Board votes to hire Stephen Jones as new superintendent for Little Falls

Contract negotiations to begin soon

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
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Stephen Jones

The Little Falls School Board voted to enter into contract negotiations with Stephen Jones from Sibley East District as the new superintendent of the district. If a contract is finalized, Jones is expected to begin July 1, and will hit the ground running.

“The Board agreed that Stephen Jones fits the profile of what Little Falls needs,” said Board Chair Jay Spillum. “He has the personal skills and the vision to move the district forward. His open-door policy and his efforts to be visible in his schools and his community is a plus for Little Falls. We feel he will work well with the community and the district.”

Three superintendents from Minnesota were selected May 23, by the Little Falls School Board as finalists for the job. Each finalist was given a day to be questioned by principals, students, directors, staff, the community and the Board, beginning at 9 a.m. and ending at 9 p.m.

Mary Klamm from Menahga, Jones and Lee Westrum from Benson spoke about their districts and how they would like to see their ideas implemented in Little Falls.

One of the biggest issues for Little Falls in the near future will be the reinstatement of the operating levy. Klamm said she would have to start immediately talking to, and developing relationships with, the community. She will keep the focus on the great things Little Falls Schools do for the area and for the students.

Jones said he would start the groundwork for the levy beginning July 1, representing the district in an ethical way.

Westrum said that renewals of referendums have a high rate of passage and told the Board it should begin the process in 2013. If the referendum does not pass then, they have another year to do it before the current one expires in 2014.

Increasing test scores was a large topic of conversation. Klamm said students today have lots of distractions and districts need to change the way they teach. The iPad has been one of those changes. She would help integrate technology into the classroom. She had noticed math scores in Little Falls need work, but she felt that could be easily fixed if the data is interpreted as it should be and curriculum alignment implemented.

Jones told the Board that spending money on children beginning at 3 years old (Early Childhood Family Education) will make the most impact.

Westrum said that he was not a fan of No Child Left Behind and that the new Multiple Measurement Ratings are a step in the right direction. Testing tells the districts where they stand and he felt all schools need to work at the same pace and be on the same page, yet not necessarily in the same way.

Westrum said that the district should work extensively with at-risk students to help improve test scores and that curriculum alignment to the standards was a must.

Community members asked about helping the marginal teacher. Klamm said she would first hire smart, then mentor for three years.

“New teachers need good role models,” she said.

Jones said he had faith in the staff he works with and that they need to do what they were trained to do even though they will make mistakes. But, he said he wanted them to make mistakes because it showed they were doing something.

“I expect principals to be in the classroom evaluating teachers regularly,” said Westrum. “If an area of concern keeps coming up, a conversation needs to take place.”

Jones said he would encourage improvement through staff development and best practices meetings with other districts.

Board members asked each finalist about his or her expectations of them. Klamm said she felt each one needs a true understanding of their job to ensure good policies were in place. She said would ensure, through communications, a strong relationship.

Jones said he did not want contention and expected to meet regularly with the Board. He said he has good communication skills and will use them. Jones said he expected the board members to be in the school buildings a lot and wanted advice from each one, especially the former teachers.

“I want involvement and I want to hear concerns,” he said.

Westrum said the role of any school board is to make the big decisions. His job is to carry out those decisions. He would like to see the board members visiting the schools regularly, but not manage the staff. If a concern comes across their desk instead of his, he would prefer they come to him.

Both community members and the Board were concerned with classes being cut, especially vocational and electives. Klamm said that the district cannot just prepare students for a four-year school, nor just for carpentry or mechanic jobs.

“I think schools are finally getting it, but there is more to be done,” she said. “Math and science courses need to be applied to practical futures and jobs. And, conversations about careers need to be started with students beginning in the fifth grade.”

Klamm said the addition of electives such as sports and fine arts make for a strong school and that she is a full supporter of both.

Jones said he was disappointed that Little Falls had a lack of electives, especially in the agriculture and FFA areas. He also said the district needs more English electives and it needs to engage students toward their interests. By cutting electives it sends a message they aren’t valued, he said.

Because Little Falls has taken a large step with technology and the iPads in the district, Westrum was surprised there weren’t more tech programs available to the kids. He thought computer aided design courses would be a perfect fit.

To keep the line of communication open with staff, community and the Board, Jones said that he would reply to e-mails as soon as possible, but feels they are only a backup. He would rather reply to concerns or answer questions in person.

He would also like to have a radio program and would like to write a column for publication in the Morrison County Record.

“The superintendent is the face of the school and I put a high regard to the ethical approach to the job,” he said. “The community will know we are here.”

Jones said that he sees a lot of what Little Falls is looking for in himself. As a prior business owner, he would like to see partnerships with the health care industry and other businesses. He is into building relationships between them and the district.