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First District 833 superintendent finalist makes the rounds

After a day touring School District 833, Keith Jacobus, one of two finalists for superintendent, was at East Ridge High School to meet with employees and spend an hour answering residents' questions. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

After talking with Woodbury and Park high school students during his tour of School District 833 facilities on Tuesday, superintendent finalist Keith Jacobus said he found them sophisticated in addition to being optimistic about their futures.

At the end of the day, Jacobus, of one two finalists, talked for about 45 minutes at East Ridge High School with district employees. Following that, he took questions from the public for an hour and had a final one-and-a-half hour interview with the School Board.

"The more I've gotten to know you, the more impressive you are," he said of the district.

If he were picked as superintendent, Jacobus said he has a 100-day plan during which residents, district leadership and staff members would get to know him "with as many personal interactions as possible" from meeting in people's homes to greeting local community leaders.

During the final interview, board member Jim Gelbmann said the district and board are divided over the board's decision not to renew Superintendent Mark Porter's contract. He asked Jacobus how he would "heal the wounds."

You have to honor what's happened in the past, Jacobus said. There's a sense of loss that has to be respected before moving forward.

Conflict, whether it's with staff members or parents, is best handled with patience and time, he said, and face-to-face interactions. Even after a resolution has been found, the relationship still needs attention.

Responding to questions on leadership, Jacobus said members of his administrative team would be "viable in all buildings" with informal and frequent visits, not necessarily to address problems. "You can accomplish a lot with a quick discussion," he said. "I would hope that if School Board members called me, that I'm out of the office."

In response to a question from board member David Kemper about defining "greatness," Jacobus said it starts with being humble and not assuming one knows everything. Greatness is also being optimistic and excited about what you're doing.

School districts are good at starting programs but not ending them when they are no longer working, said board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd. She asked Jacobus how he would approach the problem.

"The idea of planned abandonment isn't what we're used to," he said.

It's best to decide how the program will be evaluated before it's started, Jacobus said. Whatever the reasons, programs should not be partially implemented.

Jacobus, 54, is assistant superintendent in the Osseo Area School District.

Lolli Haws, the other finalist, is touring the district today and will follow the same schedule as Jacobus. She meets with the public at 5 p.m. at East Ridge High School's large group room.

Her final interview with the board, which is open to the public, will be at 7:30 p.m. at the District Service Center.

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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