Duluth leaders call for School Board to open dialogueMoving forward after Superintendent I.V. Foster’s resignation, the Duluth school district must be open with the community about the challenges it faces, said David Ross, president of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Moving forward after Superintendent I.V. Foster’s resignation, the Duluth school district must be open with the community about the challenges it faces, said David Ross, president of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.
Ross said he has met with Interim Superintendent Bill Gronseth since he took over in late December and told him the district must be unguarded — sharing the good and bad news.
“In doing so, it clearly illustrates to the community our status,” he said. “People appreciate that … and will rally around the new superintendent and School Board.”
Other community leaders echoed Ross’ advice for moving past Foster’s resignation.
Mayor Don Ness said the district’s top priority should be rebuilding trust and confidence, being open about its issues “no matter how uncomfortable or discouraging.”
“When putting the problems in front of folks, you’ll have some that will say, ‘I told you so.’ But who cares?” he said. “Only that sort of blunt honesty and transparency will allow everyone to move on to more constructive efforts. There are so many positive things happening in our schools; there’s a real desire to put the political garbage in the past and just focus on what’s best for these kids.”
The district doesn’t have to wait for a new superintendent to begin that process, Ness said.
Foster resigned Friday after the School Board and the public learned he had been working without a Minnesota superintendent license since he began in July. The board put him on paid administrative leave Dec. 19 and began an investigation into what it called allegations made against him. Board members say those allegations dealt only with the license issue.
Ross said from here on out the district should clearly explain the status of projects, such as those related to the Red Plan, and detail the challenges with them.
Communication with the public was scarce under the Foster administration, the Chamber president said. He pointed to Ness, who Ross said has shared the severity of the city’s problems “in unblinking fashion,” and it “generated a collective will to move from that unhealthy place ... and go through sacrifices in moving from that unhealthy place.”
The School Board has not yet discussed plans for choosing a new superintendent, but Chairwoman Ann Wasson said a special public meeting would probably be held soon. The board’s options include keeping Gronseth, who had been a finalist for the position last spring, or conducting a new search. Last year’s search cost $23,600.
The board should take a “serious look” at Gronseth, said Frank Wanner, president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers.
“To rush into another search would be counterproductive,” Wanner said. “It should be someone who knows the district, understands it and has a history with it.”
The superintendent should meet with community groups and deal regularly with the state, teachers and other staff.
“And a lot of that just wasn’t getting done,” with Foster as superintendent, Wanner said. “There is a sense of both relief and excitement that we will start moving forward again.”
Both options — looking within the district and beginning a new, broad search are good choices, said Claudie Washington, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP.
“We need someone to address the budget deficit, deal with closing the achievement gap and to finish the Red Plan,” he said, citing concerns about the construction status of Myers-Wilkins Elementary, formerly Grant.
“I want someone capable of achieving what’s needed,” he said.