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Duluth superintendent Bill Gronseth explains his job searches

Duluth schools superintendent Bill Gronseth (file / News Tribune)

Duluth schools superintendent Bill Gronseth said he has withdrawn from other job searches.

The day after it was announced the Winona (Minn.) school district had chosen another candidate among three finalists, of which Gronseth was one, he posted an unusually candid message on his Facebook page.

He said he applied for other positions because he had grown "nervous" during the months that his contract — approved in December — was being discussed by the Duluth School Board.

His decision to search wasn't about money or moving to a larger district as some have said, he wrote.

"It has been about joy, about positivity, about looking at challenges without dragging others down," he said. "I know it isn't all sunshine and rainbows. We have some big issues to tackle. ... My focus however, is on the solutions and the process to get there. When we continually focus on the negative, that is what sticks. When we continually look at solutions, things get done."

During the past two years, Gronseth was a top candidate for six superintendent positions in Minnesota, Arkansas and Washington. The native Duluthian and longtime educator and administrator in Duluth schools has been superintendent since 2012, when he was chosen to replace I.V. Foster, who made a separation agreement with the School Board after working six months following news he was not licensed to work in Minnesota. Gronseth was assistant superintendent at the time.

The district has struggled with achievement gaps and declining enrollment — problems in schools before Gronseth's tenure that have continued. There have been unintended consequences of the long-range facilities plan, including fewer electives and high-level course opportunities for Denfeld students, and taxes raised because of the failure to sell buildings meant to offset construction debt.

The district has also begun progressive work to improve academic performance and better prepare kids for learning with after-school programs and more services inside schools, immersion classes and those that cater to area workforce demands, and an online high school.

In his message, Gronseth said things need to be "turned around."

"We need to dig in, and make some pretty significant changes in our schools and our community," he said. "We need to have people who are focused on problem solving, on lifting up what is going right so we can do more of it, and less negativity, finger-pointing and shaming."

He said he would start speaking "more plainly" and things might get "a little messier," but he takes the work seriously.

Board chairman David Kirby said Tuesday that he has every reason to believe that as long as Gronseth remains in his role, he will work hard for the district. Most superintendents don't stay in one district their entire career, he said.

Board member Harry Welty said he appreciated Gronseth's candor, but he has reservations about some of what he conveyed in his message.

"I believe you can talk about awkward and difficult problems openly and candidly, and those conversations don't have to be regarded as negativity," he said.

Gronseth cares about children and what's best for them, Welty said, "but I think he needs to examine my point of view with more openness."

The role of a superintendent is challenging and "very public," said member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp.

"I think he's been a strong leader," she said.

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