1.3 2015 Superintendent of the Year Finalist Klint Willert

Willert Klint Reversed 2     As the leader of Brainerd Public Schools, Dr. Klint Willert is in charge of the 31st largest school district in Minnesota, with an annual general fund budget over $75 million.  Klint is an award winning leader, recognized for innovations in PK-12 education and organizational leadership, and he is known as a creative thinker, an effective collaborator, an articulate voice for education, and someone who listens before making a decision.  


     Currently Dr. Willert is conducting a comprehensive study to update and upgrade aging facilities using clearly defined processes that will involve Brainerd stakeholders and those in the surrounding communities in planning the district’s future growth and development.  This partnership will be considering innovative solutions for the future needs of the region such as career academies and college and career options.  
     Dr. Klint Willert has earned a reputation for being deeply committed to continuous improvement.  He is dedicated to maximizing the potential of systems, processes, human resources, financial resources and capital assets to advance school performance. He is a visionary who has embraced technology as a tool for enhancing educational experiences while being simultaneously grounded in best-practices and research-based applications for delivering top-quality teaching and learning.  As a result of his focus on implementing the best research-based practices to support the needs of all learners in the school system, including the teachers, administrators, and educational support staff, he has developed a strong background in the implementation of Professional Learning Communities, the use of alternative compensation models to support teacher compensation, and the integration of models for diverse learners such as Positive Behavior Support Interventions (PBIS) and Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP).    Klint’s preparation for the superintendency include a Bachelor of Science, Elementary Education from Dakota State University; a Master of Education, Educational Leadership from the University of Montana; the Educational Specialist, Educational Leadership at the University of Sioux Falls; and a Doctorate, Educational Leadership from the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
     During his career, Klint has been teacher, a coach, a principal, a counselor, a consultant, a collegiate professor, and a school superintendent. With personal experiences in four different states, he can claim a broad perspective when it comes to the opportunities and challenges facing our country’s schools today.  He has taught a self-contained class in Lame Deer, Montana; served as a teacher in Wilsall, Montana and Clyde Park, Montana, and served as a principal in Hot Springs, Montana; worked as first a principal and then a superintendent in South Dakota’s Deubrook Area Schools; and served as Superintendent of Iowa’s West Hancock Community Schools and Minnesota’s Marshall Public Schools.  
     As the superintendent of the Marshall Public Schools, Dr. Willert demonstrated his win/win approach when he collaborated with Southwest Minnesota State University to transform a collegiate football stadium scheduled for demolition into a state-of-the-art track and field facility.  As a result, the district replaced a deteriorating facility, the university reinstated its track and field program and realized increased enrollment, and the local economy enjoyed a boost in its economy as a destination for upper mid-west amateur sporting events.  
     In addition to developing the Marshall track and field facility, Klint collaborated with the local university to create career pathway options for students by increasing opportunities to earn college credits and post-secondary enrollment options.  He also led efforts to partner with other post-secondary institutions to develop creative ways to prepare students to be career and college ready.  For example, the Ramp Up to Readiness program was implemented in Marshall High School through cooperation with the University of Minnesota.  An innovative program for high school students to intern in a career field of interest and concurrently earn college credit was also developed with the Minnesota State and Technical College.
     Not only is Dr. Willert a dedicated practitioner, he is also a devoted scholar.  Klint has served as an adjunct professor teaching future leaders about the use of data in school leadership, the role of ethics in decision making, the application of student management practices in schools today, and the focus on processes and quality tools to guide decision making.  He is consistently rated highly by his students and his peers for the quality of his work and his ability to deliver complex content in a meaningful way.   Dr. Willert has also served on several University advisory councils for accreditation, program development, and strategic planning.  
     Overall, Dr. Willert has a tremendous ability to see the big picture.  He understands the national, state, regional, and local issues.  He has the capacity to work with others.  He understands the importance of remaining visionary and focused on the importance of education in the world today as schools prepare students to be career and college ready, while remaining deeply committed to supporting the staff and delivering quality education to today’s students.


INTERVIEW WITH DR. KLINT WillERT

1.  How do you see today's superintendent?

A - The 21st century has created a number of changes in the superintendent.  Not only does the superintendent need to be adept at traditional work associated with the position, but the superintendent of today must be focused on broader tasks such as community engagement, student achievement, economic development, and creating educational experiences for students to succeed in a rapidly changing world.  The superintendent role has become much more dynamic given school funding changes, school choice initiatives, and the overall expectation for school leaders to ensure universal access to education for all students has changed.  Today, and rightfully so, the expectation goes beyond universal access to an expectation of universal proficiency in their education to ensure students are career and college ready.  Further, the superintendent today must be data driven, results focused, and committed to systems improvement and alignment.  The systems focus is essential to meet the expectations of the future by providing each child with a quality educational experience today.  

2.  What new understandings did you acquire?

A - When I first became a school superintendent I quickly discovered how much broader the audience was regarding the choices and decisions I made.  Not only does the decision impact the immediate school, but the broader community, and in some cases, the economic region.  Furthermore, I discovered how important process management is in school improvement.  If we desire to change the results in the schools, we need to focus on improving the processes involving teacher training, staff development, resource allocations, and community engagement.  Finally, I also discovered the value of a well-developed strategic plan that includes a concise, memorable mission statement that is easy to recite and repeat, that has clear goals with key performance indicators, and an overarching focus on student success.  In other words, I discovered how critical the strategic plan tool is to provide focus and aim in the entire school district.

3.  Please share an idea or tip with your colleagues.

A - In my dissertation studies, I focused my efforts on researching the leadership practices of school superintendents in four National Malcolm Baldrige Award recipient school districts.  The Baldrige Award is the highest award bestowed by the President of the United States to recognize quality and excellence in organizations.   By studying the practices of world-class superintendents, I discovered and implemented several practices that have helped me as a leader.  I would offer that the Baldrige tool is a great performance management framework for school system leaders.  The use of the Baldrige criteria to guide organizational improvement helps me focus on the elements of the organization that influence organizational results.  Specifically in my study, I discovered two key themes - first school leaders must be committed to continuous improvement.  By being personally accountable, using data to make decisions, and employing process management to improve the schools school leaders can demonstrate a commitment to ongoing, system-wide improvements.  The second theme that emerged was a practice of collaborative leadership.  This theme was supported by a willingness to share leadership responsibilities and a focus on empowering others within the organization.  I have applied these themes and supporting factors in my own leadership.  I have embraced the use of the Baldrige criteria to guide organizational improvement.  I have focused on continuous improvement by measure such things student achievement results, staff satisfaction, community satisfaction, student satisfaction, and by creating a balanced scorecard with key performance indicators to monitor and report the efforts of the district.  Furthermore, I have empowered others in my districts by creating system improvement teams, digital learning teams, and advisory groups.  These efforts help guide our improvements and overall commitment to adding value to the community and the region.