Duluth schools Superintendent Bill Gronseth plans to step down after his contract ends next year.
Gronseth, 50, who has been superintendent since 2012, announced the decision in a news release Wednesday morning, saying he wanted to give the Duluth School Board “time to engage in a thorough search process to identify a new superintendent.” Gronseth’s contract with the Duluth school district ends in June 2020.
During his tenure, Gronseth led the district through completion of its $300 million long-range facilities plan, also known as the Red Plan, that saw the closure and consolidation of several school buildings, including Central High School.
Gronseth’s tenure also included two school levy referendums, a new online high school, new Spanish and Ojibwe language immersion programs, a new evaluation system for teachers and multiple new education program initiatives.
Reached by phone Thursday morning, Gronseth expressed pride in the work he’s done as superintendent.
“I’ve been with the district for 22 years. I grew up here, and I’m proud to have served my hometown,” he said. “We’ve managed to accomplish a lot in terms of the state of the district. We’ve had new programs and more community engagement with the kids. We’ve come a long way.”
Gronseth said the district’s mission is focused on the needs and wants of the surrounding community.
“A lot of my work has been about identifying needs (and) what it means to have a diploma from Duluth public schools,” he said.
Duluth School Board chairwoman Rosie Loeffler-Kemp praised Gronseth for his leadership and community outreach.
“He's built strong partnerships with the community, (and) we're in a really good place to attract strong candidates to continue to help us move forward,” she said. “He has been visible in the community in many ways, and something you hope for in a superintendent.”
Loeffler-Kemp, who has been on the board since 2013 and served as chairwoman in 2017, has been a parent in the district for 25 years. Her youngest daughter is a junior at East High School. On Thursday, she spoke of Gronseth’s advocacy for the district.
“We’ve done a lot of lobbying at the state Capitol, which has helped build relationships with elected officials to work to increase funding for public schools,” she said. “And Bill has been a strong, visible leader with that.”
School funding has been a perpetual challenge along the way, Gronseth said.
“Duluth, like so many other cities in Minnesota, has had a declining enrollment, and financing has always been a challenge,” he said. “We’re still working with the Legislature to find new ways of funding education.”
Loeffler-Kemp sounded a similar tone.
“As public schools, we take every child who walks in our door, and we need the funds to help children and families be successful,” she said.
In particular, Loeffler-Kemp noted Gronseth’s efforts to bolster the district’s full-service community schools, including Myers-Wilkins Elementary School, Lincoln Park Middle School and Denfeld High School.
Gronseth, who became the district’s assistant superintendent in 2010, was named to the top job after former Superintendent I.V. Foster’s resignation January 2012.
Foster had led the district since July 2011 without a required state license and resigned after the board said it was investigating allegations against him. By December, Foster was put on paid leave. Board members later said the allegations only involved the license issue.
Before becoming superintendent, Gronseth was principal at Homecroft Elementary School and assistant principal at East High School. He also worked in the district as an elementary teacher.
He grew up in Morgan Park and is a 1987 graduate of Denfeld High School. He has a master's degree in education from the University of Minnesota Duluth and received his bachelor's degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
Gronseth has another 15 months at the helm in Duluth. With his contract up next year, the prospect of moving on has been on his mind, he said.
“It’s just the right choice for my family and me,” he said.
After his tenure ends, he’s keeping an open mind, he says. However, a return to teaching probably isn’t in the cards, he said.
“I don’t know, I’m excited about the possibilities,” he said. “I always miss my classroom, but I don’t think that’s the direction I’m headed.”
Gronseth’s wife, Deanna, is the assistant director of special education for Waseca Public Schools in southern Minnesota, and the Gronseths have an apartment in Waseca. Bill Gronseth said his wife enjoys her job but that he isn’t sure where the family will end up yet. The Gronseths have two adult children, one in the Twin Cities suburbs and one at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
In the coming months, the School Board will be charged with searching Gronseth’s replacement, with guidance from the Minnesota School Board Association, Loeffler-Kemp said. At this point, the board has not discussed a timeline for that search to begin, she said, but members will meet in the coming months to establish a timeline.
“Hiring a superintendent is one of the most important roles we have as School Board members,” Loeffler-Kemp said. “Superintendent Gronseth has really given us a gift of time to develop a thorough plan and search process over the next few months. We’re fortunate to have Bill with us until June 2020.”