The Duluth School Board voted Friday to move forward with three finalists for the superintendent position:

  • Michael Funk, superintendent, Albert Lea (Minnesota) school district;

  • John Magas, associate superintendent of continuous improvement, Green Bay (Wisconsin) Area Public Schools; and

  • Ron Wagner, associate superintendent, Minneapolis Public Schools.

Each candidate was asked 15 questions ranging from budgetary experience, to equity, to collaborative work. Each candidate was given the opportunity to introduce himself, ask the board questions and give a final concluding statement.

Michael Funk

In his concluding statement, Funk said that he’s been studying Duluth for a while. He also said he doesn’t want to work anywhere else but his current district or Duluth.

“If you are looking for a leader for a school system, you should look at their past practice. Past practice is a pretty good indicator of what you're going to get for a leader,” Funk said. “I think I have a pretty strong track record as a superintendent.”

Funk, who has been a superintendent in Albert Lea since 2009, said he also believes his 30 years of military experience has helped shape him as a leader.

“If you are looking for a strong leader to move Duluth to the next level, I think I’m the best person for the job,” Funk said.

Albert Lea has an enrollment of 3,572 students. Funk said he oversees a budget of $50 million with the help of a finance director.

John Magas

Magas concluded his interview by saying he would “be extremely excited to be the superintendent of Duluth schools.”

“I literally grew up on the shores of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” Magas said. “My hometown of Marquette feels like a smaller version of Duluth.”

Magas, who has been an associate superintendent since 2016, said he believes Duluth has a lot to offer.

“I've gone to a lot of different places and where I have been I've stayed and invested deeply,” Magas said.

Green Bay has an enrollment of 20,248 students. Magas said he oversees a budget of $200 million.

Ron Wagner

In his concluding remarks, Wagner said when he first heard the Duluth position was going to be posted, he began researching to see if it would be a good fit for him.

“It is very evident that the work that Duluth is doing is that you're on the right path and moving forward,” he said.

Wagner, who has been an associate superintendent since 2014, also said he was interested in Duluth after he spent a significant amount of time in the city two years ago when his daughter was flown to a Duluth hospital to give birth to his granddaughter at 27 weeks.

“I believe in purpose and giving back and this is why I'm interested,” Wagner said. “I want to give back to Duluth as it did for me by giving me a healthy granddaughter.”

Minneapolis has an enrollment of 34,612 students and a budget of $650 million. Wagner said though he doesn’t oversee the budget, he does sit on the superintendent’s advisory committee, which helps with the budgeting process.

Second round of interviews next week

Other semifinalists included Fabby Williams, school support officer (area superintendent), Guilford County (North Carolina) Schools; Jim Wagner, superintendent, Johnson County School District #1 in Buffalo, Wyoming; and Greg Pilewski, deputy superintendent, Queen Anne's County Public Schools in Centreville, Maryland.

The board interviewed three candidates Thursday night and three candidates Friday morning. Community members were welcome to watch the interviews from the gymnasium in Historic Old Central High School, though only three were present.

Second-round interviews will take place Wednesday with the hopes of them being live-streamed so the public can participate from afar.

The School Board will meet next at 5 p.m. Monday to receive any updates and finalize details for Wednesday. Monday’s meeting is expected to be live-streamed on the district’s YouTube channel.

This story was updated at 3:50 p.m. March 20 with quotes from the candidates' interviews. It was originally posted at 1:07 p.m. March 20.