“I am somebody who tries to take my mask off.”

Today’s story about the Superintendent canceling his job search began with a post yesterday on his Facebook page. The Trib’s education reporter called me to ask me what I made of it. I promised her I’d take a look and call her back with my thoughts. She only quoted part of my response (my full comments are posted at the end) This is Superintendent Gronseth’s complete Facebook post:

Okay, well, so life in the public eye isn’t always easy. Sometimes I work really hard to make it seem like it is and many people who have shared their support for me have told me as much. So, just for the record, it can be difficult. Also, just for the record, I applied for positions while my contract was being discussed over the course of months–I got nervous and started looking. Yes. I applied for several and ended up a finalist in three of the nation-wide searches. Yes, I came in 2nd three times. I have withdrawn my name from other searches still in progress. Recently, at an event in Duluth, a woman who I know just a little, asked me why I kept interviewing in other places. After our chat, she said, well why don’t you just say that? And so here it is…But first I will say that my family has been a part of Duluth’s history for a long time since the 1890’s at least– as cobblers, grocers, bakers, real estate brokers, etc. I love the lake and the forest, and the change of seasons–and this will always be home and I truly do love it here. The people I get to work with from day to day are amazing. We are lucky to have so many knowledgeable, talented people in our schools. So the question remains, why would I want to leave it then? While others have suggested their own reasons, like more money, or larger districts, it really isn’t about that. It has been about joy, about positivity, about looking at challenges without dragging others down. Don’t get me wrong– I know it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. We have some big issues to tackle and looking at the data is a big part of it. My focus however, is on the solutions and the process to get there. When we continually focus on the negative, that is what sticks, when we continually look at solutions, things get done. We need to get some things turned around– we need to dig in, and make some pretty significant changes in our schools and our community. We need to have people who are focused on problem solving, on lifting up what is going right so we can do more of it, and less negativity, finger pointing, and shaming. For my part, I am going to start speaking more plainly. I am not going to work quite as hard to make it look easy. Things might get a little messier, but I am hopeful that the right people will step up and join me as champions for our kids, our schools, and our community.

There are those that will tear this apart as well, and believe me to be disingenuous, but here it is– those who know me, know that I take my work seriously and that I care deeply about education.

After I called the Tribune back I spoke off the record for a few minutes while I composed my thoughts. This is what I said after going back “on record:”

I am somebody who tries to take my mask off. I believe in personal transparency and to the extent the superintendent is attempting to be very open about why he has been applying for other jobs, I appreciate his candor. But I do have some reservations about the implications of his message. I believe you can talk about awkward and difficult problems openly and candidly and those conversations don’t have to be regarded as “negativity.” He seems to believe discussions of difficult subjects shouldn’t take place at all, and not discussing them makes them go away. I believe he is wrong in thinking that. I am also troubled that his message seems to be an appeal to get new School Board members who will agree with him on the positivity angle. And if he is successful, the School Board will paper over problems, and that will only lead to a compounding of problems. I like the superintendent and I think he has the best interest of children at heart, and I am prepared to work with him if he continues on as leader of the school district. But I think he needs to examine my point of view with more openness to assure his success and the future success of the district.

And I will add something else. My first two years on the Duluth School Board were spent defending an honorable man accused of malicious and unsupported accusations that seemed intended to 1. humiliate him into quitting the board or 2. give the School Board majority political cover to overturn a recent election and remove him from office or 3. so blacken his reputation that he could not possibly win reelection in 2017.

The first two possibilities did not come to pass but the third has yet to be tested. My colleague, Art Johnston, will be running for reelection this year and we have yet to see if two year’s of taking a blow torch to Art causes him to lose reelection.

As to Supt. Gronseth’s post – I wish there had been more concern shown about “negativity” from 2014 to 2016 when someone else’s ox was being gored. Had some humanity been exercised at that time perhaps there would be a lot less less negativity today. The Superintendent is correct, “…life in the public eye isn’t always easy.”

PS. Anyone who would like to contribute to Art Johnston’s reelection can send me a check for the: “Johnston Volunteer Committee” and I’ll make sure he gets it. My address is:
Harry Welty
2101 E 4th St.
Duluth, MN 55812.

or send me an email telling me you’d like to help at: harrywelty@ charter.net. Sorry, but you will have to copy this and paste it into your browser.

Art will be in touch.

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