After a two-hour discussion Saturday, Faribault School Board members selected three finalists in the search for a new superintendent.

Red Wing superintendent Karsten Anderson, Faribault High School principal Jamie Bente, and Clear Creek-Amana interim superintendent Joe Brown will tour the district, meet with directors and with a group of residents, staff and students on Jan. 20.

Saturday’s vote was not unanimous. Director Jerry Robicheau hoped the group would include a candidate he said would bring “some new thinking” to the district.

The discussion started after interviews that also included Kenyon-Wannamingo Superintendent Bryan Boysen, Faribault Community Education Director Anne Marie Leland, and Minneapolis Public Schools Associate Superintendent Ron Wagner.

Consultant Ted Blaesing, who vetted the candidates, started officials off with a voting matrix that compared each candidate to the others. He encouraged them to “remember the desired characteristics that were drawn from the input of several hundred people going back to August and September.”

Clear outliers emerged; Boysen received the lowest number of votes, while Brown received the highest.

Some were concerned over Brown’s openness about his politics, but that didn’t sway director Richard Olson.

“I’m a conservative. He came out and said ‘I’m a Democrat,’ and I still rated him high,” Olson said. “I’d be very comfortable with him.”

Board chair Chad Wolff ranked Brown highest. He was especially impressed with Brown’s focus on the five pillars of the World’s Best Workforce, a state-wide student achievement initiative.

“We are measured on that stuff,” Wolff said. “He was frank enough to state, ‘We need to focus on this stuff. We need improvement.’”

With experience in the business world, Robicheau said, Brown “brings a very unique background to school leadership”

Directors ranked Bente next highest, but some worried about bringing on a first-time superintendent and about the community’s perception of hiring an internal candidate. Surveys have shown a disconnect in how residents and officials see the district, they said.

Vice Chair John Bellingham felt advancing two internal candidates would send the wrong message to the community and affect support for the district and future levies.

“It would be saying to the community, ‘We think things are going pretty well right now,’” he said.

Treasurer Courtney Cavelier favored adding Leland, the second internal candidate, as a finalist. She felt Leland had broader experience and wanted to see a woman among the finalists.

“I was disappointed there was only one female candidate,” she said. “That’s something important to me to model in our schools.”

Blaesing said there had been two female candidates in the mix, but one pulled out the week before he chose the six who would interview.

Anderson rounded out the top three vote-getters. He was described most often as the “safe” and “comfortable” choice.

But as directors worked to find consensus, the most contentious discussion happened around candidates who ranked in the middle. Bellingham and Robicheau both felt Wagner, the Minneapolis administrator, could be a game-changer for the district.

“I don’t want to go safe,” Bellingham said. “We have an opportunity here to really get a dynamic leader who is going to embrace the programs we have here right now and expand on new ones.”

“We have a chance to bring in some new thinking in this district,” Robicheau added. “We’re not gonna get this chance very often.”

Olson left no doubt that he would not support Wagner, who he described as “too slick” and from a district with multiple problems.

“In my opinion, I don’t want him anywhere near this district,” he said.

Directors briefly considered moving forward two or four candidates to resolve their differences but returned to the top three vote-getters.

“I think we’ve vetted this enough,” Wolff said. “Let’s be honest; we have all said we’ve been impressed with all six. If we had to have somebody in that seat, I think we could all live with those six.”

Directors will call references listed on the finalists’ applications. They are scheduled to meet with Blaesing on Jan. 21 to select a finalist. Pending successful contract negotiations, the new superintendent starts work on July 1.

Joni Hubred is a freelance writer. Reach the editor at editor@apgsomn.com.

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