CHISHOLM — Hibbing is in the market for a new superintendent and several members of the school board are eyeing their neighbors to the north for a possible solution.
Last month, Superintendent Brad Johnson announced that he’s retiring at the end of September for health reasons. A job posting for his position soon appeared online on the Minnesota School Board Association’s website. On Tuesday, members from the Hibbing and Chisholm school boards held a joint personnel committee meeting at the Chisholm Elementary to resurrect a subject that has been touched on in the past but never put into motion: district collaboration.
Chisholm officials — school board member Cindy Rice, Chair Bob Rahja and Superintendent Janey Blanchard — sat on one side of the table. They positioned themselves across from Hibbing officials — school board members Marge Martin, Treasurer Kim McLaughlin and Vice Chair Jeff Polcher.
Their first agenda item: “Ways to collaborate.” How would each district work together to align curriculums and share resources, like transportation for students in Side Lake, career technical pathways and community education efforts?
They all seemed to agree on the need idea that they ought to share where they can rather than duplicate. “This is not a consolidation,” Polcher opened. “It’s the working together for the good of our schools and doing it in an economical way.”
The statement eventually led others to address the elephant in the room.
“One of the things we’re looking at is we have talked about combining superintendents and making it one position,” Blanchard said. “Is that something that is on your plate?”
From Chisholm, Rice proposed that research is still needed as principals would likely be assigned more responsibilities. From Hibbing, McLaughlin suggested they review the responsibilities of each superintendent and which duties could be shared with other staff— should they go down that route. Blanchard offered that many of her duties revolve around attending meetings and speaking with parents. She implied she could handle the duties on a larger scale, if needed.
“I’m not trying to sell myself on this job,” Blanchard insisted. “I’m not. I’m just telling you it can be done. But you guys will need to figure it out what it looks like for both of you, so both schools benefit.”
At that, Rice questioned if they would open up the position to all applicants, to which McLaughlin responded: “In my opinion, if it’s Dr. Blanchard, I want everybody that’s working for her— with her— to know that she was the most credible candidate and we feel that she’s best positioned, so they will walk in and they respect her as the superintendent.” At multiple times throughout the meeting, she said that a collaboration isn’t just a good idea but that “it needs to happen.”
One person who remained largely silent throughout the latter half of the discussion was Rahja, the chair of Chisholm’s school board. When he finally spoke up, his concerns were about “protecting” Blanchard from possible burn out, which he said occurred with their previous superintendent.
“I think she’s a great superintendent,” Rahja said of Blanchard. “That being said, what do you guys want? The way I look at this: it’s on you guys. You guys need to say, ‘OK, Chisholm, we would like to have your superintendent and share her with you.’ What does it look like?”
Rahja had questions: Salary? Benefit package? How much time would she spend at each place? How could one person manage two districts— Hibbing with 2,350 students and Chisholm with 735 students?
All in attendance seemed to agree they should include both the boards, plus representation for union and non-contract staff on the decisions. In the end, those present decided a third-party facilitator was necessary. They also wanted to bring into the fold a separate superintendent with experience of running multiple districts.
On her end, Blanchard said she would try to call a special school board meeting to approve attending the next Hibbing School Board meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, at Hibbing High School. If all fails, Hibbing school board members added that they’d aim to attend Chisholm’s next board meeting at 5 p.m. on June 24.
As all unfolds, one group who is not completely sold yet is the Hibbing United Educators union.
“The Hibbing United Educators strongly encourage the school board to look for a full time superintendent as opposed to sharing with another district at this time,” said Hibbing elementary teacher Lynn Stish during a school board meeting last week. “HUE feels that we do not have the right climate in the district at this point to have a superintendent at another location two to three days out of the week.”
Stish reminded members of the school board that there is a memorandum of understanding in place until June 30 that states if the district explores collaboration with another district, a HUE member of their choosing would need to be involved.
“Hibbing United Educators are not averse to collaboration, but we do expect to be included and have a voice at the table to make sure that the best interest of Hibbing students and teachers come first,” Stish said.