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Four superintendent finalists have years of experience

The Farmington School Board has chosen four experienced candidates as finalists for its soon-to-be-vacant superintendent position. All four are currently superintendents, and all have been at the head of a school district for at least seven years.

The four candidates, who will interview Wednesday and Thursday this week, are West St.Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan superintendent Jay Haugen, Pequot Lakes superintendent Rick Linnell, Belle Plaine superintendent Kelly Smith and St. Anthony-New Brighton superintendent Rod Thompson.

All four districts are smaller than Farmington. Three have a total enrollment roughly the same as the student population at Farmington High School.

Haugen has been a superintendent for 15 years. He spent 10 years leading the Sleepy Eye School District before being hired in West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan in 2006.

The West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district is the most similar to Farmington. The roughly 4,500-student district has five K-4 elementary schools, two 5-8 middle schools and a high school.

Before becoming a superintendent Haugen served as regional coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Education, curriculum/staff development coordinator, program consultant and high school teacher.

Linnell has been a superintendent for 15 years. He was hired in Pequot Lakes in 2006 after nine years as superintendent elsewhere. Before that worked as principal, coach and high school teacher.

Pequot Lakes, located north of Brainerd, has one elementary school, one middle school and one high school.

Smith has been a superintendent for 18 years. He moved to Belle Plaine from Red Wing in 2003. Smith has also worked as a high school teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal and assistant superintendent/business manager.

Belle Plaine has approximately 1,400 students, faculty, staff and administrators according to the district's web page.

At seven years, Thompson has the shortest tenure among the finalists. He's spent five years in St. Anthony after serving as superintendent from Greenway. He has been a superintendent for seven years and has worked as a high school teacher, coach, high school assistant principal and principal.

Thompson was also a finalist for the superintendent's job in Stillwater earlier this year at the same time outgoing Farmington superintendent Brad Meeks was considered for the job.

The St. Anthony School District serves more than 1,700 students at one elementary school, one middle school and one high school.

Search consultant Ken LaCroix said it was somewhat unusual for a metropolitan school district hiring a superintendent to have two finalists from other metropolitan districts. But he said he worked hard to make sure candidates looked beyond some of the recent news stories about discord on the board.

"I said, if you have the skills to unify people, to bring people to consensus, you should look at this position," LaCroix told school board members at a special meeting Monday night.

There was little discussion of the finalists among board members Monday. A subcommittee of the board met Saturday morning to select the recommended finalists. LaCroix put forward a list of six candidates selected from among 29 applicants, but board members considered others, too.

"It was pretty easy for us to narrow down to these four," said board member Julie McKnight, one of the three board members who met Saturday. "They really stood out."

Board member Melissa Sauser, another member of the group that met Saturday, said it became clear early on that board members had similar favorites. She said she was impressed by the history of academic achievement in the four finalists' districts, as well as their community involvement. Several of the finalists have active blogs or hold regular coffee sessions to meet with residents.

"I'm excited," she said. "I think we have some great candidates."

The school board and a district advisory committee will interview two of the candidates starting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Boeckman Middle School. They will interview the remaining two candidates Thursday. The board interviews are open to the public.

Current interim superintendent Brad Meeks will remain in the district until Aug. 31 unless he finds another job sooner.

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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