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Leader of Duluth schools vies for new job

Bill Gronseth

Duluth school district superintendent Bill Gronseth is a candidate for the top position at a large north metro school district.

He is one of six chosen for a first round of interviews for the superintendent post at the Elk River school district, which also covers Otsego, Rogers and Zimmerman. The district has about 13,000 students, compared to Duluth’s 8,600. Gronseth was expected to be interviewed this week, with finalist interviews set for next week.

Update: Gronseth named one of three finalists on Thursday

This would be the fourth time in two years Gronseth has been seriously considered for other superintendent positions.

Gronseth has led Duluth schools since 2012, and was previously assistant superintendent. A Duluth native, he’s also been a teacher and an administrator in the district for about 20 years. In 2016 and 2015 he was a finalist for three other superintendent positions, one on the west coast, one in the Twin Cities area and one in Arkansas.

The Duluth School Board approved a new three-year contract for him in December, which included pay increases that would take is salary of $168,000 to $174,800 by his third year. During an October discussion with the board about his contract, he told members he had no plans to seek employment elsewhere.

On Wednesday he said the process of applying for district leadership jobs is a long one, spanning the course of many months. Because of that and “less than positive” feedback from three of the seven board members during negotiations, “it seemed prudent to evaluate other opportunities,” he said, noting he hadn't planned to look for other positions so soon.

“But in exploring the possibility I became interested and thought it was worth consideration,” he said.

The Minnesota Association of School Administrators puts the average tenure of a superintendent between five and six years.

Other candidates for the Elk River position include Stephen Flisk, deputy chief of schools for the Minneapolis school district; Michael Funk, superintendent of Albert Lea schools; Brenda Lewis, assistant superintendent of the Rochester school district; Daniel Bittman, superintendent of the Sauk Rapids-Rice school district and LaDarla Haws, superintendent of the Racine (Wis.) Unified school district.

The Elk River superintendent job is being filled in the interim by former Duluth schools operations director Bruce Watkins, who was also a longtime Proctor High School principal.

Gronseth’s time as superintendent in Duluth has been marked by an often sharply divided and contentious School Board, that in 2014 investigated one of its own members for allegedly shoving Gronseth at a high school graduation.