Almost six months after Superintendent Melissa Krull resigned over a contentious boundary change plan, the Eden Prairie school board on Friday chose Little Falls Superintendent Curt Tryggestad as the leader who can move the district ahead.
Tryggestad isn't a stranger to upheaval. When he took control of the Little Falls schools in 2006, he became the fifth superintendent in 10 years, he said. He also inherited a school system that was in statutory operating debt.
"I think in the long run my legacy will be bringing some stability and forward-thinking to the school district," he said of his tenure at Little Falls.
Tryggestad steps into a divided community. Krull was the target of much of the public's unhappiness about the Eden Prairie boundary changes, largely drawn so low-income students weren't concentrated at one elementary school. Hundreds of parents signed petitions seeking her exit, and the school board paid her $100,000 to leave in September, nine months earlier than planned.
"My philosophy has always been that when it comes time to make a major decision, we need to talk about it first with the board and also with the community," he said Friday. "Or to borrow a catchphrase I learned long ago, 'Consult with the community, advise the board.'"
School leaders said they were drawn to Tryggestad because they think he's an extraordinary communicator and a leader with vision.
"He really did the best of all the candidates of working with various stakeholder groups he met with," said Ranee Jacobus, the board's chairwoman. "His communication skills are excellent."
The board's decision concludes a national search that drew 31 applications. The board last week whittled the list down to three: Tryggestad and two superintendents from districts in Illinois -- Gerald Hill and Michael Meissen.
During negotiations on Friday, board members singled out Hill for his depth of experience, and Meissen for his ability to assess a school district's needs and develop plans to fix problems.
In fact, the board was once split 4-3 between Tryggestad and Hill, but in the end chose to unanimously support Tryggestad, who was praised for his "warm, welcoming, humble" leadership style and his in-depth knowledge of Minnesota education issues.
Angie Roesner, president of the local teachers union, said Tryggestad "established a strong rapport with the teachers."
A technology leader
Before taking over at Little Falls, Tryggestad was the superintendent at Esko Public Schools. Before that, he was a secondary principal at Pine City Public Schools. He earned his bachelor's degree from Luther College and a master's degree from St. Cloud State University. He is working toward his doctorate.
Tryggestad said he is proud of his role in the initiative to make iPads available for all students in the fifth through 12th grades, a move that has helped cement Little Falls' reputation as a statewide leader in technology.
That initiative, as well as a zero-tolerance bullying policy he implemented at Little Falls, heartened several board members.
"I really think he is moving things forward in this district," said John Estall, the board's vice chairman.
Jay Spillum, chairman of the Little Falls school board, said Tryggestad will be leaving the district in good financial shape, and on a solid path toward boosting student achievement.
"Really, I don't like to see him leave, but you know, when you have a chance to move up in the world, you have to take it," he said.
The board must still negotiate a contract with Tryggestad. They are expected to offer him a salary in the range of $185,000 to $205,000. Tryggestad currently makes about $145,000 at Little Falls, Spillum said.
He is expected to take the helm of Eden Prairie schools on July 1.
Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469