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Superintendent candidates answer questions from the public

School District 833's two internal candidates for superintendent both said that they are concerned about students' test scores and they think the alternative pay system for teachers has been a success at a public question and answer session last Friday.

Rick Spicuzza, assistant superintendent of curriculum and assessment, and Mark Porter, assistant superintendent of human resources and legal services, are both hoping to be selected as superintendent when Tom Nelson, who has headed the district for four years, retires at the end of June.

Rick Spicuzza

More teachers need to be recruited to teach math and science, Spicuzza said.

Oltman and Woodbury junior high schools have a new technology, science and math program, partly due to a business partnership with 3M Co., to encourage students, especially those of color, to be interested in related careers.

"That's an educational challenge," he said. "I think that's critical."

There are many changes coming in the district with opening a new high school, moving ninth grade to high school and creating middle schools.

It's important to have a leader that can manage change, Spicuzza said.

The district is trying to attain the "strategic plan" goal of testing in the top 10 percent of districts that are similar in demographics, he said.

The district must monitor test scores to find students who are struggling and need extra help but it also needs to celebrate successes.

There is currently a gender gap in reading with test scores of males being nine to 11 percent lower than girls. Across the district, the gap is greater than the state average and those of surrounding districts, he said.

The district has begun boys' reading clubs and made sure local bookstores feature books of interest to boys.

"I'm approachable and financially conservative," Spicuzza said.

Mark Porter

Porter has worked in the district for 25 years in legal services and three years ago, took on the additional job of directing the human resources department.

Like Spicuzza, Porter has administrative experience in other districts, but experience is not at the top of his list of strengths.

Building consensus among people and finding common ground is very important, he said.

Porter defines success as having the ability to bring out the best in others so they can succeed.

Two people who worked under him now have jobs similar to his in other districts, he said.

Working with special education, Porter said he tried to get the district to hire a woman with autism. Finding no immediate takers, he decided to "model" the possibilities and hired her.

"It's tremendous," he said. "We focused on what she could do instead of what she can't."

Attaining the district's achievement goal involves working with test scores and getting teachers to share successful teaching strategies, Porter said.

"We need to provide a path to college whether students go or not," he said, "and not to limit them."

The district is good at adding classes, but not very good at removing classes that no longer meet student needs, Porter said.

A few things in common

Both candidates are concerned about students of color or those not proficient in English who are not achieving as well as their white counterparts.

They also agree about the success of Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System implemented two years ago.

Ten teachers have been trained in how to use test data, Spicuzza said. They are teaching other teachers how to use it to identify what students need to succeed.

Teachers took control and the result has been fulfilling, Porter said.

"They've done things we never dreamed of or talked about," Porter said.

The school board will interview Spicuzza and Porter in January. If neither is selected, School Exec Connect, the district's consulting firm, will search for other candidates.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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