The Winona Area Public Schools Board of Education on Tuesday night selected the six candidates it will interview to become the district’s next superintendent.
The board will interview the candidates this weekend — three on Friday, three on Saturday — then bring three finalists back for individual interviews next week.
The second round of interviews will begin at 6 p.m. on May 14, 15 and 16. Prior to those interviews, the candidates will participate in a Q&A session with the community at 5 p.m.
All interviews are open to the public and will be held at the senior high’s Learning Commons.
The six candidates are:
- Randi Anderson, superintendent of Pelican Rapids School District in Pelican Rapids, Minn. Before coming to Pelican Rapids in 2017, Anderson was director of personalized learning and instruction with the Eden Prairie School District from 2014 to 2017. She also worked for the School District of La Crosse as the supervisor of standards, assessment and program improvement from 2008 to 2012.
- Annette Freiheit, superintendent at Pine City Public Schools in Pine City, Minn. Freiheit was a principal in Hayfield Community Schools for 13 years before becoming the superintendent in Pine City in 2016. She graduated from Winona State in 1983.
- Michelle Mortensen, superintendent of Renville County West schools in Renville, Minn. Mortensen won the Richard Green Scholar Award from the Minnesota Association of School Administrators and will receive a doctorate in educational administration and leadership from St. Cloud State later this month. She has been a superintendent in Minnesota since 2011, first with Ivanhoe Public Schools then Renville County West in 2013.
- Greg Nyen, district administrator and superintendent of Waupaca School District in Waupaca, Wis. Nyen announced in February he was resigning from his post in Waupaca to pursue other opportunities. He’s been listed as a finalist for other superintendent positions in Wisconsin and withdrew from consideration for a post in Montana. He served as the director of student services with the Stevens Point (Wis.) Area Public School District for nine years before coming to Waupaca in 2016.
- Robert Smudde, superintendent of Prairie du Chien Area School District in Prairie du Chien, Wis. Smudde was the district administrator of the Ithaca School District in Richland Center, Wis., before coming to Prairie du Chien in 2017. He was a school psychologist at public schools in Milwaukee and Janesville before becoming an administrator.
- James Wagner, superintendent of the Johnson County School District in Wyoming. Wagner, in his first year with the Johnson County School District, was a candidate for the Mankato Public Schools superintendent position last month. He was superintendent of Kimball Area Schools near St. Cloud before moving to Wyoming. In 2017, he was offered but turned down the job of superintendent of the Stewartville School District.
The six candidates were chosen from a field of 11 applicants. WAPS announced last week that there were 15 completed applications for the position, but since that time four people have withdrawn their application.
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The school board spent an hour and 45 minutes Tuesday narrowing the field down to six applicants. Names were not used; instead applicants were referred to as “Applicant A,” “Applicant B,” etc. It wasn’t until after the meeting that names were revealed.
Superintendent Rich Dahman announced in February that he would leave his post in June after two years with the school district. None of the six candidates named Tuesday were interviewed in 2017.
The Minnesota School Boards Association has overseen the hiring process for his replacement, organizing interview schedules and collecting community feedback.
Staff, students, parents and community members were able to fill out a survey and attend listening sessions to share their thoughts on what kind of candidate the new superintendent should be.
A report of those efforts found that many stakeholders valued a candidate that understands school finance, declining enrollment and personnel management, and one that would be able to work with an at-times divisive school board.
Transparency and visibility within the district were also noted, as well as being a good listener, which the report said “appeared so frequently in participants’ responses that it is singled out as a separate theme (from communication).”
Most superintendent searches last three to six months, MSBA representative Sandy Gundlach told the school board during a special meeting in March. But the escalated speed of the WAPS search, which will be just over two months when a new superintendent is hired, isn’t too abnormal, she added.