Sean Koster is board’s choice for District 88 superintendent

Sean Koster

NEW ULM — The District 88 School Board selected Sean Koster as the district’s next superintendent following a final interview with Koster on Tuesday.

The board will be entering contract negotiations with Koster, which could be finalized as earlier as Thursday, March 23.

Koster is the current superintendent of Beacon Academy, a K-8 charter school in Minneapolis. Koster has held this position for 14 years. Koster started in education as a language arts teacher at a middle school in Robbinsdale, MN. He later achieved a Master’s in Administration.

Koster was previously interviewed for the superintendent position on March 7 by the school board and community panel. Of the five candidates interviewed in the first round, Koster was the top choice of the school board and community panel. It was agreed to bring him back for a second round of interviews along with two other finalists, Barry Schmidt and Randall Bergquist. Schmidt and Bergquist were interviewed on Monday. Koster was the sole interview Tuesday night.

Before the final interview with the board, Koster answered questions from the community. Koster said his goal was to move from the metro area to become a superintendent in a smaller community.

“I want to have the small town feel,” he said. He originally comes from a small town and wanted to return to a small town for the next decade or longer.

Koster said when the superintendent position in New Ulm was listed, it was his top choice for places he wished to work.

Asked about the greatest challenges affecting public education, Koster said it was student mental health and staffing.

He said the silver lining of the pandemic is it allowed the school to speak more openly about mental health. Students are being asked to talk about what they are going for, but finding support for mental health is a challenge.

Koster said the retention of teachers as a whole was difficult because a lot is being put on their plate. He believed this problem was building for some time and it has finally coming to a head.

As a follow-up, Koster was asked what a superintendent’s role should be in staff retention and morale.

Koster said staff morale should be a number priority for the administration. This was achieved by setting the right working climate by decentralizing power and building up programs and people.

“We are in the human industry, we deal with people and it is our connections with people that matter,” Koster said.

Asked how schools should respond to community pressures on curriculum and policy, Koster said there is a process for each. Any change to the curriculum of policy needs to go through the established process but said it is important to be responsive.

“I think you have to be in the business of listening,” he said. It is important people coming to the district feel they were being heard. Feedback is needed from the community, but acknowledge changes in the curriculum will happen. He believed transparency in the process could help.

Koster spoke on his experience with equity, inclusion and social and emotional learning. He said Beacon has social-emotional learning in the curriculum. This includes peer mediation and how to communicate.

“There always going to be conflict so you have to teach [students] social/emotional skills to navigate the world we are in,” he said.

In terms of equity, Koster said he wants programs and organizations that reflect the needs of the district.

“What are the students saying that they need in order to feel supported and loved in the community,” Koster said.

Following Koster’s interview by the board a special school board meeting was held to discuss offering a contract to the candidates.

The board reviewed the feedback on the candidates provided by the community and administration team as well as their own notes. The board immediately leaned toward Koster as their top choice. All seven members said Koster was their top choice.

Board member Matt Ringhofer said going through community feedback reaffirmed his initial opinion from the first round of interviews.

Ringhofer appreciated Koster’s leadership approach in evaluating staff. In describing how he disciplined staff, Koster said it was not a reflection on the person, but on the choice they made and the protocol that must be followed. Ringhofer felt this allowed for growth and showed great leadership.

Board member Christie Dewanz said Koster was not her first choice, but after seeing him take questions from the community, she believed he was the best choice.

Board member Amanda Groebner was confident Koster would listen to staff, take input and learn.

Board member Denny Waloch said Koster was his first choice. He said all three candidates had good qualities, but Koster stood out more and he was excited to have him as superintendent.

Board member Jonathan Schiro agreed Koster rose to the top as the preferred choice. He made the motion to enter into negotiations to offer a contract to Koster. Waloch seconded the motion. It was unanimously approved.

The next regular scheduled board meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 23 at the District Boardroom, 414 S. Payne Street.


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