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All three metro public school districts are now looking for new leaders

West Fargo Public Schools Superintendent David Flowers announces he will retire this summer during a press conference at the Leidal Education Center in West Fargo on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. David Samson / The Forum

WEST FARGO—Wednesday's announcement that West Fargo public schools superintendent David Flowers will retire next year creates the rare—maybe unprecedented—situation of all three large metro-area public school districts searching for new leaders at the same time.

After 45 years in education, the 66-year-old Flowers will retire on June 30. Fargo Superintendent Jeff Schatz, 58, announced last week he will also retire at the end of this school year. Moorhead Superintendent Lynne Kovash retired last week in the midst of a battle with pancreatic cancer. Moorhead is being led by an Interim Superintendent Brandon Lunak. Additionally, Larry Nybladh, superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools who formerly led Moorhead's district, also plans to retire in June.

Many options

West Fargo and Fargo school districts both anticipate a national search for superintendent candidates. Although four of the area's largest school districts will be looking for new superintendents, officials don't believe the many area openings will cause a shallower applicant pool.

"I don't think it will make it any easier or more difficult," said Fargo School Board President Jim Johnson.

West Fargo School Board President Kara Gravely-Stack, who works in higher education, said while candidates may wonder why the area has so many openings at once, it could turn out to be an advantage.

"My hope is that, if anything, it has a positive impact on the national level of raising awareness of the opportunities in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo," she said.

While the school districts will have about six months to find new superintendents, Johnson said now is the latest a school district would want to start searching for replacements.

"This is about as late as you'd want to start the process to have somebody in place for the school year," Johnson said. "In Fargo we have a pretty strong administrative cabinet. If, in fact, we didn't find the right person, we'd operate with an interim superintendent until we do."

Gravely-Stack said the openings could produce some viable local candidates.

"I know in our district we have some very talented people and, my sense is, the other districts do as well," she said. "You have some consistency when you have some internal candidates. I see benefits both ways. We have talented people in our district and the neighboring districts who may or may not be interested. I would not ignore the opportunity to look at an internal candidate."

Fargo and West Fargo School District officials said doctoral candidates are generally preferred for superintendent positions.

'It is simply time'

West Fargo Superintendent Flowers' eyes welled with emotion as he announced his retirement Wednesday during a press conference at district headquarters.

After 45 years in education, Flowers said, "It is simply time."

"The hardest part of this decision is that I will be leaving that very talented team, and I will miss them," Flowers said. "I've appreciated the vision, the courage and the support of the school board. I intend to vigorously serve out the remainder of this year. We have very important work to complete."

Flowers' announcement came on the heels of grand openings for the West Fargo Sports Arena and Hulbert Aquatic Center. The buildings were part of a $98.1 million building referendum approved by voters in 2015 that also paid for two new elementary schools, a transportation center, a district kitchen and many school renovations.

Flowers said he strongly considered retiring last last year but was convinced by many to wait until the majority of the building projects were wrapping up.

He said the timing of his announcement was not influenced by the other metro superintendent openings.

"I had planned to make a decision [about retirement] this year and I planned to announce it in December," Flowers said.

A just-formed community task force may recommend the district ask voters to pass another bond referendum in 2018 to build a third high school and third middle school, buildings that a similar 2015 task force considered. However, if a bond vote is recommended by the new task force, school board member Patti Stedman said it would likely not be put on a ballot until next fall.

Flowers was hired as West Fargo's superintendent in 2010. He has been an educator for 45 years, starting his career in 1973. He spent 16 years combined as superintendent in Fargo and West Fargo. He was named North Dakota Superintendent of the Year in 2013.

"We have benefitted from his knowledge and direction during his years of service, especially during times of increasing enrollment, bond referendums and district changes," district spokeswoman Heather Konschak said in a statement.

Flowers said retirement will allow him to travel with his wife, Charlene, and explore other hobbies. The couple's adult children live nearby and he does not expect to move away from West Fargo.

Flowers said the vitality of the West Fargo community and school staff will make his opening an attractive position to prospective candidates.

"Being in the district has made me a better person," he said.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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