South Washington County Schools this week hired a high school principal and a former administrator in the River Falls School District to fill two key district positions, amid the upheaval accompanying a string of recent departures.

Julie Nielsen, an 18-year District 833 veteran whose most recent post was principal of Middleton Elementary School in Woodbury, will take over as one of two new assistant superintendents for academic excellence and accountability. Michael Johnson, who worked as the academic services director in the River Falls School District and as an adjunct professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, will fill the other post. Both Nielsen and Johnson, whose respective salaries were not immediately available, will report to Superintendent Keith Jacobus.

“The two individuals coming in to the district will continue to move our vision of instructional excellence forward. They will support our focus on enhancing the skillset of our staff to ensure that every student has a personalized learning experience that enhances their thinking and supports success in their future endeavors,” Jacobus said in an email statement.

Nielsen and Johnson will start their new positions on July 1.

Their hirings, which were approved by the school board at its meeting Thursday, came in the wake of recent departures of four top administrators, the superintendent's secretary and a longtime school board member, an exodus that district officials described as business as usual around this time of the year.

School board Chairman Ron Kath flatly denied the suggestion that the departures are reflective of unrest in Jacobus’ administration, saying such turnover isn’t unheard of, particularly with the new budget year approaching on July 1 and job opportunities opening up elsewhere (Departing assistant superintendent of elementary education Dave Bernhardson was recently named superintendent of Inver Grove Heights school district). In a recent YouTube video statement, Jacobus brushed aside reports attributing the departures to "a problem" in his administration.

District officials made no further comment on the matter.

The other departees are: administrators Aaron Bushberger and Randi Anderson, and Mary Amidon, executive assistant to the superintendent, who resigned in March under an agreement with the district.

The school board also discussed filling the school board seat vacated by longtime board member Jim Gelbmann, who announced his resignation earlier this year amid concerns about his chronic absences from meetings. His replacement will likely be announced at the June 19 board meeting.

Julie Nielsen Michael Johnson