Cambridge-Isanti superintendent search narrowed down to seven

The search for the new superintendent of the Cambridge-Isanti School District has been narrowed down to seven candidates.

During a special school board meeting May 13, the board approved a motion to bring in seven candidates for first round interviews to be held during the evenings of May 15 and May 16.

The candidates to be interviewed include: John Engelking, superintendent of the Proctor School District; Ray Queener, assistant superintendent of the Stillwater School District; Jamie Skjeveland, superintendent of the Crosby-Ironton School District; Mary Klamm, superintendent of the Menahga School District; Deb Wanek, superintendent of the Pelican Rapids School District; Wayne Anderson, superintendent of the Mount Horab School District in Wisconsin; and Mark Schmitz, superintendent of the Staples-Motley School District.

Charlie Kyte, from School Exec Connect, explained 30 applications were received for the superintendent position. Current Cambridge-Isanti Superintendent Bruce Novak will be retiring June 30.

Of those 30 candidates, 24 were from Minnesota and three were from Wisconsin, and three others came from Georgia, Michigan and Texas. Of the applicants, 16 are current superintendents, eight are principals, three are deputy and assistant superintendents, one is a director, one is an executive director and one is a teacher.

Kyte explained his firm prescreened all the candidates, checked references supplied by the candidate, talked to other people associated with the candidate and did some pre-investigating on the candidates.

“We took all the measures necessary to make sure these seven candidates would withstand the process and become your next superintendent if selected,” Kyte said. “Based on your input and the community input, you want someone to engage with the community and faculty, and these candidates all have a lot of good qualities, but also that particular quality.”

Bob Ostlund, with School Exec Connect, said any of the seven candidates would make a good superintendent of Cambridge-Isanti Schools.

“We have some really good candidates,” Ostlund said. “We feel we have selected candidates who have been successful wherever they have been.”

Following the interviews on May 16, the board will then select two or three finalists to bring in for second-round interviews. Each finalist will spend an entire day in the district May 20-22. A second-round interview will only be held May 22 if the board selects three finalists.

The second round interviews will involve each finalist receiving a tour of the district beginning at 9 a.m. and meeting with different focus groups throughout the day, including administrators, students, principals and staff members.

As part of the second-round interview process, the finalist will be part of a community forum to be held at 5 p.m. at the Isanti Middle School Auditorium on the day of their interview.

All members of the public are invited to attend these community forums to meet with the finalists and ask any questions they may have. The finalist’s day will end with a final interview with the school board at 7:30 p.m.

“The second-round interviews involve a lot of people and meeting with a lot of different people,” said Toni Johns, with School Exec Connect. “Each candidate comes on their own day and it gives the candidate a chance to learn more about the school district.”

Johns mentioned feedback sheets will be provided to each focus group the finalist meets with during the second round interview process.

Board Member Lynn Wedlund encouraged district administrators to reach out to the community and invite them to the community forums that will be held as part of the second-round interview process.

“Community leaders, who aren’t mayors and council members, may not necessarily come unless we personally invite them,” Wedlund said.

Following the final interviews with the top candidates, the board will then select its choice for superintendent and begin contract negotiations. The new superintendent will assume duties July 1.

Meet the Seven Candidates

(Biographical information provided by School Exec Connect, who noted the comments below were provided by candidates’ references and others associated with the candidate).

John Engelking, Proctor superintendent

This candidate is in his fourth year as superintendent of a 1,800-student district in Greater Minnesota. He also has experience as a secondary principal, activities director and social studies teacher. Board members describe him as an excellent communicator with the board, staff and community. He has led a successful bond referendum. He is described as an outstanding collaborator, someone strong in technology and a leader who can make tough decisions. He delegates well and holds staff accountable.

He established great relationships with the Native American community. He is seen as student-centered and caring and is very active in the community. One long-serving board member described him as “by far the best of the four superintendents” he had worked with. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Minnesota State Mankato and his superintendent’s certificate at St. Mary’s University.

Ray Queener, Stillwater assistant superintendent

This candidate is currently completing his eighth year as assistant superintendent in a large metro suburban district. His main area of supervision is in the areas of Business and Administrative services, although he has current and previous experiences in working with the academic program. He is a multi-dimensional educator who started in teaching and has served large districts in a variety of roles. He is a highly respected administrator in the district, helping keep the district moving forward through many changes. His references say that he is extremely knowledgeable in all phases of the superintendent role and has led many initiatives that involve multiple stakeholders and high visibility. He is well liked by staff and is extremely dedicated to his work and the success of the district.

Multiple references comment that he is absolutely ready for a superintendent role and has all the professional and personal characteristics that will make him successful. He works hard for students and staff and takes great pride in selling the district and its programs. His financial and human resource knowledge is unique and it serves the district and state well. This candidate has a Bachelor of Science in mathematics from the University of Minnesota, an Master of Arts from St. Mary’s University and a Doctorate in Education in education policy and Leadership from the University of Minnesota.

Jamie Skjeveland, Crosby-Ironton superintendent

This candidate has served for seven years as a superintendent in central Minnesota in a district of 1,130 students. Prior he served as a superintendent for five years in Wisconsin and also served as a principal, assistant principal and band and choir teacher. As superintendent he has participated in schoolwide efforts to raise student performance, implemented the Marzano/iObservation teacher evaluation model and implemented a 1-1 iPad initiative for grades 4-7. As a strong financial manager he has increased the districts fund balance reserve from 1 percent to 18 percent in six years. He is a skilled strategic planner and has implemented a full-day kindergarten program. He is an engaged community leader and is involved with training in the Blandin Community Leaders program. He is said to have developed a positive connection between staff and community, is seen as an educational leader and knows how to collaboratively find compromises to keep a district moving forward.

He has served as the chair of the MAS A Region 5 and of the Crow Wing Family Services Collaborative. This candidate has a Bachelor of Arts from Luther College, a Master of Science and Specialist degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato and a Doctorate in Education Administration from William Howard Taft University in Santa Ana, Calif. He was a top finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year in 1995.

Mary Klamm, Menahga superintendent

This candidate is completing her third year as a superintendent in a west central Minnesota district of about 900 students. Her previous experience includes serving as an educational services director in a service coop where she conducted over 75 data retreats for school districts. She served as a principal and as an elementary teacher. This candidate quickly changed a district that had much negativity to one where everyone respected each other and worked as a team.

She is an excellent grant writer, has lead her schools investment in technology and developed a pre-engineering program. She is reported to work well with fellow administrators, the public, teachers and students. She has superior academic knowledge and administrative skills. She is collaborative and approachable. This candidate has a Bachelor of Science from Bemidji State University and a Specialist degree in Education Leadership from the Tri-College/Minnesota State University, Moorhead. She was awarded a Bush Leadership Fellowship.

Deb Wanek, Pelican Rapids superintendent

This candidate has served six years a superintendent in her current western Minnesota district of about 900 students. Prior to this assignment, she served in another smaller district for six years as superintendent. She has also served as a K-12 principal and an elementary teacher. This candidate has successfully secured grants for a wide range of after-school and summer programs, led a total review of the districts technology capabilities, began a 1-1 iPad initiative and established numerous alternative pathways for student learning. She is skilled financially, having completed major system reductions and passed a $600 per student referendum.

Every person contacted in a reference checks asked not to take their superintendent. She is said to be collaborative, innovative and committed to developing strong learning communities. She has a Bachelor of Science from Bemidji State University, a Bachelor of Science from the University of Minnesota, Morris, a Master of Arts and a Specialist degree in education administration from the Tri-College in Moorhead. She has been selected as the Regional Administrator of Excellence in 2012 and served as a mentor for new superintendents.

Wayne Anderson, Mount Horab, Wis., superintendent

This candidate is completing his 17th year as superintendent of a 2,400-student, outer-ring suburban school district in Wisconsin. He has also served for the past 15 years as an adjunct professor for educational leadership and policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he teaches educational finance and budgeting. He is described as very analytical, financially astute and someone who builds a very strong leadership team.

He is seen as an excellent relationship builder who has developed very good relationships with both the district unions and the community. He is also very active and visible in the community. The board is always provided with excellent information, and he handles board dynamics well. He is seen as a “true asset to the school district” who is always positive and extremely dedicated to his work. The candidate has a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in history from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Philosophy in educational administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mark Schmitz, Staples-Motley superintendent

This candidate is completing his eighth year as a superintendent of a 1,200-student Central Minnesota district. He has also served as a principal and an elementary teacher. This candidate is reported to be energetic, caring and skilled with people. He is entrepreneurial by nature with good technical knowledge, good intuitive skills and collaborative ability. This candidate empowers teachers at all levels to improve their capacity and success. He is a member of the Brainerd Area Manufacturers Alliance and a member of the EDA in his community. He is said to have a very comprehensive understanding of school governance and finances.

He places a high value on continuous school improvement and has conducted community input sessions. He was selected by Commissioner Seagren as the one superintendent from Minnesota to attend the 2010 Vanderbilt University Summer Fellowship Program and by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to attend the Gates Foundation East Coast Educational Exploration Committee. This candidate has Bachelor of Science degree from St. Cloud State University and a Sixth-Year degree in educational administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He has served as president of MASA Region V.