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Heidi Hahn accepts Brainerd superintendent job

Hahn is the district's current assistant superintendent and will begin her new position July 1.

Heidi Hahn speaks in front of a group of people
Brainerd Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn speaks in front of a group of community members April 12, 2022, as part of her interview to be the district's next superintendent.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Heidi Hahn will be the next superintendent of Brainerd Public Schools.

Hahn, current assistant superintendent in the district, accepted the offer Monday, April 18, after taking the weekend to consider the School Board’s offer.

“I’m thrilled and excited to start this next part of my career and serving the students and staff and community,” Hahn said during a phone interview Monday.

The acceptance comes after a long, livestreamed board meeting Thursday, April 14, where School Board members deliberated between Hahn and candidate Eric Schneider for more than three hours. After that meeting, Hahn said she needed some time to think.

“I’m grateful for the work that our school board did and for the lengthy discussions they had to make the best decision for the district,” Hahn said Monday.

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Board members expressed their excitement at Hahn’s acceptance Monday.

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“She does bleed blue. And she has a passion for excellence, and she has a passion for students,” Board Chair Ruth Nelson said Monday morning. “She has extensive knowledge of our district, so that’ll help her start off well, and she knows the work we need to do. And I think that she will take the already amazing, outstanding district that we do have to the next level. So I’m very, very excited.”

Nelson broke the 3-3 tie Thursday night, originally saying she ranked Schneider just one point higher but ultimately noting she had complete faith in Hahn and her ability to lead the district.

I believe 100% that Heidi can and will bring our school district from good to great.
School Board Vice Chair Charles Black Lance

Board members Kevin Boyles and Tom Haglin also advocated for Schneider Thursday, but Boyles said Monday he supports Hahn 100% and hopes the community can get behind her as well.

“My issue was never about the people involved. It was about the idea that somebody from outside the school district would get instant buy-in from the entire community where it’s going to be more difficult for her to do, not because of her. It has nothing to do with her,” Boyles said. “So I think if the community is willing to get behind her and give her a chance to show us what ISD 181 looks like under Superintendent Hahn, I think she deserves that chance. And I’m going to do everything I can to help her succeed.”

Hahn also hopes she can help bring the community together, especially through creating a strategic plan that would lay out the district’s specific goals and priorities.

“There is some division that exists, and I think we need to bridge the gap that exists and really unite people in the focus on better outcomes and great outcomes for our students,” she said.

Haglin could not be reached for comment Monday.

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Board members who advocated for Hahn during the meeting were Charles Black Lance, Jana Shogren and Sarah Speer, all of whom spoke enthusiastically Monday about Hahn’s decision to accept the job.

“I trust her a great deal, and I’m particularly pleased that the learning curve won’t be overly sharp for her, that she’s already here,” Black Lance said. “And most importantly, I feel she embodies everything that we needed as a community, as a school district and then even as a board. … I believe Heidi’s leadership will bring us into that next phase as a school district, and I believe 100% that Heidi can and will bring our school district from good to great.”

School Board members discuss around a table in the boardroom
Brainerd School Board Chair Ruth Nelson, center, speaks Thursday night, April 14, 2022, as board members deliberate who to choose as the next superintendent of Brainerd Public Schools.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Shogren also spoke of Hahn’s 26 years of experience in various capacities throughout the district as helping to give her a headstart in the position, and Shogren said she is excited to work with Hahn.

Speer noted Hahn’s background working in the mental health and special education fields as assets to the district, along with the trust and confidence she instills in students and staff, which was something Speer said the board heard overwhelmingly from the various interview focus groups involved in the hiring process.

“I’m thrilled that she said yes,” Speer said. “... Educators and students and the administration team were all very eager to work with her and thought she would be a great asset for the students and for the district. So I look forward to supporting her and empowering her leadership. I know she will do great things as a leader in this district that really has a heart for students.”

One of Hahn’s first priorities as superintendent — along with developing a strategic plan — is to share the district’s story.

People sit at a desk in the Brainerd School Board meeting room
Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn, center, addresses the Brainerd School Board in early March 2020.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

“I think there’s a lot of great things happening that we haven’t done our best job at sharing with our community,” she said. “So I’m very excited to start sharing that and really working on telling our story.”

Nelson said the next step is for her and Black Lance — the board chair and vice chair — to meet with Hahn and the district’s benefits committee to discuss contract negotiations. The board will call a special meeting to approve the contract once it is settled.

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Hahn will officially start as superintendent July 1.

The process

Hahn was chosen out of a pool of 17 candidates. Consultants with School ExecConnect narrowed the pool down to the top 6 applicants, all of whom the board interviewed earlier this month.

Hahn, Schneider and Red Wing Superintendent Karsten Anderson were chosen as the top three finalists to come back for a final round of interviews with the board and community focus groups.

Black Lance said he was comfortable with the process the board took, with high-quality applicants coming from as far away as Houston.

“I feel very comfortable with that. Especially since she’s an internal candidate, it’s very important to me that we follow that process and that we look at anybody that had the skill set and the experience and then also the want to be our superintendent,” he said. “So I felt that we were able to put all that together in a very solid search process, and that brought us to Heidi.”

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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