Little Falls School Board narrows the field to three

Benson, Menahga or Sibley East will have to give up their superintendent

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

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During a special meeting Wednesday night, the Little Falls School Board voted on three finalists to replace Curt Tryggestad for the district’s superintendent.

Seven people were on the short list for the job and were interviewed during the day Wednesday. They included Ray Arsenault from Gallup, N. M., Lee Westrum from Benson, Bradley Jermelan from Indianola, Iowa, Mary Klamm from Menahga, Kevin Wellen from New Richland, Brian Corlett from Norwood Young America and Stephen Jones from Sibley East Schools.

School Exec Connect, the company hired by the district to find the best possible fit for a new superintendent, brought in the seven for interviews. They were gleaned from a field of approximately 30 applicants.

“Each of these seven candidates made big impacts on their districts. We think you will have a hard time choosing one of them,” Dr. Antoinette Johns said.

Of the seven interviewed, the Board voted to bring back three: Jones, Westrum and Klamm.

Lee Westrum

Westrum has been the superintendent of Benson Schools for five years. The district has two elementary buildings and one combination middle and high school. There are 907 students in his district.

Superintendent Klamm works in a district of 820 students with one elementary and one high school building.

Superintendent Jones works in a district with 1,200 students. It has one building in Gaylord that houses both elementary and middle school students and one building in Arlington that houses both elementary and high school students.

Little Falls has 2,475 students in six buildings.

“Westrum has been in the Benson District a long time and helped initiate the iPad in his schools,” said Board Chair Jay Spillum. “Klamm is very enthusiastic, seems to get along with others well and is involved with both technology and online learning in her schools. Jones is also enthusiastic. He led his district to many honors and has been good at keeping both students and parents involved in the Sibley Schools.”

Mary Klamm

Sharon Ballou said both Jones and Klamm had amazing energy.

“Jones had new ideas for growth and Klamm had a positive attitude and good communication skills. Westrum was quieter, but I felt a rapport with him.”

Brad Laager said all seven seemed to be data driven and people persons.

“They all seemed to care about their employees,” he said. “I like that they said administration staff would be included in school decisions. They all seemed to have a sense of humor, are good speakers and the desire to move the district forward with test scores and other areas of academics.”

Board Member Robert Stoltman said, “All three of the candidates we chose to return for another interview are very equal, yet different. They are passionate about education and are looking for a final home.”

Stephen Jones

“It was easy to choose these three,” said Board Member Cathy Adamek. “Westrum seemed to be involved in his community and was invested in the (Benson) City Council. All three seemed to be enthusiastic and passionate and each said they would have an open-door policy. Klamm has a varied experience with several different schools in her career. We have three great candidates and now need to look at the little things to make our final decision.”

Board Member Mark Gerbi agreed with the other members of the Board.

Next week’s three interviews will take place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the Le Bourget meeting room at Lindbergh Elementary School. At 9 a.m. each day, one candidate will have a question and answer period with the principals. At 10:30 a.m., they meet with the students and at 11:30 a.m. they meet with the directors and coordinators.

The group breaks for lunch at noon and at 1 p.m., the candidates tour the district with Superintendent Curt Tryggestad.

At 3:15 p.m. each day, the certified staff will have a question and answer period with a candidate and at 4:15 p.m. the same with non-certified staff. For an hour beginning at 5:15 p.m., an open meeting will be held with the community, parents and staff.

At 7:30 p.m. each evening, the School Board will conduct its final interview with each candidate.

On Thursday at 8:45 p.m., after interviews with each candidate, the Board will meet to vote on entering into contract negotiations with one.

The public is invited to sit in on the process.