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Board selects Wallace as new superintendent

Dr. Dana Diesel Wallace, currently the senior director of middle school education for Wake County Public Schools in North Carolina, will become the first female head of the West Fargo School District on July 1.

The West Fargo School Board unanimously approved the hiring and offered Wallace a two-year contract last Friday, after Wallace made her second trip to the area. She spent the day with current Superintendent Chuck Cheney, touring the District and visiting several schools. She was offered the superintendent position after a short, candid interview Friday night at the Fargo Holiday Inns conference center area.

Wallace agreed to a two-year contract that will pay her $138,500 in the first year of the deal. She will be reviewed by the Board and a new salary amount will be negotiated for the second year of the deal. The contract runs from July 1, 2006 through June 30, 2008.

I think its a place that is proactively planning for the future, planning for its growth, Wallace said. I like the stability it has shown. The District is a place where people enjoy working. They want to stay and they are able to stay there. That means you have good relationships, and that there is a community that supports the schools. Thats exciting.

West Fargo School Board President Duane Hanson, who has withstood some criticism for how the superintendent interviews were conducted over the last week, said the search brought forth six solid candidates, and that Wallace happened to be the right fit.

Its hard to define, really what that is, Hanson said. We really liked her leadership abilities, which she has shown in her current position. I think shes someone who thinks outside the box, which is good, but not something we necessarily are very dependent on right now. Shes not going to come here and re-invent the wheel. We have a very good School District, and we think shes someone who can make it better.

Hanson said Wallace had been the front-runner since interviews concluded Sunday, April 23 at the Leidal Education Center. The wrap-up meeting, held after the sixth candidates final interview that night, has been scrutinized by some local media outlets because of its spontaneous nature. The Board was reluctant, at first, to discuss details of that meeting, but did release Wallaces name as a co-finalist, as well as the name of Bismarck Assistant Superintendent Rick Buresh.

Buresh, who was scheduled to possibly be interviewed a second time this week, was told the job was awarded to Wallace.

He was another really good candidate, and we told him we appreciated his participation, Hanson said. This really wasnt an easy decision for us as a Board.

Wallace, who oversees 31 schools in Wake County, has her graduate degree from Harvard and her doctorate from Columbia University. She has also served as a high school teacher, vice principal, assistant principal and principal in New Jersey and Virginia. She joined Wake County, which primarily has schools in the North Carolina cities of Wake Forest, Raleigh and Garner, in 2002.

I did some research online, learned about the community and really it was a position that piqued my interest, Wallace, who has no ties to the West Fargo area, said. I thought the opportunity to get interviewed was great. That first Friday, I thought the interview spoke volumes. This is a Board and a District that has smart, good people.

Wallace said her goal is to continue to improve student achievement, giving students the myriad of options they deserve for post-secondary opportunities. She said getting everyone on the same page, working together for that goal wont be hard, since the District is in a great position.

Ray and Associates, a search firm whose services were secured by the Board last winter, was responsible for drawing Wallace to the job opportunity. Hanson said that the experience of doing a nation-wide search with a firm such as Ray and Associates, which is located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was an eye-opening experience.

I think it was an eye-opener for the Board to see the kind of quality people that are interested in our District, he said. This was a process that we thought went real well. I think this is a Board that works very well together. Were happy.

Cheney, who will step down from his position at the end of the day on June 30, said his goal now is to work with Business Manager Mark Lemer and Assistant Superintendent Louise Dardis in keeping Wallace apprised as to what is happening in the District between now and her first day. That includes the largest task tackled by both the administration and the Board during the months of May and June; the 2006-2007 budget.

We expect that to be about 95 to 98 percent complete by the time she arrives here to step into her position. She will have ample opportunity to peruse that budget and make any suggestions she might have.

The Board traditionally approves the budget at its second meeting in July.

Cheney said hell also keep Wallace informed as to what issues are popping up with things such as the two new buildings in the District that recently started construction and the education plan for next year.

I think that as the community gets to know her, theyll embrace her as someone who can come into this District with an interesting perspective, and someone who can bring new ideas to the table, he said.

Hanson said that he thinks Wallaces biggest challenge now will be getting familiar with the community, and the community getting to know her. Its the first time in decades that someone from outside the District has come in to lead West Fargos schools. Cheney, who replaced Marvin Leidal in 1999, was a teacher and former principal who was then the Districts assistant superintendent. Leidal, himself, was a longtime District employee when he was named superintendent of the District.

Theres a trust factor, Hanson said. I think once we get past that phase, though, shell be faced with the same challenges weve seen over the last few years, and thats the tremendous growth were seeing in our District and how to handle that growth.