NEW ULM - Jeff Bertrang, a finalist for the position of District 88 superintendent being vacated at the end of the school year by retiring superintendent Harold Remme, explained his background and answered questions at a community meeting Tuesday at the District 88 auditorium.
Jean Broadwater, the other finalist, attended a similar meeting Monday.
Many of the questions overlapped.
Some 50-plus people attended the meeting.
Bertrang moved to New Ulm in 1992. He graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, with a teaching degree and taught industrial arts at GFW schools, eventually moving on to become dean, principal and, currently, superintendent/elementary principal.
He has also held diverse leadership positions with the National Guard, retiring in 2012. He attained the rank of brigadier general.
He and his family wife Wendy live just outside New Ulm and have three school-aged children.
Bertrang pointed out that he has experience in "building teams" and "making things possible."
He said that deciding to seek the New Ulm job is "bitter-sweet" because he is part of good team at GFW.
He added he subscribes to a philosophy of collaboration, but realistically, also realizes that, in a superintendent's position, when a decision has to be made, "the buck stops here."
Bertrang fielded questions on: the role of technology in education; what he would do to help the community's youth outside a school setting; what factor, out of several suggested, has the biggest impact on student achievement; the biggest challenge he would face if selected; his view of new staff evaluation initiatives; his take on local facility issues and solutions and his experience in running bonding/operating referendums; what his military experience has taught him about student success; what he is most proud of at GFW; his view on relationships with private/other schools, and several other questions.
On technology, he noted that no matter what device is chosen, if it is to benefit learning, teachers need to learn how to use it.
Bertrang said he would work on building community collaboratives to benefit youth. Students need to know what their community has to offer and how to become part of it, he noted.
He singled out teacher effectiveness, and also relationships between teachers and students, as the most critical to student achievement.
Bertrang noted that his very first task, if selected, would be to "earn trust." Then he would start finding out what is important to people, figuring out solutions, and developing a vision, with the school board.
He noted he views staff evaluation in terms of "professional dialogue" (in terms of "this is how I see it; how do you see it and where do we go from here?"). Everybody should be evaluated, internally, to know their self worth; if it is not done, "we are doing a disservice to our people," he said.
Bertrang stated his belief that facility issues should be addressed in a planned, systematic context and briefly listed his specific work with facility projects.
His work with soldiers of different backgrounds has taught him that young people are most successful when "somebody cared about them;" when they made a connection with a teacher, for example, and felt a special pride in being part of a group.
What he is most proud of, at GFW, is "the connections that staff make with the kids."
On relationships with parochial schools, he said: "it's a partnership: together we are stronger, separately, we are not."
He stressed his respect for student choice and also pointed out the need for "consolidation of effort" among schools.
Bertrang said in his concluding remarks that if a 180-degree change is what is desired, it is not how it's going to happen, if he is selected. He plans to "take it in a little," gather and process information, and, "slowly begin turning a little bit," if needed.
Earlier in the day, Bertrang toured school buildings with Remme. He also met with administrators, who filled out feedback forms for the school board to consider when deliberating their choice of the next superintendent. He ended his day with a dinner and a further conversation with the school board.
The process has been facilitated by consultants Ed Waltman and Butch Hanson from the South Central Service Co-op, which provides this service free of charge to member districts.