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Goodbye, Mr. Anderson

Mitch Anderson

The tides continue to change at the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth school district as the school's superintendent and elementary school principal officially resigned at Thursday night's board meeting.

For three years, Mitch Anderson has been giving the district a two-for-one deal, filling both roles for a then cash-strapped school.

Anderson is taking the position of superintendent in Perham, a move he says makes sense for his family.

"I'm originally from Frazee, and Perham is close, so I've got friends and family in the area."

The decision to leave didn't come easy for Anderson, who started out as the elementary school principal five years ago.

Financial challenges hit the school in 2008, and Anderson agreed to step up and also fill the district superintendent position.

"Doing both was certainly challenging at times," Anderson said.

Travel between schools and juggling positions may have left the educator with little spare time, but he says it'll be tough to leave the district during a time of tremendous change.

In March of 2010, the district was identified as a "turn around school" after receiving low test scores.

"That was a very hard time for the school district; it was a black eye for us. The Fargo Forum had an article that the subheading said, 'Waubun is among the nation's worst schools', so obviously our staff, our students, our town took that very hard."

But Anderson says school leaders rallied and have since taken a $1.4 million grant received from the "turn around" and have made some changes to business as usual with new (but not always popular) initiatives.

"To get the funding we had to fire our high school principal and hire a different one; We had to add an hour of instruction every day, put in professional learning communities for the staff, and just a whole bunch of other initiatives were put in place this year."

That's why Anderson says he didn't initially apply for the open superintendent position in Perham.

"Because of all the stuff we had going on here, I just didn't feel like I could walk away at that time."

But when the Perham school district was unable to hire their original pick for superintendent, it re-advertised. This time Anderson applied and was chosen.

"I didn't like leaving the board here in this situation, but there's probably never a time that feels right, and I had to do what was right for my family."

Anderson's position with Waubun-Ogema is up June 30; on July 1 he takes the reins in Perham, a school district twice the size.

"There are challenges there," said Anderson, talking about the Perham-Dent district, "They haven't been able to pass an operating levy for three tries, so financially they are not in the situation that I have here in Waubun; they've been cutting and cutting and cutting, so that's not easy, but at the same time they've got tremendous community and parent involvement; their academics, their arts and athletic programs are top of the line ... so there's a lot of great things coming out of there."

Until Anderson makes the switch over, though, one of his duties at Waubun-Ogema will be to help find his own replacement.

"It's pretty clear the board is going is to split up the positions again," said the school board's vice-chair, Thomas Teiken, "So if we can get some good applicants in here we will hire both a full-time elementary school principal and a full-time superintendent."

Although the board moved to approve this motion, the late notice could force it to just hire an interim or part-time superintendent.

"But hopefully not, it all depends on the applicants," Teiken said.

Anderson and High School Principal Mike Cary both agree that whomever the district decides to hire for the two leadership positions, they should be people who are willing to jump on board with the new initiatives set in place for the school improvement plan, and not somebody wanting to rock the boat in a school that is already going through change.

"And we need somebody who is going to understand how our funding here on the Indian reservation is a little different and our demographics are 70 percent free and reduced (for lunches and activities), and 70 percent Native American, so there will probably be a little bit of a learning curve because of the unique set-up of our district," said Anderson.

The posting for the elementary school principal position is slated to close May 27 with interviews being conducted June 6-9.

The district superintendent position will remain open until filled.