The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school board recently selected Joe Gothard as the district's new superintendent. Born and raised in Madison, Wis., Gothard has served as the assistant superintendent of Madison Metropolitan Schools, a district of 27,000 students, for two years. Before that, he held other roles in the district, including high school biology teacher, football coach, dean of students and high school principal.
The school board is negotiating Gothard's salary. He will officially begin his duties July 1. He replaces outgoing Superintendent Randy Clegg, who last fall announced he would leave when his four-year contract ends this June.
We asked Gothard, who is married with three school-age kids, about his goals for the district and what he brings to the superintendent role. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why did you decide it was the right time to leave Madison and why did you apply for a job in Minnesota?
A: I just put a lot of thought and heart into who I am as an educator and a leader. I began searching for superintendent opportunities and was truly looking for the right match. Minnesota was obviously in the ballpark, and I thought that a district with 10,000 students was about the right size. I wanted a community that had a rich diversity — and I mean diversity in a number of ways because that's a place I've always felt comfortable. It's a part of my own background, my own upbringing.
Q: What parts of your personality are well-suited to this job?
A: I'm truly a teacher at heart, and the leadership idea is very much like teaching. They often say that the best teachers know what questions students have — and as an effective leader, to learn what questions are around you from various stakeholder points and then truly focusing not only on answers but solutions.
Q: What are some of your goals for the district?
A: In my interview I talked about five really broad goals. The first is the superintendent-board relationship, to really make sure that we're clear on how we're going to work together. The second is an overall audit of achievement and equity in the district. The third is to understand the auxiliary services and operations of the district. The fourth is to establish a sound communication plan — a plan with all stakeholders. The last one is boosting staff morale. I just don't ever think you can have a staff that's acknowledged enough.
Q: Do you feel your own background will be an asset as superintendent, given Burnsville's diversity? (Gothard's mother was white, and his father was black.)
A: Undoubtedly. I don't want to say that I struggle every day with my racial identity, but it's something present every day. I'm fresh off of watching the movie "42" with my kids, the Jackie Robinson story. Very emotional for me. Just to sit and watch 60 years ago the way that communities, that people, treated one person. And to think that 60 years later, we have many more challenges and some would argue that they're just as bad, if not worse.
I think the achievement gap is something we have to address. It's incumbent upon us to make sure that we know how our kids are doing and that we all work together to make sure we're not leaving anyone out.
Q: What else should people know about you?
A: One thing is that I'm not bringing Madison to Burnsville. I'm blessed and fortunate that I've had a wonderful 41 years here in Madison. I mentioned earlier that I'm just a learner, a teacher and a leader. And that's what really excites me about this: It isn't the power to make decisions or to be a leader by title, it's to be a role model and an example for others.