School board selects two interim superintendent candidates to bring back for second interviews tonight

The Monticello School District appears on the verge of hiring its interim superintendent.

After naming three finalists for the job at the start of this week, the school board trimmed the list to two following a long night of interviews on Monday. The two remaining candidates are scheduled to come back for a second round of interviews tonight, Wednesday Aug. 23, with a tentative plan to choose a candidate for the position tonight.

The final two candidates are Dave Marlette and Michael Favor. The third finalist that was brought in for Monday night interviews was Gail Swenson, superintendent of the Tripp-Delmont School District in South Dakota.

Marlette has served as superintendent at three different school districts, including Watertown-Mayer most recently. He has been out of education for three years after leaving Watertown to be by his wife’s side in a fight against a disease they couldn’t diagnose at the time. With his wife fully recovered, Marlette told the Monticello School Board he was passionate about returning to a role in education.

Favor is the Executive Director of Schools and Student Services for Robbinsdale Area Schools. He presented the school board with a 90-day plan, as well as a pamphlet that highlighted some of his career accomplishments and beliefs. Included on that list was that he increased overall graduation rates by 18 percent, and graduation rates of low-income students from 46.7 percent to 80.5 percent.

School board members, and the five staff members that joined them on the panel, were impressed with what each of the candidates brought to the table. Post-interview discussion centered around several key topics, including finance, understanding of the interim position, and putting kids first.

The understanding of the interim position was a two-way street in board discussions. Board and staff wanted to make sure that whoever was accepting the position understood that it truly was an interim position and that the job would be open again in 10 months. But the board also wanted to make sure they were clear on what exactly they wanted the interim superintendent to do, especially when they talked about keeping the district moving forward, one of the priorities on the leadership profile created by the board to help select a candidate.

“When we talk about moving forward, are we going to change everything we’re doing?” asked board member Jeff Hegle. “What is our definition of continuing to move forward?”

Assistant Superintendent Joe Dockendorf said he wanted to be careful that Monti didn’t bring in someone who would turn the district on its head and then walk out the door in 10 months.

“I don’t want someone coming in to change our world, and then go away. Or attempt to change our world and then go away with many things half done,” said Dockendorf, adding that he’s looking for someone who can “fill in the gaps.”

Steve Niklaus, former superintendent of the Annandale School District, has been one of the people helping the board through this process as a member of the Minnesota School Boards Association, Monticello’s partner in the search. He warned board members that no matter how much faith they have in their principals and administration, it is still important they select a superintendent with strong leadership capabilities.

“This is a big job, you’ve got multiple schools, you’ve got talented principals, you’ve got talented teachers,” said Niklaus. “You don’t want to have a dead year. Your district is on the move. You want to keep that going.”

The board felt each candidate had different strong suits. Favor brought charisma, and a strong curriculum background, which Linda Borgerding found intriguing. Borgerding, the former director of curriculum and now Pinewood Principal, sat on the panel Monday night with Joe Rosh, Tina Burkholder, Jill Tessier, Dockendorf, and five school board members (Robbie Smith was absent).

“I thought Michael was the one that came in with the strongest academic background,” she said. “The things he was saying resonated with me.”

Burkholder, the director of finance, said even if she had a couple of questions about his finance background, she was impressed with his commitment to kids.

“He definitely has, I think, an every kid, every day focus,” she said. “I can see his passion for education. That is, I think, just as important as the finance.”

Jill Bartlett applauded Swenson for her honesty and ethics in her answers, while Rosh complimented her passion for learning.

And several agreed that Marlette had the most experience in a couple of key areas, including building construction and finance.

“I appreciated what Dave said when he talked about educating staff on the budget process,” said Dockendorf. “There’s going to be some learning necessary.”

Burkholder agreed that Marlette had the most hands-on finance experience.

“Having experience with a district being in [Statutory Operating Debt] and in Minnesota is a positive,” said Burkholder, before clarifying that Monticello is not in that position.

By the end of the discussion Monday night, the panel decided they were looking for someone who could best complement the leaders that Monti already has in place in the district.

Board Chair Bill Spartz said it was his belief that Marlette and Favor both fit the overall bill that Monticello was looking to fill.

“Frankly we’re looking for a new CEO. We have the people in place to move this district forward. We need a leader,” said Spartz. “To me, there are two people in that group [Marlette and Favor] that will do that.”

Shortly thereafter, Hegle made a motion to bring back Marlette and Favor for a second round of interviews on Wednesday night. That motion was seconded by Carol McNaughton, and carried by a vote of 5-0.

The second round of interviews is scheduled to be held Wednesday night, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Board Room at the Monticello Middle School. The interviews are open to the public.

Visit for an update on the Wednesday night board meeting and second round of interviews.

Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]