Opinion / What are Duluth School Board candidates looking for in a new superintendent?


This week the Duluth School Board began reviewing consulting firms and the proposals they submitted to help guide the district in its search for a new superintendent. Choosing just the right person to lead the district as its top administrator is perhaps the biggest challenge right now facing our elected School Board. The decision will have repercussions for years, perhaps generations

Additionally, next week, there’s a School Board election (as well as a Duluth mayoral race and elections for Duluth City Council).

So, voters should want to know: where do the School Board candidates stand? What are they looking for in a replacement for the resigning Bill Gronseth?

The News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce asked the candidates those very questions at a co-sponsored candidate forum on Sept. 24.

Here’s what they said:


District 2 incumbent David Kirby: “We’re not going to get community buy-in unless the community figures they’ve had a say in this. The ultimate decision rests with the seven School Board members, but I think that we need to have a lot of community input into the process to begin with. And I agree that we need to have a diverse pool of candidates. We need to have somebody who listens. We need to have somebody who knows, or learns to listen, about the history of Duluth. There are some unique aspects to every district, including this one.”

District 2 challenger Harry Welty: “I want (U.S. Sen.) Elizabeth Warren — I doubt that she’s available. But that’s the kind of person I’d be looking for, somebody who can be a leader, somebody with ideas. I served under three school superintendents. I’ve got to tell you that it’s a dance between the superintendent’s bosses, the school board, and the superintendent and the community. And talk about transparency. (You have to) have somebody with the courage to acknowledge mistakes. … And we have to have a School Board that is patient and yet insistent on making sure that we address the incredibly difficult challenges that face us.”

District 3 candidate Loren Martell: “This decision should be based strictly on merit after a thorough examination of background and credentials. I want someone who has worked in a sizable district and has dealt with real problems. And I want a seasoned diplomat who can come in here and pull everyone together. We need a good decision here.”

District 3 candidate Paul Sandholm: “I’d like to see a diverse … pool (of candidates) to select from. … All the committees that are already established are very important for the success of each individual school that exists out there and consensus with what we’re doing in the elementary schools and what we’re doing in the middle schools and the same thing (in) the high schools, in developing curriculum and process. … That’s a model that’s successful, and we can continue that program, and the superintendent hopefully will support that.”


At Large incumbent Alanna Oswald: “I’m looking for a superintendent that is a very good communicator (and) … someone that will take the time to answer questions until people understand (and) until people are satisfied. … I really want to look for someone that’s actually not from Minnesota. Minnesota ranks among the very worst in the nation for lots of disparities that we are experiencing, and that means that a lot of the superintendents from (Minnesota) school districts have similar experiences (and are also) having problems. … I’d really like to find someone from a better state that’s performing better. … I also want someone that’s experienced and is willing to stay. … I want someone that’s going to invest in our community.”

At Large challenger John Schwetman: “Job searches are challenging, and they’re often contentious, in my experience. … I am hoping, like others said, we have a very good, diverse candidate pool (and) that we have some citizen input. … My goal is to see a superintendent who is a confident administrator and a very clear communicator and one who has had experience working with (teachers’ unions).”

— News Tribune Opinion page

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