Albert Lea school board selects superintendent 

Published 8:47 pm Thursday, May 26, 2022

During a special meeting Thursday night, members of the Albert Lea school board voted to extend a contract offer to Ron Wagner to serve as the district’s next superintendent. 

Wagner, an associate superintendent with Minneapolis Public School, and Bryan Boysen, superintendent and kindergarten to sixth-grade principal at Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools, finished second-round interviews. 

“Mr. Wagner convinced me has passion, he has intensity, he has focus and he has a commitment,” said Neal Skaar, chairman for the board.

Skaar said in talks with Wagner’s references, he contacted a lot of people, including Ed Graff, the superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, an experience he called an “intimidating process.”

“Ed turned out to be like the guy next door,” he said. “He’s really easy to talk to.”

Skaar said Wagner had glowing reviews and marks, was described as a teacher at heart, and said Wagner was successful in adapting to a foreign environment (Wagner was raised in rural Indiana). According to Skaar, Graff suggested Wagner’s upbringing as “a country boy” could explain why he wanted to be a superintendent at a district like Albert Lea.

“That had to be quite a culture shock for him,” he said. “And Superintendent Graff was pretty impressed with the way he has evolved and is someone who can succeed and relate to the … situation the way it is now.”

In Skaar’s conversation with Greta Callahan, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Callahan also had “nothing but good things to say” regarding Wagner.

“She mentioned he was very good at being present, he was visible, transparent, involves people in making decisions and is a very caring individual,” he said.

Wagner was also a finalist for the position in Faribault. Ultimately he wasn’t selected there because a board member was concerned about Wagner coming from a big city and having the community “contaminated by ideas from the big city.”

Kim Nelson, vice chair of the board, said Wagner compliments what’s happening in the area. She also liked his focus on mental health, integrity, expectations and relationships.

“It’s just really what this district needs,” she said.

She also said no matter which of the candidates they chose (or if they went with an interim), there would be people on both sides of the debate.

Angie Hoffman and Jill Marin voted against extending a contract offer. 

“I’m appreciative for all of our candidates and especially our finalists,” Marin said. “The time and effort that they have put into us. And each of them obviously are caring people and they each have strengths.

“However, due to the timing of the whole process that the district is enduring, kind of end-of-the-season time as far as obtaining a pool of candidates, I would like to see us go with an interim for a year and then go out early next year to see if we may even pool a different pool of candidates, and these candidates of course could apply again if they so choose. But that would be my preference.”   

Her sentiment was shared with Hoffman, but Hoffman also said she wasn’t fully convinced either Wagner or Boysen was the right fit for Albert Lea.

“Some of the things I’ve heard brought up as strengths like getting along well with Ed Graff and the teachers union, for some people those are viewed as positive things,” she said. “For a lot of people those are going to be viewed as negative things. And I’m a little worried what that might do.” 

Hoffman also said new potential board members could leave the community feeling like they had a certain level of control over the process.

Nelson admitted that when the process started she was completely fine going with an interim, but said after hearing the feedback from Callahan and the superintendent, she said it could be hard to find a candidate like Wagner again.

“When you have the responses we have for exceeding and meeting for Ron, I think we’re going to have a hard time finding another candidate that’s going to have those strong scores,” she said. “If it would be more middle-of-the-road, … I would totally agree.

“But I feel like there’s another component to this and I feel like we owe it to — this group owes it to the community with our experience and the time we’ve taken, to really search out quality candidates that we select someone if we have someone and I believe we do in Ron.”

She also said because of the potential for a new board, they owed it to the community after receiving over 600 responses in the stakeholder survey.

“Even with some reservations and a change in what could be in the first of the year, I can feel comfortable with Ron and I think that he’s got some experience,” board member Dave Klatt said. “He doesn’t have the full … superintendent experience that I would have liked to have seen, but I do think he’s worked with a larger district which has seen some different problems than we’ve seen here and maybe he’ll have experiences with problems that could come our way too.”

Board member Dennis Dieser said with the depth of knowledge Wagner could bring, expectations would be high in order to ensure the board’s objectives were being met.   

He also worried about what not selecting a candidate would do to employees.

“What does that do that we’re staying,” he asked. “That we’re just staying, we’re just going to stay status quo for a year.

“Could that come back and haunt us? Are we better off getting somebody with their boots on the ground and going hard at it and showing us what they can do right away.”

Skaar shared his opinion. 

“My perception is that we have a very good candidate and we should run with him,” Skaar said.

During discussions with Tonya Craig, chair of the Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools board, Skaar said she described Boysen as polite and that she had nothing against him personally and said his position within the district was not easy and did not want to elaborate on any concerns for either candidate.

Wagner will fill a position left open by Superintendent Mike Funk, who announced he will start a new position as superintendent in Stillwater.