The Duluth School Board worked together Tuesday night to edit and approve a leadership profile that will be used as part of the job posting for the superintendent position.

A leadership profile outlines the qualities and qualifications the school district as a whole is looking for. It was developed from feedback that BWP & Associates consultants Kathleen Williams and Nicholas Wahl took from stakeholder groups, the community and board members themselves, as well as the results of a community survey.

Williams and Wahl had individual interviews with each board member at the beginning of the year and held 13 stakeholder group sessions and one community session on Monday. The stakeholder groups were organized by diverse communities, district families, students, principals, teachers, business/non-profits, union leadership, and city, county and higher education members.

“The students were a joy. That was the highlight of the day. To sit there and spend time with the kids and really listen to them in a meaningful way was great,” Wahl said. “They shared their opinion in a respectful and candid way. It was just a joy to be at both high schools.”

According to the consultants, the top strengths that came out of all of the meetings were great students, excellent teachers and building principals, excellent facilities and supportive community.

“So often (Monday), we heard that if there is a need, the community is going to step up and fill that need,” Wahl said.

The top challenges that came out of all the meetings, according to the consultants, were the boundary changes, not having a strategic plan, lack of transparency and communication from district to schools and community.

“There was a definite theme (Monday) about communication from all the groups,” Wahl said. “Specifically, the value of communication in a variety of forms and not to discount the value of one-on-one conversations.”

The leadership profile consists of 12 items. The top six items, which Wahl said are very unique to Duluth, were approved to be:

  • A courageous leader who makes decisions with integrity and consistency with an emphasis on collaborating with the school district, schools and community.

  • A leader who has a demonstrated track record of valuing a commitment to the community they are serving.

  • An individual that is a strategic thinker and can demonstrate this in their actions and achievements as a leader.

  • A leader with school finance expertise and clear measures of this knowledge in their past practice.

  • A champion of equity of opportunity and access for all students and can cite work that supports this important work. This includes but is not limited to racial equality, low income, cultural competence, social justice and restorative practices.

  • An individual that has demonstrated the ability to communicate effectively in writing, public presentation and one-on-one conversations.

At the suggestion of board members Kelly Durick Eder and Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, the introduction on the job posting will now include the Duluth School Board “is seeking a candidate who wants to work in partnership to lead the district” to show they are willing to give the new superintendent support, which Williams said is key to keeping a superintendent around.

“When somebody comes in to do a job, you as a board need to support them, the communities need to support them, teachers and people need to help this person. Otherwise, if you feel unsupported and your efforts aren't moving forward in the way you've said you wanted them, people move on,” Williams said. “So it's tricky. I get that everyone wants someone who will stay, but at the same time, you have to be as welcoming and supportive as you can to keep them here.”

Wahls said the national average of length of time a superintendent says in one place is about 2.7 years.

“I think the board is primed and your community is ready,” he said.

Williams told the board Tuesday there has been some interest in the Duluth position and those people have already been doing their research. Wahl said they’ve already begun targeting possible candidates.

“We are an amazing district. We have more success, I think, than we do failures,” Durick Eder said. “I truly believe out of a lot of tension we have in our district, a tremendous amount of creative solutions have bubbled out of that.”

Community takes opportunity to be heard

Nearly 30 people attended the community walk-in meeting in the Denfeld High School media room on Monday evening. Wahl and Williams asked a series of questions that were asked of the other stakeholder groups throughout the day Monday.

The responses came slowly at first but quickly gathered momentum.

“Fantastic teachers,” one audience member said.

Opportunities to take college courses while in high school, robust after-school programming, higher education that includes medical and pharmacy schools, the arts both within the schools and the community, accessible teachers and strong principals were among the strengths mentioned.

When the subject turned to challenges, budget issues started the list. One community member spoke of technology that’s not kept in repair for lack of funds.

That was followed by a discussion of equity issues.

“We have an achievement gap,” said Sally Goodman, who has three children attending Homecroft Elementary School. “It’s tied to our socioeconomic and racial people groups. Minnesota has one of the highest achievement gaps in the nation, and Duluth, likewise, has one of the biggest achievement gaps in the nation. … That’s a huge challenge in our district. And along with it there’s a lot of racial bias.”

Others said there was a sense of mistrust in the community toward the school administration. When it was their turn to talk about the qualities they seek in a superintendent, the attendees responded in rapid-fire fashion. “Straight-forward.” “Accountability.” “Want to be here.” “Transparency.” “Clarity.” Integrity.” Responsiveness.” “Multicultural aptitude.” “Somebody who can handle a budget and distribute it equitably.” “Strong track record in strategic planning and can implement it.” “Someone who can communicate more with the community.” “Building alliances versus antagonism and division.” “Demonstrate a history of coalition-building.” “Someone who can communicate with city leaders and community leaders.”

Board member Alanna Oswald said at the meeting Tuesday the feedback she received from the stakeholder groups and community was that everyone felt that they were really listened to and their concerns were really heard by the consultants Monday.