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District 833 residents say better communication, planning needed from next superintendent

Doug Ballinger said he researched school districts and decided to move to Woodbury from out of state because his family was impressed with South Washington County Schools.

But there could be improvement, Ballinger said at a Tuesday meeting hosted by School Exec Connect, the search firm leading the District 833 superintendent hiring process.

Ballinger was among fourteen people who turned out for the meeting at Woodbury High School, the second such session to get input on what qualities should be sought in the successor to Superintendent Mark Porter, whose contract was not renewed by the School Board.

Ballinger said a new superintendent should, with "deliberate pursuit," use the best education practices available to close the student achievement gap.

Most residents echoed the sentiment that 833 is a good district that could be better, but said the board has damaged its relationship with the community and needs to rebuild trust.

Some parents whose children are in the Spanish language immersion program said a new superintendent needs to create an environment where residents can be heard. It seems like administrative decisions are made before hearing from the public, they said.

Molly Lutz said the district is expanding Liberty Ridge Elementary School without a long-term plan to deal with overcrowding at the school and at East Ridge High School. "Where are we going to put these kids?" she said.

Ken Dragseth, who heads the School Exec Connect search team, said feedback from focus groups and forms on the district's website reflects a need for better long-term planning.

The superintendent must communicate better with board members, Lutz said. She recalled an occasion when a school committee had information a month before board members did.

There is "some dissonance" among board members, said Charlie Kyte, a School Exec Connect consultant.

Mary Schultz, who serves on the district's citizen's finance advisory committee, said she's looking for a superintendent who is not only fiscally responsible but has knowledge in finance and would not backtrack from curriculum advances in math, science and engineering.

Under positive comments about the district, those who attended said the communities have pride in their schools and that there are some very good teachers.

"In spite of the barriers and abysmal record" of administrators, the district does a good job, said Susan Kent. She said she wondered what could be accomplished if the barriers weren't there.

Lutz said a new superintendent needs to unite the community because it's critical that a referendum renewal be passed in 2013.

There needs to be a "change of attitude" toward the district, added Tori O'Hare.

The district's consultants are scheduled to spend the next several days developing a "new superintendent profile" based on recent community input. School Board members will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28 to discuss that profile and accept the recommended attributes for a new superintendent.

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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