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UPDATE: District 833 unveils 8 candidates for superintendent

The District 833 School Board was presented with eight candidates for superintendent Tuesday night - and booked all of them for interviews this Saturday.

The candidates come from as close as Inver Grove Heights and as far as Washington state, suburban Texas and Washington, D.C.

None of the semifinalists are from the South Washington County School District, but one is a former Oltman Middle School assistant principal.

The School Board will interview each candidate during an all-day session beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday at the District Service Center in Cottage Grove. They will narrow the list to three finalists who will return for day-long interviews.

The slate is full of "amazing" people, Ken Dragseth, School Exec Connect consultant, told the board.

District 833 provided the following information about the candidates:

-- Dennis Dearden, currently superintendent of Casa Grande Union High School District in Casa Grande, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, since 2010. The district has 3,700 students. For two years before that, he was executive vice-president of Education Advancement for Partnership for Excellence in Cary, N.C. Dearden received his undergraduate and master's degrees in Iowa.

-- Lolli Haws, instructional superintendent for Washington D.C. Public Schools, was educated at Augustana College in South Dakota with a master's degree from Southern Illinois and a doctorate from St. Louis University. She began her teaching career at a teacher of hearing impaired students at the South Dakota School for the Deaf. Her current job includes responsibility for 13 elementary schools including special education.

-- Deborah Henton, North Branch Area Public Schools superintendent since 2007, was also a finalist for St. Paul Public Schools superintendent in 2009. She was an assistant principal at Oltman Junior High School in District 833 during the 1996-97 school year. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and master's and doctorate degrees from from St. Mary's University in Minnesota.

-- Gerald Hill, a superintendent finalist in another district, is retiring in June as superintendent of Conroe Independent School District in Glenview, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, which has 4,850 students. Hill, who received an undergraduate and master's degrees from the University of Minnesota and a doctorate from the University of North Texas, has held administrative positions in Rockwood, Mo., and Garland, Texas.

-- Christopher Hines, currently deputy superintendent in Conroe Independent School District in Conroe, Texas, a suburb of Houston. He has held various administrative positions in Texas public schools. He holds an undergraduate degree from Southwest Texas State University, master's degree from the University of Houston and doctorate from Sam Houston State University.

-- Keith Jacobus, assistant superintendent of leadership, teaching and learning in the Osseo Area School District, since 2010, was also superintendent in Castle Rock, Col., which has 56,000 students. He is considered an expert in teaching and, also, parenting adolescents. Jacobus has an undergraduate degree from Colorado State University, a master's degree from Lesley College and a doctorate from the University of Denver.

-- Keith Rittel, also a superintendent finalist in another district, is deputy superintendent in the Clover Park School District in Lakewood, Wash., a district similar to District 833, in a suburb of Tacoma. He's held administrative positions in Washington and Salt Lake City, Utah. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Victoria, a master's degree from the University of Utah and a doctorate from Seattle Pacific University.

-- Deirdre Wells, currently superintendent of Inver Grove Community Schools since 2005, holds an undergraduate and master's degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and a doctorate from Cardinal Stretch University.

Dragseth said his firm checked all references submitted by candidates and talked to "people we know" in districts where candidates are working. All have had criminal background checks in their districts, he said, and have family ties in Minnesota.

School Exec Connect was "very honest" with the candidates about the School Board's decision not to renew Superintendent Mark Porter's contract and that there is still considerable support for Porter by district residents, Dragseth said.

All have experience in districts with diverse populations, he said.

From a list of sample questions based on 833 community surveys and the district's profile, board members were told to choose three questions and submit them to board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd by Friday.

The candidates' interviews, open to the public, each will be one hour long, including introductory remarks and 14 questions.

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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