The Rochester School Board heard from the top three candidates for the role of interim superintendent on a number of topics Tuesday night, ranging from budgetary issues to diversity.
The board has not made a decision among the three, nor has it discussed how they compared with one another. That will happen Thursday, May 13, when the board reconvenes to select the best candidate.
The interim superintendent position will last for a year. However, a couple of the candidates indicated that the role still holds a lot of responsibility in moving the School District forward.
"I think it's an amazing opportunity over the course of an interim superintendency to really lay the groundwork for the next phase," Kent Pekel said.
Christina Bemboom offered a similar sentiment, explaining that even though it's only a yearlong term, it's an entire year of a student's educational experience.
"It is an important bridge year," she said, "and it's the only year that our second graders will be second graders and our eighth graders will be eighth graders. It's an important year."
Diversity and historically marginalized groups were topics in multiple questions. The board also asked the candidates how they would communicate the district's stance on diversity during such a polarizing time:
"How would you advocate for equity and diversity initiatives with both staff and community members that don't see its value?" the board asked the candidates.
A lot of the questions the board members asked the candidates centered around how they would work with other people throughout the district. They asked questions about how the individual would work with the School Board, what they believe about "building effective leadership teams," and how they would build trust with staff.
The board also asked how the candidates would build confidence with the public.
Many of the answers referred to strategies such as being transparent and honest with people.
"Meet people where they're at," John Thein said. "Let them talk to you — and that means outreach, visiting with people, (and) being seen on the street ... we'll also work to invite the community into our schools."
Due to data privacy laws, sections of the candidates' resumes are still redacted. However, once they were named finalists, the places they have worked and the time they worked at those places became public.
Pekel has been the president and CEO of the Search Institute since 2012. According to his resume, the Search Institute is "an internationally recognized not-for-profit organization that partners with schools and out-of-school time (OST) programs to conduct and apply research that promotes positive youth development and advances equity."
According to his resume, he does not have any experience as a superintendent, but he has had a slew of administrative experience in other educational organizations.
For six years, he was the executive director of College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota. From 2005 to 2006, he was a senior associate for policy at the National Center on Education and the Economy.
He had roles with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of State. He even had one role that comes across as a little surprising for someone in education:
"White House fellow and special assistant to the director, Central Intelligence Agency."
Bemboom is currently the senior director of student support services for Eden Prairie Schools, a role she has had since 2017.
Prior to that, she was a principal in Sauk Radpids-Rice Public Schools, a director of special education in Little Falls Community Schools, and an administrative special education coordinator at Princeton Public Schools/Rum River Special Education Cooperative, among other roles.
Although Pekel and Bemboom both hold superintendent licensures, Thein is the only one among the three that has had superintendent experience.
He served as the superintendent of Roseville Area Schools for well over a decade from 1998 to 2015. In addition to that role, he also has served as interim superintendent three different times, including a year at Saint Paul Public Schools.