innovations such as special classes for elementary-school students assessed as "profoundly gifted" to move forward. The second round also produced an orchestra program for elementary school students.

Adou said some teachers and administrators did not know a list of funding proposals was being assembled.

"Then they weren't listening," Nelson said.

Adou and Board Member Katy McElwee-Stevens said they wanted to offer education proposals of their own.

Tracy Brunnette and Carrie Olson said proposals should come from staff members.

Board Member Jim Gelbmann ended the debate by suggesting education proposals can be initiated by both board and staff members.

Board members also decided there is a need to get to know each other outside of making decisions about district business. A consulting attorney confirmed that it is permitted under the Open Meeting Law to meet socially if school board business is not discussed. Board members plan to meet at local restaurants before board meetings.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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