The tears are welling up in my eyes

New Centennial school chief: ‘Let’s get back to key processes’

‘We’re not just keeping the doors open’ By Nicholas Backus
Staff Writer Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 1:18 PM CDT

CIRCLE PINES — New Centennial District Superintendent Keith Dixon honored his parents by earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

Then he went off and signed a contract to be a middle school teacher.

“I told my mom and she smiled,” Dixon said. “She said ‘I always knew you would be a teacher,’ even though I knew she wanted me to be an engineer.”

At the age of 13, Dixon lost his father in a tragic power line accident. When he got to college, Dixon took all education courses for electives because he wanted to impact students in the same way a particular social studies teacher affected him as a high school freshman.

“After I lost my dad, this teacher took a special interest in me,” he said. “He coached me, counseled me and turned me into a leader. He became a father figure for me. What emerged is what I know about teachers and how they can show us what we can grow up to be.”

Originally of Grand Junction, Colo., Dixon has spent the last 17 years in Minnesota in various superintendent capacities. He served Faribault school district for a number of years before moving to Duluth in 2005. The 64-year-old retired in January but saw a one-year interim position at Centennial as a nice opportunity to support his wife Sarah, who is president and CEO of St. Paul-based Minnesota Alliance With Youth. So far, Dixon has no intent on negotiating a permanent job with the district.

His rise in the educational ranks began as a math teacher, after which he earned a master’s degree in guidance and counseling. He worked as a high-school counselor in Fort Collins, Colo., before getting a doctorate in education administration and taking principal positions. His first superintendent job was as an area superintendent in Fort Collins.

Dixon’s Duluth district came under some scrutiny in 2007, when a faction of district voters wanted to block $293 million in new building construction plans, dubbed “The Red Plan.” Under state statute, the district was not required to do the project with input from a public referendum.

A group calling itself ‘Let Duluth VoteÂ’ disagreed, and tried to slow the process by introducing petitions in attempts to delay the Red Plan until a new school board was voted in. Despite the group’s protests, the Red Plan went forward and four new schools were built.

At Centennial, Dixon said he wants to get back to “key processes” and communicating with staff and the community. Dixon noted Centennial has a reputation as a “quality and well-run” district.

“The community is investing in me and I want to return that,” he said. “I want it to be a meaningful year. We’re not just trying to keep the doors open.”

Dixon will make $159,800, which is less than former superintendent Paul Stremick.

When asked about what drives him in the superintendent role, Dixon said it’s all about helping others realize their passions on a larger scale.

“I’m not just helping students, but helping adults grow and develop (in hopes that) they will turn around and impact students,” he said. “I’m still a teacher, just at a different level.

Dr. Dixon also had a black roommate in college.

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