Joe Thimm, who has served the Chisago Lakes School District as a teacher, a high school activities director and who is currently the Taylors Falls Elementary School principal -- got the nod to be the district’s next superintendent following hours of School Board deliberations February 27.
Thimm was among three “finalists” gleaned from a field of eight semi-finalists brought to the School Board by the search firm BKB. The Board interviewed the eight over a couple days and named three finalists, who came to the Board Room Wednesday for a public interview lasting about an hour a piece.
Then Board members went into the deliberation mode and they quickly were unanimous in eliminating the candidate from Minocqua, Wisconsin. That left Joe Thimm and Ray Queener. Thimm and Queener had just completed their finalist “presentations” and had left the building. They both answered a set of 18 identical questions; structured more like a psychological assessment than hitting on actual Chisago Lakes District challenges.
Thimm had a theme for his powerpoint presentation based on community outreach and marketing, to “Make Things Happen for the Chisago Lakes School District.”
Queener demonstrated extensive knowledge of strategic planning for moving the district towards measureable outcomes or goals.
The ensuing agonizing discussion to select the district’s next leader ran two hours. Three Board members clearly preferred no other candidate but Thimm. Board members Brenda Carlson, Dani Strenke and Gerald Vitalis immediately staked out their ground for Thimm. Board Chair Mark Leigh, Lori Berg and Tom Lawlor were considerably more pensive. Leigh observed that based on specific attributes the Board had earlier identified for superintendent qualifications, the assistant superintendent for Stillwater Schools, Ray Queener, really should be offered the job.
“If Joe wasn’t at the table there is no doubt we’d be calling Queener,” Leigh observed. But, he realistically noted the Board would be deadlocked at 3-3 if he went with Queener and that was simply not an acceptable outcome.
Discussion picked up around the table, trying to land on a convincing nuance, something that would crystallize this decision.
Leigh said the job was Thimm’s to win in the interview and presentation portion where the Board would get a sense of personality and passion for the job. Leigh said he wasn’t sure that happened.
Board member Brenda Carlson disagreed, and said Thimm showed that he was the perfect fit for this community. His interview was more heartfelt and she feels he came across as more accessible, whereas Queener struck her as more of an administrator.
Board member Tom Lawlor agreed, saying Thimm’s charisma is his strong suit. But, Lawlor could not ignore that Queener brings broad experience in budgeting and finance, has been involved in various contract negotiations, and clearly is an expert in the use of technology in the classroom.
Board member Lori Berg commented that when the Board was interviewing for (now retiring) superintendent Mike McLoughlin, “We didn’t even consider interviewing anybody who didn’t have superintendent experience. Why did we even do this process?” Berg questioned.
Board member Brenda Carlson explained her rationale, “I like to know what I’m getting.”
She argued that Thimm is the proverbial bird-in-the-hand and has given the district years of service. She said people in this area need somebody who provides an open door policy, be well-liked and visible and that is totally Thimm’s style.
Gerald Vitalis cautioned the Board chair, “...don’t put Joe in a box” as comparisons were made between Thimm’s and Queener’s resumes. Vitalis said he knows Thimm can handle whatever challenge he takes on...going back to when he was a teacher and then as Chisago Lakes’ A.D.
Vitalis said when Thimm took over at Taylors Falls School “it was in shambles.” The school now is highly functioning and there’s been a complete turnaround in morale and in the learning environment.
Board Chair Leigh called a recess for a few minutes, saying he had to make a phone call. When he reconvened the meeting about 10:30 p.m. he asked for a motion, offered by Carlson to extend a contract to Thimm. The motion passed 5-1 with Lawlor the only no vote.
Terms will be drafted, and must be accepted, so the details of the contract will be announced later.