Thirty-five people from across the nation have applied to become the Stillwater Area School District's next superintendent. It's a group that the school board plans to whittle to one by the end of this month.

School board Chair George Dierberger said board members are looking for a "change agent" who will help bring a science, technology, engineering, arts and math focus to the district.

"Our biggest fear is how can our kids compete against kids in China and India," Dierberger said. "What are we going to do to stay ahead from a global standpoint?"

The board is set to name five to six finalists on Monday and will begin interviews on Tuesday.

The deadline for applications was Wednesday.

Tom Nelson has served as interim superintendent since Keith Ryskoski resigned last summer. Nelson's interim contract ends June 30.

The next superintendent will lead the 9,000-student district as it makes its first redistricting in more than a decade this summer. Under its recently approved 2014 vision plan, the board also will be considering in the coming months whether to turn its junior high schools into middle schools and add space to its high school.

The district, like many others in the state, also is facing drastic budget shortfalls.

"We're looking for someone that has experience with levy campaigning," Dierberger said. "We want someone who knows how to reach out to the community and someone that over-communicates."

The district began looking for a superintendent in January after selecting School Exec Connect, an education search and consulting firm based in Illinois, to lead the search process.

The firm spent most of January and February interviewing parents, students, teachers, district staff and other stakeholders on what they wanted to see in the next leader.

Ken Dragfeth, a partner with School Exec Connect, said in a presentation to the board last month that the district is looking for 11 attributes in its next leader. Those included financial knowledge, a value for diversity and a "customer-friendly" approach to leadership.

"There's a lot of pride in the Stillwater schools," Dragfeth said of the survey. "This is a complex school district that's spread out over a long distance. There are people who have been here for a long period of time and some who just moved here yesterday."

The firm advertised the position in state and national education trade publications and on its website.

The final two to three candidates will be interviewed from March 22-24 in an all-day process that will include open forums with the public.

The new superintendent will begin work by July 1.

"Tom Nelson has spoiled us," Dierberger said. "He's like the Yoda of superintendents. The bar is set is set pretty high."

Daarel Burnette II• 651-735-1695