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Amid April showers, board picks Flowers

On a damp, dreary day uncharacteristic to this spring's delightful weather, the West Fargo School Board decided the fate of its district.

After nearly two hours of discussion Friday, April 30, Huthinson (Kan.) Superintendent David Flowers finally was picked as West Fargo's next leader.

The former Fargo superintendent accepted the position shortly after being contacted following the meeting. He will succeed current West Fargo Superintendent Dr. Dana Diesel Wallace, who has been with the district since 2006 and announced her resignation last December. Flowers, 58, is expected to start July 1 at West Fargo.

"Having lived there for eight years, I know it's a great community and a great area - but I haven't missed the winters," Flowers said, with a laugh. He left Fargo in 2007 after an eight-year tenure with the school district.

According to a press release from the West Fargo School District, details on Flower's contract will not be released until board approval later this week, though he is expected to have a salary ranging from $140,000 to $160,000.

Flowers was one of the West Fargo School District's final three candidates, who included Perham-Dent (Minn.) Superintendent Tamara Uselman and current West Fargo Assistant Superintendent Louise Dardis.

After board members numerically ranked the candidates, Dardis was eliminated from the final discussion. For the remainder of the meeting, board members bounced around the pros and cons between Flowers and Uselman.

For a time, the decision was split nearly down the middle, with board President Tom Gentzkow and board member Duane Hanson "straddling the fence." Members Ben Koppelman and Kay Kiefer supported Uselman, whereas Patti Stedman, Karen Nitzkorski and Angela Korsmo leaned toward Flowers.

"They each have their strengths and weakness," Gentzkow admitted. "I'd be comfortable to have each one right now."

"I'd like to have both," Nitzkorski said. "Can I do that?"

"Mrs. Uselman comes with exuberance. Dr. Flowers has a quiet exuberance. I think he's no less passionate than she is; hers is a little more on the surface," Korsmo said.

Supporters of Flowers noted his many years of experience as a superintendent, and his intimate connection to the area.

"Our community needs to come together, and we need to start moving in the same direction," Kiefer said. "In order to do that, we need to have someone in our district who understands our community and culture."

"I like what he can bring to the table," Gentzkow said, but noted he's heard concern that Flowers "is going to turn us into a Fargo."

Korsmo, who was on the board when Flowers first came to Fargo, said "he quietly made some changes, but they were changes that made Fargo more of a stronger, better board."

Flowers "has had the opportunity to probably do unpopular things and survive them," Nitzkorski said. "It might be a little bit harder to get to know him (though). The one thing about Tamara is she certainly is easy to snuggle up to. ...

"What I like about David is, he in love with his current school district and he was in love with Fargo. I think he will learn to fall in love with us."

Though Uselman may have had less experience under her belt than Flowers, her "exuberance" and "laser-like focus" were qualities that drew support.

"She's infectious. She gravitates people around her," Gentzkow said.

"People in (Uselman's) district hate to tell you anything good about her because they don't want to see her go," Koppelman said. "But they can't say anything bad about her, either."

Koppelman argued that Uselman is "more inviting," whereas David seems to be "more formal."

"We have to have the communication, we have to have the trust of the district, and we have to be able to gain support for making those changes," Koppelman said.

After a brief recess around 11 a.m., the board reconvened and held a vote. In a 6-to-1 favor, Flowers was picked as the finalist, with only Koppelman voting for Uselman. Flowers said he is excited to work in West Fargo.

"It is a tremendous, dynamic district that is growing and that has tremendous potential," he said.

Flowers said that it was "a bonus" that he had family in the area. "That's what made it at least something I wanted to explore," he said.

Though there is much work to be done in West Fargo, Flowers wants to listen to the community before he decides on how to move forward with changes. "I'm not going to presume to know what all the goals need to be because my leadership style tends to be collaborative," he said.

With two failed bonds on top of the continued growth of the district, Flowers wants to "try to unlock the combination to support the need."

"I'm going to want to engage the board and representatives of the community and staff to continue the collaboration and input," he said. It will take some "more work to find the right solution and what that might cost."