Lonnie Seifert, superintendent of Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Schools, will soon exchange his Thunderbirds garb for Titans attire, but the Tri-City United School Board was notably split on the measure.
Based on a majority vote during a virtual meeting Tuesday, the Tri-City United School Board agreed to begin contract negotiations with Seifert to be the new superintendent of TCU Public Schools. Four out of seven of the School Board members voted yes — Ashley Rosival, Josh Beulke, Dale Buss and Krista Goettl — and School Board Chair Marsha Franek and Board members Michelle Borchardt and Kevin Huber voted against.
Seifert previously served New Prague High School as assistant principal and then principal. He also served as activities director and dean of students for ROCORI High School in Cold Springs, and activities director and dean of students for Montgomery-Lonsdale Schools before the district consolidated with Le Center.
In his application, Seifert said, “A great deal of my time has also been spent working on building a sense of togetherness in a district with a history of being three separate communities.”
He holds a bachelor’s in elementary education with coaching certification, a master’s in educational administration, a K-12 principal licensure and a superintendent licensure.
Seifert has been named Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals Hennepin Division Assistant Principal of the Year.
The second round of Tri-City United superintendent interviews took place virtually Tuesday afternoon, and later that evening, the School Board held deliberations online. The other two candidates up for consideration were Lisa Edwards, the director of continuous improvement at Farmington Area Schools and Carmen Daniels-Strahan, a middle school principal in Mankato Area Public Schools.
During deliberations, the School Board weighed community and staff comments on each of the three finalists baed on interviews with the candidates, and Goettl read the questions she asked of the candidates’ references and their responses. Board members then shared their own perspectives on each candidate based on the interviews, and the three finalists experiences, strengths and weaknesses.
Rosival said Seifert stood out to her as “a step above all the other candidates we interviewed.” She noted that during the interview process, he described how he would, or already has, responded to various situations a superintendent might encounter. A potential concern for Rosival was how Seifert would handle modern work and strategies.
Echoing Rosival’s comments, Goettl said Seifert’s experience benefited him in that he offered realistic approaches for balancing three separate communities within a district. His philosophy is to pick three or four things to “do really well” rather than trying to accomplish everything.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t have any cons [for Seifert] at this point,” said Goettl.
Beulke took Seifert’s idea of weighing what he can commit to and doing it well as evidence that he is reasonable and wouldn’t deal with as much of a learning curve serving three separate communities as the other two candidates maybe would.
“I think Lonnie was the most consistent candidate among all of them,” said Beulke. “He didn’t change who he was from one interview to the next.”
Buss declared Seifert his No. 1 candidate, noting his leadership skills and his ability to allow other people to lead. Although Buss recognized Seifert as “more of a short-term plan person,” he believes Seifert will do well working with the TCU strategic plan.
At GFW, Seifert has not had the opportunity to work with a district strategic plan and lacks budgeting experience. GFW doesn’t have an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, so Seifert is also unfamiliar with that structure. These were among the concerns for board members who instead favored Daniels-Strahan, who is well versed in all three of these areas.
Borchardt said she considered Seifert’s lack of understanding of school budgets a “red flag” as well as his lack of a social media presence.
Buss noted that while Seifert only uses Twitter as a social media platform, he takes various age groups into consideration when communicating and uses many of the same tools at GFW that TCU currently uses: the local newspapers, school websites and email newsletters. That cross-generational communication is something Buss viewed as a strength.
Borchardt, Franek and Huber declared Daniels-Strahan their top candidate. Her strength with relationships and communication stood out, not only to board members, but to public commenters.
“I think Carmen would take us to that level where Teri [Preisler] is going to leave us off,” said Franek.
Said Huber: “I think we have to remember [Carmen has] worked her way up from being a teacher to where she is now. Teri was not a superintendent before we hired her either and she excelled beyond what we could have ever imagined.”
Goettl disagreed; she said while Daniels-Stahan sounded carefully planned, she gave the impression that she may delegate too many tasks to teachers, taking away their classroom time.
Buss agreed that Daniels-Stahan “might be too aggressive for the three communities.”
Beulke named Daniels-Strahan as his other top candidate. He liked that she appeared to have researched TCU between interviews and noted her firm knowledge in budgeting and her clear passion for education. But if it came down to a vote, Beulke said he would choose his other top candidate, Seifert.
None of the seven board members picked Edwards as their top choice. Community commenters and board members recognized a number of her positive qualities, such as her friendliness, genuine nature and calm demeanor, but these traits couldn’t compete with experience. Edwards has never served as a superintendent and has never worked with a school budget, strategic planning or AVID.
After about two hours of deliberations, the board decided to move forward with a majority vote even though, as Franek said, “I don’t ever remember a [split] vote like this in our time on the School Board together.”
Seifert’s contract is expected to be ready for the School Board to approve during the April 13 meeting online. Once approved, he will begin with TCU July 1.