Niklaus to resign June 30
Though the members of the school board had learned of it a few days earlier, Detroit Lakes Superintendent of Schools Lowell Niklaus took most of the district by surprise Tuesday when he submitted his letter of resignation, effective June 30.
"I worked hard to keep this under wraps," he admitted candidly in a one-on-one interview following Wednesday's special school board meeting.
The special meeting notice that was sent out earlier this week had listed the only agenda item as a "2006-2007 Administration Proposal."
What made Niklaus' unexpected resignation even more unique, however, was a special request that he included in the letter submitted to the board: to be assigned to the position of education director for the district.
The request will bring Niklaus' career at Detroit Lakes back to where it began: Prior to his appointment as superintendent eight years ago, he had served as the district's education director for five years.
"This lets me finish my career in education doing what I really want to do," Niklaus said at Wednesday's meeting.
He also made it clear in the post-meeting interview that he had not been "forced out" of the superintendent's position in any way, and that he had in fact taken board members by surprise with his proposal.
This statement was confirmed by school board chairman Dr. Tom Seaworth after the meeting, when he noted that he'd had no inkling of Niklaus' plans up until a few days ago.
"This did kind of shock some of us, if not all of us," he said at the meeting.
"Lowell has done a superb job for us as superintendent, despite the financial difficulties we've had," Seaworth said, referring to the fact that the district has had to make nearly $3 million in budget cuts over the past three years, due to declining enrollment and other factors.
"Lowell is very highly respected around this state as an educational leader... he has an excellent reputation," Seaworth added. "We've been very fortunate to have had Lowell Niklaus as our superintendent."
With Niklaus' appointment as education director, the district has no plans now to fill the assistant superintendent's position vacated by Bob Grosz in September.
Niklaus had initially opted not to fill the vacancy for the 2005-06 school year, due to the lateness of Grosz' resignation. Instead, he assumed some of Grosz' administrative duties, and contracted with Les Perry of L&P Consulting to provide curriculum and staff development services. (Perry had been principal of Detroit Lakes Middle School prior to his resignation last spring.)
Niklaus said he expects to continue working with Perry under the 2006-07 administrative proposal, though the details of Niklaus' contractual duties have not yet been finalized.
Some the education director's duties discussed at the meeting would include serving as assessment coordinator, supervision of the district's Title I and technology programs (including maintenance of the school's Internet web site), public relations and more. He would also be asked to supervise all district activities in the absence of the superintendent.
Niklaus also noted that he is proposing a reduced contract for the education director, for 210-217 days of work rather than a 12-month position.
"This contract would include no vacation time or paid holidays," he said.
As for why he would want to take on what many might regard as a lesser position, Niklaus said, "The biggest factor in this is that the superintendent's position, by its nature, involves doing too many things that are not directly tied to what we (as educators) are about -- educating kids."
Niklaus said he has missed the "educational connection," and feels this move is one that could be good not only for himself, but for the district as a whole.
"A change in leadership is not always a bad thing," he said. "There is no hidden agenda here. No one is trying to force me out or to do something different. This is what's best for me now and also, hopefully, for the district. I look forward to working with the new superintendent."
Advertising for the superintendent vacancy began immediately after today's special meeting. Niklaus said he hopes starting the administrative search process early will allow the district to get the jump on others around the state that will also be seeking a new superintendent; the state association has reported that there will be approximately 70 districts with superintendent vacancies this year.
According to the timeline discussed by board members at the meeting, the district could be looking to hire a new superintendent as early as the April board meeting.