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South Washington County superintendent finalists interview in district

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Two District 833 superintendent candidates from an initial pool of 28 rose to the top and were to be interviewed as finalists beginning Tuesday.

The South Washington County School Board chose as finalists Keith Jacobus, an Osseo Area School District assistant superintendent, and Lolli Haws, instructional superintendent of District of Columbia Schools in Washington, D.C. They were picked over four other candidates who interviewed with the board Saturday.

Jacobus was scheduled to tour the South Washington County School District and meet with various groups on Tuesday. Jacobus was scheduled for a final interview with the board at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in East Ridge High School's large group room. A public event was planned for 5 p.m.

Haws was scheduled to spend a similar day in the district on Wednesday. Her final interview with the board was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the District Service Center. The public event for her was set for 5 p.m. Wednesday in East Ridge's large group room.

The board could make a decision following Haws' interview. The next superintendent will replace Mark Porter, whose contract was not renewed by the board.

The finalists

Jacobus, who holds a doctorate from the University of Denver where he has taught as an adjunct professor, told board members he and his family wanted to return to the Midwest because they were originally from Wisconsin. A science teacher, Jacobus said he missed "lakes and deciduous trees," so he took an assistant superintendent position of leadership, teaching and learning in Osseo two years ago.

With experience in human resources, Jacobus has extensive connections with alternative schools. His main focus has been in the area of instruction and learning.

Haws, instructional superintendent in District of Columbia Public Schools, said students need to be taught to "think critically and deeply."

It isn't the smartest person who will get the job, she said, but the person who can work well with others.

In the area of technology, children and new teachers are "the natives and we are the immigrants," Haws said.

Board reaction

It was obvious from the first ballot following Saturday's semifinalist interviews that Haws and Jacobus were the top choices.

Board member Marsha Adou said Jacobus has developed leadership and is knowledgeable in brain science.

Leslee Boyd, the board chairwoman, said Jacobus has good ideas about innovation and was impressed that he met with a focus group of students to hear their views on what they need to learn.

He's very deliberate in decision making and creates an open environment for feedback from everyone, board member Laurie Johnson said.

Haws described herself as a "math person," board member Tracy Brunnette said, adding that she was impressed with the fact that this propelled Haws to get a master's degree in reading, an area she was not strong in.

Adou said Haws is forward thinking and articulate, and that her opinions are research-based.

Board members bogged down, however, when it came to choosing a third candidate.

Boyd, Johnson, David Kemper and Adou favored Dennis Dearden, a superintendent from Arizona.

Ron Kath, who voted for both Dearden and Deborah Henton, who is North Branch superintendent, said Dearden had experience in business and had been successful in improving the situation in the district where he's working.

"Dearden is the only one who used the words 'customer service,'" Johnson said.

Adou said Dearden is a "change agent," adding that one of his references called him a "visionary."

Kath, Jim Gelbmann and Brunnette favored Henton because she already knows Minnesota school financing.

Brunnette liked Henton's approach to budgeting, adding that she had new ways of approaching it.

With four in favor of Dearden and three favoring Henton, there was no clear majority for either.

Gelbmann said the board should go with the top two and Brunnette agreed but Kath said three would be better. To move ahead, he said he could support Dearden, but the voting didn't change.

After a short break, Kemper said he would change his vote to support Henton.

But with the amount of support for either still unclear, search consultant Ken Dragseth suggested the board advance the top two candidates and board members unanimously agreed.

The board is expected to vote to offer a contract to either Haws or Jacobus after Haws' interview on Wednesday. It's best to make a decision immediately after the final interview, Dragseth said, so the public is assured board members didn't "go off on their own" and form alliances. The board's consultants at School Exec Connect have said the salary for the next superintendent may be around $165,000.

Neither Jacobus, who's spent the majority of his education career in Colorado and has been in Osseo since 2010, or Haws, who has family members living in the state and a summer cabin, were slated to interview for other positions, Dragseth said.

The original field of eight semifinalist was narrowed to six when Keith Rittel withdrew after taking a job with the State of Utah. Semifinalist Gerald Hill withdrew after accepting a job in Michigan.

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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