When Rick Sansted decided he was going to spend his life in education, he had no idea it would lead to administrative positions.

After spending the last five years as the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for Alexandria Public Schools, he's taking over for Julie Critz as the full-time superintendent.

Sansted, a Fargo native, attended Augsburg College in 1995 before moving to Parkers Prairie. He worked as a social studies teacher for four years before he and his family moved to the metro area. Sansted was a social studies teacher in Edina until 2003. In that time, he earned his masters from the University of St. Thomas.

"I loved history and sharing that with people," Sansted said. "I enjoyed my time at Parkers Prairie because the people were special. I like sports, so I got to coach volleyball and basketball.”

After Sansted and his wife were engaged, they left so he could take the job in Edina. That’s when doors started to open.

He took an assistant principal job for four years before operating as the principal of Concord Elementary in Edina. He finished his 16th year in Edina before Critz hired him as the assistant superintendent in Alexandria. On March 6, the school board unanimously approved Sansted as the successor for Critz.

"Rick is a strong connector," Crtiz said. "He relates well with staff and community members. He's a collaborative leader, and in this community, that's an expectation. He's also open to new ideas. When we hired Rick outside of the system, we thought there was a chance he could become the superintendent. Nothing was guaranteed, but we were looking for new ideas and a fresh set of eyes to Alexandria."

Over the last five years, Sansted has watched and learned from Critz. He understands that the superintendent is about making impactful decisions. One of the things he admired about Critz and her time in Alexandria was how she always found a way to look at the big picture.

"Julie has done a fantastic job along with our leadership team," Sansted said. "When you're a principal, part of the job is providing input, whereas the superintendent needs to view things from a broad perspective. I want to step in and continue to listen because we are on the right track. Together, we can accomplish any problem."

One of the reasons Sansted wanted the superintendent job was because of the school board’s experience. The average service time of the board members is nearly 20 years.

"I think their longevity, their ability to collaborate effectively and their professionalism is very contagious," Sansted said. "I think it's contagious to the leadership teams and the teaching staff, which resonates with the students."

Sansted admires what Alexandria schools can provide for students. Between the certifications and real-world experiences, he wants to see Alexandria kids continue to grow.

"Our district is doing a lot for the development of our students," Stansted said. "We've invested in the instruction in early education. We've also implemented technology into our curriculum while continuing to monitor standards changes. We saw how big of a role technology can play this spring, and we can learn from that and apply it in the coming years."

Whenever Sansted's time is up as Alexandria's superintendent, he hopes to have made an impact.

"I don't think it matters what your role is, as long as you're part of a system that helps people be their best," Sansted said. "Whether that's students, staff, team leaders or administrative roles, we can all help each other be our best. I believe I was able to do that as a teacher, as a principal and as an assistant superintendent."

Critz clocks out

During Critz's last school board meeting as the superintendent, board members were emotional when speaking about what she's meant to the district in the previous five years.

On Nov. 18, 2019, the board accepted her letter of resignation. Seven months later, she received her final evaluation from the board, where many board members talked about how she's helped Alexandria schools for the better.

"This is a school district that's well respected across the state," Critz said. "It's known for being a forward-thinking community. I have really enjoyed the community support that we have here. Not only was that shown through the operating levy, but also at the academy model we have at the high school. One of my greatest pleasures in my time here was watching the students and the community embrace the new high school model."

In 2014, the district opened up it's 280,000 square-foot, $73.2 million high school. Alexandria Area High School replaced Jefferson High School in more ways than just a building. The school implemented a core curriculum with an academy model that prepared kids for college and career opportunities after graduation.

Critz moved to Alexandria in 2001, where she took a job as the Washington Elementary School principal. In 2007, she transitioned into the district office for the director of teaching and learning role, which is now the assistant superintendent. In 2015, she accepted the superintendent offer before retiring last fall.

In Critz's five years of service, she noticed how motivated many students are with the district's unique approach to education.

"I believe that kids appreciate a different kind of learning experience," Critz said. "The shift in elementary and middle school to a personalized learning approach, where one size doesn't fit all, is one of the biggest things that we've worked at. Everybody that goes to the doctor doesn't get the same medicine. We've become much more prescriptive."

Critz is stepping down at the end of June but isn't doing away with education completely. She still plans on teaching at Alexandria Technical and Community College. Critz believed the timing was right for her to take a step back. In doing so, she's excited about the next stage in her life.

"I'll have more time to spend with my family, especially my grandchildren," Critz said. "I think I'll have a better life balance with healthier choices. I can start doing stuff like exercising more that I didn't have time for in this position. I won't be done working yet. I'm not completely sure what that looks like yet, but I still have more to offer."