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First four interview for superintendent position

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Four people had a chance to voice why they should be Brainerd’s next superintendent.

The Brainerd School Board held its first round of interviews of candidates for the superintendent position Wednesday. The final three will be interviewed Thursday.

The process is an effort to find a replacement for current Superintendent Steve Razidlo, who announced his resignation effective at the end of the school year. He accepted a three-year contract as superintendent at The American International School in Vienna, Austria.

School Exec Connect, an Illinois-based firm that specializes in placing school leaders in districts, is heading the search for his replacement.

In the open meeting, which just a couple of people from the public attended, the board members took turns asking candidates questions.

Ron Wilke

Current position: Superintendent at La Crescent-Hokah Public Schools, Minnesota.

Past positions: Elementary principal, curriculum director, band teacher.

Wilke says he’s happy with his current position, but he wears “many hats” because of its size. Coming to Brainerd, he said, would allow him to focus on areas like vision, strategic planning and creating more community partnerships.

“Brainerd would be a great opportunity for that,” he said.

Wilke says his leadership style is “collaborative and student-centered.”

Adding that he listens to each side, honors all perspectives, and works to empower those around him.

“Humility is another piece,” he said. “I recognize what I don’t know (in situations).”

In those situations, Wilke says he works to understand each aspect.

When it comes to keeping his ear on the pulse of the community and the voice of the stakeholders, Wilke says it comes down to listening.

Have an open mind, he said.

“Listen to all perspectives and seek to understand where they come from,” he said.

It’s Wilke’s passion for kids that “truly lit up” his passion inside of the schools, he said.

“It’s a huge part of who I am,” he said. “It guides who I am.”

Chris Sonju

Current position: Superintendent of Glencoe/Silver Lake schools, Minnesota.

Past positions: Assistant principal, activities director and elementary teacher.

Sonju says he wants to take “all of the wonderful things going on in Brainerd” to the next level.

“We have to get people to think outside the box and plan for programs that will help kids,” he said.

Sonju used an example of a program he helped implement at his district called “Power of the ICU,” which aims to assess students in more formative and summative ways.

Sonju says he’s very active and visible in the community.

“When I’m out there, I’m going 90 miles an hour,” he said.

He thinks of himself as a decision maker, but notes they aren’t made quickly. Sonju says he’s done his research and explains his reasoning behind any decisions.

In his research of the district, Sonju said he’s learned “this school is excellent.”

“It’s always a challenge to superintendents coming in, in how to make a great school district even better,” he said.

But when it comes down to it, Sonju says he goes to work every day for one reason — the kids.

Deidre Wells

Current position: Superintendent, Inver Grove Heights Community Schools, Minnesota.

Past positions: Assistant superintendent, adjunct professor.

It comes down to the vision that the community has for the school system, Wells said. That’s what will determine the future for Brainerd.

“It’s not just the board. We have to know what the community is really after. What do they want as the outcome when seniors leave?” she said.

Wells describes herself as action-oriented.

“I’m not one to find out information and not act on it. That’s not always comfortable for people,” she said. “When I find something that needs to be done, I don’t look away.”

Wells says she’s a person with a lot of vision, but doesn’t think narrow, instead she takes a wider view.

“It allows me to move things forward,” she said.

Success, she said, is about building trust and rapport with people.

In her current district, Wells said she’s helped with efforts to engage the community through Facebook, Twitter and parent and community surveys.

That way, people can give feedback into how the district is doing.

In Brainerd, Wells said her 100-day entry plan into Brainerd includes the following: Build information, work with the board on a timeline in what they want to see happen within one year, and then go from there.

She added that her experiences will bring “depth” to the district.

Chris Hines

Current position: Deputy superintendent, Conroe Independent School District, Texas.

Past positions: High school principal, assistant superintendent, associate superintendent.

Hines said it has always been a goal of his to make his district a destination school system.

“It has always been my goal for people to choose us because we offer something more, something special,” he said.

Achieving that is getting harder and harder nowadays as schools try to be separate from and above other educational systems, he said.

“It takes ongoing commitment and the execution of small things,” he said.

Hines says he’s a “big picture person” who works collaboratively and speaks with a soft voice.

A “peace-maker at heart,” Hines says he has the ability to empathize with people and see the value in peoples’ viewpoints, even if he doesn’t agree with them.

In gaining the support of the community and stakeholders, Hines said it’s about forming relationships with people.

“It’s an on-going process,” he said. “I don’t view it as a single event.”

Still, there’s always more the district can be doing, he said.

“It’s important to have your ear to the ground and see what’s percolating,” he said.

The final three candidates will be interviewed starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Those candidates are: Scott Monson, superintendent, Morris Area Schools, Minnesota; Klint Willert, superintendent, Marshall Public Schools, Minnesota; Larry Guggisberg, superintendent, Roseau Community School, Minnesota.

After the final interviews are complete, the School Board will deliberate who to offer the position to.

JESSICA LARSEN may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at