The Alexandria School Board chose six finalists during a special board meeting Wednesday to interview in its search for a new superintendent.

Current Superintendent Julie Critz is retiring effective June 30, after five years in the district’s top spot and 36 years in education.

The half-dozen unanimous selections made by the school board are, in alphabetical order:

  • Eric Hudspith, director of human resources and organizational development at Mankato Area Public Schools

  • Ryan Laager, superintendent at Belle Plaine Public Schools

  • Michael Neubeck, middle school principal at Mahtomedi Public Schools

  • Rick Sansted, assistant superintendent – teaching and learning at Alexandria Public Schools

  • Chris Swenson, superintendent at Holdingford Public Schools

  • Kristine Wehrkamp, executive director of community education at Robbinsdale Area Schools

The finalists for the superintendent vacancy were made public by two members of the Minnesota School Boards Association’s executive search team at the conclusion of a three-hour meeting Feb. 12.

"These are great candidates,” Gary Lee, MSBA deputy executive director, informed the board once its selections had been made. “When they interview, they're going to knock your socks off.”

Those six, who were chosen based on criteria determined by the school board, will be scheduled for interview sessions at the district office starting at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 26, and continuing at 10 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 28. From there, a smaller group will be chosen for a second round of interviews on Friday, March 6, with the board expected to extend an offer shortly after.

It is not unheard of for a finalist to withdraw during the process, Dorn told the board. In the event that were to happen, the board decided it would not fill the spot with someone else.

A total of 21 candidates completed the application process by the Feb. 3 deadline.

"A staff of five went through them and came up with six that we believe would meet your criteria," Lee said of the MSBA’s executive search process. He added that the group arrived at a consensus of these six quickly.

"It's an excellent pool of candidates," Dorn said.

"You have a very strong pool," Lee told the board.

While other search firms tend to come up with a firm list of finalists, Lee said the MSBA service gives school boards a stable of candidates to pick from in addition to its choice of finalists.

After hearing summaries of the search's half-dozen top selections, the board did ask several questions regarding other candidates who had impressed them.

After some discussion, the board retained five of the six recommended finalists, and added one who was not part of the six it was presented with.

Process explained

Prior to going over the finalists, the MSBA representatives reviewed the next stages of the search process. The search service handled 21 superintendent searches during the last school year, and school board members were instructed on what is and is not allowed, including what is permissible to ask and what is not during interviews.

Dorn said that everyone has implicit biases, and he urged board members to put aside those biases.

"We can't say this enough," Lee told the board. "Trust this process."

The interviews with the finalists will be open to the public, allowing district residents and school staff to sit in. The board was informed that a majority of districts allow some opportunity for public input, but it is limited to a form identifying a candidate's strengths and their opportunities for growth. Those forms would then be collected by MSBA personnel and summarized.

Board members were also cautioned not to engage in conversations with members of the public about the finalists.

The board was given a list of 162 possible questions to ask, plus additional ones. The board is required to ask the same group of questions to each finalist during the one-hour interview sessions.