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Kent Pekel accepts superintendent position offered by the Rochester School Board

The Rochester School Board unanimously approved the motion to offer Pekel the position after hearing an update on the number of superintendents leaving their positions across the nation and the number of school boards looking for candidates.

RPS School Board
Rochester Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel speaks during a school board meeting Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, at the Rochester Public Schools Edison Building in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Kent Pekel agreed Tuesday to be the superintendent of Rochester Public Schools.

The school board unanimously agreed to offer Pekel the contract after hearing an update on the number of school districts searching for candidates and the number of superintendents leaving their positions.

"The increasing politicization of school district issues has led to an incredible exodus of superintendents, not just in Minnesota — across the country," said Ted Blaesing, the contractor helping RPS search for candidates.

Pekel has been serving as Rochester's interim superintendent and was a candidate for the permanent spot.

"I'm deeply honored," Pekel said after the offer was made. "I think the opportunity we have here in Rochester is just extraordinary. There's no place I'd rather be."

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The school board was meeting with Blaesing to discuss the results of a survey of what qualities the community wants in a school district leader.

The survey also asked participants to name someone who would make a good candidate. Based on the number of respondents to the survey, Blaesing said he would have expected 20 to 30 names.

Instead, there were 215 responses and 185 named Pekel. Blaesing said most of the remaining 30 were not realistic answers, such as "good luck" or "no one."

The school board initially hired Pekel with a one-year contract that was set to last through the end of June. During his mid-year review, both the school board and numerous stakeholder groups gave Pekel favorable marks.

Although the school board could have offered Pekel a contract without beginning a longer search process, the board members wanted to make sure they received input from the community, according to Board Chair Jean Marvin.

Board member Karen MacLaughlin made the motion to offer Pekel the contract, rather than proceeding with the rest of the search process.

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"We have the person here in the room that we need at this time," MacLaughlin said.

Rochester was among five school districts in southeast Minnesota alone looking for a new superintendent, in addition to others around the state. Board member Cathy Nathan was among those to point out the potential for competition.

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"I am concerned with the number of openings that are out there, and I am concerned with our timeline," she said.

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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