BWP & Associates, the consultant firm hired by the Duluth School Board to facilitate the superintendent search, held 13 focus group interviews and received 1,484 survey responses. The focus groups consisted of students, staff, community members, business owners, and county and city officials.
The survey was 12 questions and the focus groups were asked three questions:
- What are the strengths of the community and district?
- What are the district’s challenges?
- What qualities should be sought in the next superintendent?
Of the 1,484 survey respondents, 52.9% of them live in either the Congdon, Homecroft and Lester Park elementary school boundaries. Most respondents said the three most significant strengths of the district are excellent teachers and staff, the school facilities and the support the district receives from parents and the community.
From those who submitted written comments for this question, many said the Spanish and Ojibwe language immersion programs are a significant strength.
The East and Denfeld high school students also agreed that teachers are among the greatest strengths of the district.
When it came to the three most important issues or concerns facing the district in the next five years, 52.9% said financial management, though some of the written comments praised what CFO Cathy Erickson has been able to do in just a year she’s been with the district.
The next most important issue identified in the survey was the achievement and opportunity gap at 38.5%. About 32% of respondents said the third-most important issue was community relations and curriculum and instruction.
The East and Denfeld student groups said the opportunity gap between eastern and western schools is a big challenge. Denfeld students also said western communities are dealing with untrue stigmas as well as racism. East students said they don’t feel heard or really understood by the upper administration or School Board. They are looking for someone who will listen to and communicate better with all students.
There were 237 people, or 15.9%, who chose “other” on the survey and submitted written comments as to what they thought was the most important issue. A majority of those who submitted written comments said the large class sizes and the proposed boundary changes were the most important issue.
One person said the issue is “figuring out how to level out school capacity issues (while) keeping travel time to school as a priority and being sensitive to traditions built up at BOTH high schools.”
Another person said smaller class sizes are needed “to increase student learning opportunities and balance the needs of struggling students with learning disadvantages and those with mental illness needs.”
When it comes to what people want to see in the next superintendent, the survey respondents and focus groups agreed a great communicator is what they were looking for. It was the No. 1 leadership skill picked by survey respondents at 61.5%. Students from both the Denfeld and East focus groups said they want someone who will really listen to students and give them a voice in decisions being made.
About 50% of survey respondents chose financial and collaborative relationship skills as the second and third-most important leadership skills. Of the 140 survey respondents who submitted written comments, a majority of them said they want someone who is honest and transparent as well as dedicated to equity across the district.
All of the feedback was used to create a leadership profile that will be used as part of the job posting for the superintendent position. A leadership profile outlines the qualities and qualifications the school district as a whole is looking for.
The application for the superintendent position closes Feb. 14. BWP consultants will go through the completed applications after that and begin narrowing down the candidates to a slate of six to present to the Duluth School Board the second week of March.