NEW ULM - Jeff Bertrang, current superintendent of Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop (GFW) Public Schools, and Jean Broadwater, superintendent in Houston, are the finalists for position of District 88 superintendent.
The job is being vacated at the end of this school year, by retiring Superintendent Harold Remme.
The school board Monday chose Bertrang and Broadwater from a slate of six semi-finalists, all recommended by consultants from the South Central Service Co-op who are guiding the search. The other candidates interviewed were Karen Coblentz, an elementary principal in St. Peter; Gregory Schmidt, superintendent in MACCRAY (Maynard, Clara City, Raymond); Kevin Wellen, superintendent in New Richland, Hartland, Ellendale, Geneva (NRHEG); and Jeremiah Olson, superintendent in Underwood.
Bertrang has one and a half years of experience as a GFW superintendent; 13 years of experience as a principal/dean at GFW; and 13 years as an industrial tech teacher at GFW and Northwood.
Broadwater has four years of experience as superintendent at Houston and Kewaunee, Wis.; six years as a high school principal at West Bend, Wis.; and eight years as an elementary teacher in Milwaukee, Wis.
The school board's selection of Bertrang and Broadwater as finalists followed a day packed with interviews. The six semi-finalists went through two interviews each: one with the school board, and one with an 11-member community committee. The interview questions had been prepared by the consultants for consistency reasons. After each interview, each school board and community committee member completed a feedback sheet on each candidate.
The community team included teachers chosen by the teachers' union, an administrator and community volunteers. The community committee members did not rate candidates. They did, however, list what they saw as a candidate's strengths and their concerns and comments. They also stated if they felt a candidate deserved further consideration.
The board reviewed the community feedback sheets and was also given time for individual rating of the candidates. The board rated candidates from "poor" (0 points) to "excellent" (3 points) on a list of attributes considered essential for success in this district. The list was developed in advance, with community input.
The board's choice of finalists was consistent with the candidates' ratings: that it is, it chose those semi-finalists who had gathered the highest number of points.
Beside Bertrang and Broadwater, the board gave some consideration to inviting another highly-rated candidate - Coblentz. But ultimately, by consensus, it decided against her. Board members observed that while Coblentz is "an outstanding emerging leader," she has no experience as a superintendent. With the two highest rated candidates being current superintendents, it would be hard not to select one of them, the reasoning ultimately went.
The finalists will be asked to the next round of interviews, one per day, on March 25 and 26. On their respective day, each finalist will tour the school buildings with the current superintendent (while their spouse, if they have one, would be offered a guided community tour). The candidates will meet with administrators (who will also fill out a feedback form), then attend a one-hour open community forum to introduce themselves and answer questions from the audience. The community forums are at 4 p.m. each day, in the former middle school auditorium.
The candidates will round off their day with dinner with the school board. At the end of this round, the board will meet to deliberate their final choice. The board will decide by the end of the day on March 26 with which candidate to enter contract negotiations.
Consultant Ed Waltman reminded the board that while New Ulm is the largest district in the South Central Conference, it has the lowest-paid superintendent. (The long-term incumbent, Remme, has volunteered for pay freezes in recent years, to help alleviate the burden on the district in financially difficult times.) To attract a quality replacement, the board needs to be willing to raise the salary, Waltman advised.
The board has considered a new salary range of $120,000 -$125,000 per year in recent discussions.