The Duluth School Board unanimously voted Wednesday night to extend a job offer to and enter into contract negotiations with John Magas to be the district's next superintendent.
Magas currently serves as associate superintendent of continuous improvement in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, school district, which has an enrollment of 20,248 students.
Duluth School Board members went around the room and spoke about strengths they saw in each candidate. Board member Paul Sandholm said when he thinks of Magas he thinks of trust.
“Trust is really the root of integrity. We need to make sure that we do everything possible in maintaining trust and building trust with people over time,” Magas said during the first round of interviews last week. “If trust is given, never, ever, ever violate it. You could tell a small white lie about a box of Kleenex and if somebody sees that you lied about it, that spreads like wildfire and it can completely corrode the trust you have with people.”
Board member Sally Trnka said she thought one of his strengths was how he used inclusive and respectful language about all groups of people in his interviews. Board member David Kirby echoed that and said he thought Magas was a good communicator who enjoys engaging with people who don’t speak up in traditional settings.
During his interview last week, Magas said when he’s engaging with underrepresented groups, he prefers to take the conversation to them wherever they are most comfortable. Magas said to connect with the Latino community in Green Bay, he has gone to church and is working on doing interviews and school announcements on local Spanish-language radio.
“Sometimes people won’t voice their opinions in a group setting, so it’s best to work with them on a more personal level,” Magas said.
After the interview with the board Wednesday, Magas had a chance to answer questions submitted by the community, drawn at random by the district’s human resource manager. Magas was asked to describe his approach to closing the equity gap in educational outcomes in Duluth. He said it’s more of an opportunity gap, because the district has yet to figure out a way to provide opportunities and proper support structures so that each student can be successful.
“Equity also involves looking within yourself and examining your own biases and really coming fresh to situations and making sure that you are including all people,” Magas said. “We have good intentions and we have to make sure that we are focusing on those key areas to move forward.”
Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp said she appreciated Magas’ different comments around meeting the mental health needs of students and around social-emotional learning and trauma-informed practices.
Magas mentioned being able to hire a counselor for every elementary in the Green Bay district and partner with mental health professionals in the community to provide services schools wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive. Duluth currently has no counselors at the elementary level.
“Lake Superior runs through my veins,” Magas said, a Marquette, Michigan, native. “This really feels like a great fit for me. I’m ripe and really excited to be a superintendent.”
Magas has also served as the director of secondary teaching, learning and equity for the Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin; principal for the Appleton Area School District in Wisconsin and assistant principal for the Toppenish School District in Washington.
He holds an educational specialist degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Washington state principal certification from Gonzaga University; a master’s in English as a second language and bilingual education and teaching certificate from Heritage College; a bachelor’s in Spanish and an English minor from Northern Michigan University; and Spanish courses from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.
Magas' employment is contingent on a background check and approval of his contract by the School Board. Magas would start July 1.
Other finalists included Ron Wagner, Minneapolis Public Schools associate superintendent, and Michael Funk, superintendent of Albert Lea Public Schools.
Current Duluth superintendent Bill Gronseth announced his resignation in March 2019. His contract with the Duluth school district ends June 30. He was recently offered the position of superintendent at St. Peter (Minnesota) Public Schools and is expected to begin in St. Peter on July 1.
This story was updated at 9:52 p.m. March 25 with comments and quotes from Duluth School Board members and candidate John Magas. It was originally posted at 8:27 p.m. March 25.