2 finalists selected in superintendent search

Published 9:50 pm Monday, May 23, 2022

During a special meeting Monday night, members of the board of education for Albert Lea Area Schools selected two finalists to interview for the superintendent position among the four candidates who interviewed Monday. 

Ronald Wagner is an associate superintendent with Minneapolis Public Schools and serves 22 schools, while Bryan Boysen is superintendent and kindergarten to fourth-grade principal at Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools.

During his interview, Wagner thanked the board and community members who came.

“I’m humbled to be here and excited for this opportunity,” he said.

He began his interview by revealing he grew up in central Indiana, and said that was where values of family and community were instilled in him.

In fact, he moved to Minnesota because his wife is from the state.

“Wanted to move back to be near her family so we moved to Minnesota,” he said.

He received a teaching job in Minneapolis the Friday before school started, where he served as a middle school math teacher for five years.

“I think about my values of family and community, and knowing that Albert Lea is strong and rooted in family and community, and that’s something I want to come back to and really have an opportunity to serve in a community that has those values, to serve a board that is working together on behalf of our students and to really move the academic opportunity for our students forward,” he said.

Board member Angie Hoffman asked about his beliefs in building an effective leadership team, implementing those beliefs and strategies to provide general oversight of district personnel.

“I believe in collaborative leadership,” he said. “To build a team it’s about the power of ‘we.’”

He said it was his job to inspire and bring out brilliance in others to move forward as a collective group, and said challenges could not be met in isolation.

“One of my values is community, and working on behalf with the community as well as creating community within our school district,” he said.

Board member Bruce Olson asked him to describe his leadership and management philosophies and managerial strengths and weaknesses.

“I’m a collaborative leader, a servitude leader,” Wagner said. “I believe in the power, as I mentioned earlier, in the power of ‘we’ to support others to move and empower them to make the decisions and support on behalf of our students. It’s a student-centered leadership style.”

He emphasized to the board that everything done should be in support of opportunities for students.

“I’m out and believe in being present and connecting with teachers,” he said. “I’m a teacher at the core.”

Wagner said to be a good leader is to never forget what it is like to be a good teacher.

“Walking into a classroom, we cannot teach the invisible, we cannot hear the invisible,” he said. “It’s important that we hear and listen and see and honor the voices of others.”

Wagner, who taught in Indiana for 13 years,  is married with two children.

During his interview, Neal Skaar, chair of the school board, asked Bryan Boysen about his experience directing, building and implementing a district budget.

Boysen said it was important to have a good relationship with the business manager.

“I remember when I met with a particular business manager I asked this person what happened,” he said. “ We’re cutting $836,000. What happened?”

So he and the business manager opened the books and asked why they were purchasing things they weren’t using, and having a sustainable budget was important.

In fact, they started cutting contracts and combining positions without laying many staff off.

“Just kind of cut the fat so to speak,” he said.

Hoffman asked him what his reaction would be if the board and superintendent were to disagree on proposals.

“I’d want to know why,” he said.”If I’m proposing something that’s like ‘this is a big deal,’ why are you opposed to it?

He would also respect the board’s decision should they not implement one of his proposals, but said he’d want to know why it wasn’t passed.

And if the board proposed something he didn’t agree with, he said he’d have a conversation about it and explain — with sound criteria — why he’d be against it.

“If we’re going to disagree that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “But at the end of the day we have to come to a compromise and figure out why we’re at such different opinions and maybe we can come to a compromise.”

Board member Dave Klatt asked Boysen how he would build trust between the community and the district, between staff and administration.

“I think one of the biggest ways you build trust with people is to empower them, trust them,” he said. “… that was something too that was preached to me at Winona State is to empower the teachers, listen to those teachers, listen to the custodians.”

He said every decision he would make would be informed.

“We want to be trusted, and we want to be heard and I think one of the simplest things we can do is empower [people],” he said.

In discussing the candidates and how they scored, Skaar noted both Wagner and Boysen scored similarly. Board member Dave Klatt said both candidates scored similarly in the number of “exceeds expectations” scored.

“The one that stood out the most to me was Bryan (Boysen),” Hoffman said. “He really seems kind of special in my opinion. I like his background, very much special ed and mental health.”

She also said he seemed like a genuine person.

Member Kim Nelson noted how organized Wagner was and liked how well-prepared he was.

“The fact that he met with the public (at a Caribou Coffee before interviewing), he was strategic about that,” she said. “I think he’s a strong candidate for me.”

Member Jill Marin said she appreciated Boysen’s work with mental health and special education, and said she had already heard positive things about him.

Board member Dennis Dieser liked Wagner’s first 100-day plan, but said none of the candidates “totally blew [him] away.”

“In the back of my mind I’m just worried, the amount of candidates we had to interview, from what we saw they’re good but the short time frame worries me,” he said.

Skaar said with the time frame of the search it would be hard to find any candidate that would blow him away, but admitted no one was perfect and that the trick was to find the candidate closest to it.

The other candidates who interviewed were Michelle Mortensen, superintendent of Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart Schools, and Donita Stepan, superintendent of Thief River Falls Public Schools. 

“Mortensen, I thought there was a lot of negativity inside her answers,” Olson said. “All her answers had a negative flair to it and that really bothered me.”

Hoffman said she liked Stepan, but acknowledged her status at Thief River Falls was concerning. 

“I have some questions about that,” she said.

According to TRF Radio, Stepan resigned from her position earlier this year.