New Centennial Schools superintendent wants to go from good to great

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2013 - 1:55 PM

Among his challenges will be addressing declining enrollment.

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New Centennial Schools Superintendent Brian Dietz: “We undersell ourselves. Sometimes we don’t talk about the things we are doing, and we are doing some things that are extremely innovative in all our buildings.”

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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To new Superintendent Brian Dietz, Centennial Schools is a solid “meat-and-potatoes” district with high test scores and committed, caring staff.

Dietz, who started in July, said his challenge is to build on that by highlighting and promoting innovation and better telling the district’s story to the community.

“People understand we’re good. Let’s move to great,” Dietz said.

He’ll also need to chart a course for the district as enrollment has declined 8 percent and is expected to continue that downward trajectory for the next five years. The district now serves 6,400 students from Circle Pines, Lino Lakes, Lexington, Centerville and part of Blaine.

Dietz, 40, comes from Waseca schools, where he served as superintendent since 2010. Dietz said he’s set his goals after spending the last two months interviewing community stakeholders.

“I spent the first two months calling people and interviewing them, going out into the community. I just got perspectives on what they think,” Dietz said.

“On the positive side, I heard we do a great job educating kids, bar none. Our scores show that. Both parents and staff feel when a kid walks out of here, they are well prepared for the future. That’s really neat. The second positive I heard is about relationships. Our staff care about our kids and vice versa.”

On the other hand, “I heard we are a meat-and-potatoes school district — we offer the basics for people and do a great job with that. Beyond that, we need to enhance opportunities and experiences. I agree on a couple levels. We undersell ourselves. Sometimes we don’t talk about the things we are doing, and we are doing some things that are extremely innovative in all our buildings.”

As a way to better promote the district to the community, Dietz and other school leaders have developed three marketing catchphrases: “Centennial is a great educational environment,” “Centennial maintains high achievement” and “Centennial connects to its community.”

“We need to put that message out there. We want them to know more about us,” Dietz said.

He’s ‘a dad in the district’

Dietz grew up in the small town of Montgomery, Minn., 7 miles south of New Prague. He played football, basketball and baseball and sang in the church choir. He received his bachelor’s degree in speech communication from St. Olaf College in Northfield.

He thought he wanted to be a lawyer until a mentor teacher advised him, “You need to dig a little deeper because there is something more for you.”

That conversation led him into education. He earned his master’s of educational administration from Mankato State (now Minnesota State University Mankato) in 1998. He cut his teeth as a middle school teacher, principal and then superintendent in Southern California.

He met his wife Stacie Ebnet Dietz, also a Minnesota native, there. They have four children, ages 11, 9, 7, and 1. Their children motivated the couple to return to Minnesota.

“We both really appreciated how we grew up in Minnesota. We wanted that same experience for our kids,” Dietz said.

They are building a house in Blaine and will live in the district’s boundaries. Dietz’s children will attend Centennial Schools.

“I could pop in and gave them a hug. That’s a fun part about being a dad with kids in the district. It gives me a chance to see them,” Dietz said.

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