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Two candidates rise to the top in superintendent search

The Farmington School Board has two clear favorites as it continues the search for a new superintendent.

The board will conduct second interviews June 28 and 29 with West St.Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan superintendent Jay Haugen and St. Anthony-New Brighton superintendent Rod Thompson. Haugen and Thompson were overwhelming favorites of both the board and a community advisory council that interviewed those two as well as Pequot Lakes superintendent Rick Linnell and Belle Plaine superintendent Kelly Smith Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

"It's no question," search consultant Ken LaCroix said as he announced the results of the board's balloting.

LaCroix said Haugen and Thompson were two-to-one favorites over the third-place candidate among board members, and the two were nearly equal in voting among the advisory council.

District residents will have an opportunity to meet both finalists at public forums scheduled for 5 p.m. next Tuesday and Wednesday in the little theater at Boeckman Middle School. As of Thursday night there was no announced schedule for who would interview on which day.

Haugen and Thompson made their impressions on the board with similar messages about building unity in the district and being tireless representatives of Farmington schools among the public. Both promised to be familiar faces at school events and community activities.

"It's hard to lead a community unless you really know it," said Haugen, who told board members he met 2,000 people in his first year in the West St. Paul district. He said he likes to get involved with students in ways that might not always be expected of a superintendent, like sitting down with them at lunch.

Thompson, who has served as a volunteer coach and along with other faculty members challenged his high school's state-champion knowledge bowl team, said a superintendent has to pass what he called the Cub Foods test -- being well known enough that people feel comfortable stopping him as he does his grocery shopping.

"It's getting to know your community and getting to know what people think," Thompson said in his interview Wednesday. "Your superintendent has to run almost ragged."

Thompson is also a finalist for the superintendent's position in the Shakopee School District and was expected to interview Thursday for that position. Farmington assistant superintendent Christine Weymouth is also a finalist for that position.

Farmington board members joked after the finalists were announced Thursday about having a hard time choosing between the two.

"They're both kind of inspiring," board member Brian Treakle said. "They're doers, very knowledgeable, very experienced. I think they're both very motivated."

Thompson and Haugen both also made an impression on a community advisory board made up of district employees and community representatives. The board members didn't speak much about individual candidates, but they were enthusiastic about the finalists as a pair.

"They're both forward thinkers and not satisfied with the status quo," said John Guist, pastor at Middle Creek Vineyard Church. "They were both pretty strong in curriculum, in integrity, in caring for the community, caring for staff. That's what impressed me the most."

Haugen has spent the past five years in West St. Paul. Before that he was superintendent for 10 years in Sleepy Eye. He has also worked as a teacher and for the Minnesota Department of Education. One of his first administrative jobs involved helping seven southern-Minnesota districts united and align their curriculum.

Thompson started in education as a math teacher on the Iron Range. He has served as a principal and took over as superintendent in Greenway after that district had spent 12 years in statutory operating debt. He spent two years there and left for St. Anthony with the district in the black. He has been in St. Anthony for the past five years.

Thompson's wife is a teacher and was semi-finalist this year for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.

Haugen and Thompson will return next week to spend a day touring the district. They will attend their public forums, then sit down for a second interview with board members.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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