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Character profile outlines must-haves in next Brainerd superintendent

Consultants from School Exec Connect convened several focus groups composed of staff, students, parents, administrators, business leaders and other community members to learn what they would like to see in the next superintendent and received 409 responses on a communitywide survey.

Man sitting at table in boardroom.
Bob Ostlund, a consultant with School Exec Connect, presents Brainerd School Board members with a character profile of what the community wants to see in the district's next superintendent during the board's meeting Monday, Feb. 14, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — The next superintendent of Brainerd Public Schools should be a team-builder, a visionary, a spokesperson for the district and an open-minded, approachable person who puts student needs first.

Those are just a few of the attributes included in the superintendent profile created after a series of interviews, focus group meetings and survey responses from community members in recent weeks.

Superintendent Laine Larson announced earlier this year she will retire at the end of June after six years in the district. The School Board then contracted with School Exec Connect to begin the search for her replacement.

Consultants from School Exec Connect convened several focus groups composed of staff, students, parents, administrators, business leaders and other community members to learn what they would like to see in the next superintendent and received 409 responses on a communitywide survey.

With the student focus groups chosen from those on the student councils at Forestview Middle School and Brainerd High School, per board direction, board member Charles Black Lance said during the board’s meeting Monday, Feb. 14, he wanted to make sure under-represented students were also able to give input. Consultant Bob Ostlund, who presented the profile to the board Monday, said students were encouraged to fill out the survey, and future community meetings will also give students a chance to ask questions and give further input if they so choose.

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“I appreciate the opportunity for all students to be involved,” Black Lance said. “But if there’s an opportunity to be hand-picked, I just want to make sure that all students have access to that opportunity.”

In the profile

According to all the community feedback, the new superintendent should be a person who:

  • Is a visible and active leader in the schools and community, who is approachable and develops strong connections with the community to enhance services and build support for the school district.
  • Is an excellent communicator and spokesperson for the district through effective speaking, writing, listening and the use of technology.
  • Is a supportive team builder who develops positive relationships through high integrity and excellent interpersonal skills, creates a trusting environment safe for the expression of ideas and opinions, brings out the best in others and interacts with all people in a manner that makes them feel valued, heard and empowered.
  • Is a visionary instructional leader with a deep understanding of curriculum, who is focused on student achievement, facilitates a strong professional development program, encourages academic rigor and innovative approaches to instruction, values career education for students and supports the use of data in meaningful ways to foster continuous academic improvement and maximize the potential of each student.
  • Has a successful track record as a superintendent or assistant superintendent and demonstrates strong management skills and a deep understanding of school finance, is responsible with taxpayer dollars, has experience with voter-approved bond or operating levies and is able to craft a long-term vision for financial stability.
  • Is a collaborative, open-minded consensus builder who will lead a review of the district’s vision, mission and strategic plan in a way that empowers others and seeks input from the board, staff, students and community members in a transparent manner.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to addressing the diverse needs of students struggling with academic, socio-economic or mental health challenges and has successful experience planning, implementing and staffing programs and interventions to meet those needs.
  • Demonstrates an active commitment to equity, understands the value of economic, ethnic, cultural and all diversity in an educational environment.
  • Always puts student needs first when making decisions, seeks appropriate data and input from others in the decision-making process and demonstrates excellent follow through in the implementation of decisions.  
  • Develops a positive working relationship with the School Board that fosters excellent communication between the parties and a clear understanding of their respective administrative and governance roles.  
  • Supports using technology to enhance instruction, improve efficiency and expand avenues of communication.
  • Values and supports strong student athletic and academic co-curricular activities and fine arts programs.
  • Is politically astute in advocating for the district through the establishment of strong legislative networks and coalitions. 

“Obviously a person who has all these traits to the highest degree doesn’t exist,” Ostlund said. “... But you have to be able to handle all these things at a high level.”

School board members sit around a table in the boardroom.
Brainerd School Board members discuss matters during their meeting Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, at the Washington Educational Services Building.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

What’s next?

Consultants will post the position with the completed profile and begin recruiting candidates. The application period will close at the end of March, after which consultants will perform necessary background checks and select roughly six top candidates for the School Board to interview.

The board scheduled the following special meetings to learn about and interview candidates:

  • April 4 at noon: Presentation of candidates.
  • April 5 at 4 p.m.: Interviews.
  • April 6 at 4 p.m.: Interviews.

A second round of interviews for the top finalists board members choose will take place April 12-14 at a time yet to be determined. Some of the focus group members will also be able to interview the finalists.
If the timeline goes as planned, the board will choose a new superintendent and approve a contact by the end of April.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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