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Kelly Smith, Published December 15 2009

West Fargo Superintendent Diesel Wallace resigns

After a rocky 3½ years of leading the West Fargo School District, Superintendent Dana Diesel Wallace is leaving.

She announced her unexpected resignation at Monday’s school board meeting.

“In the last month, (I) just have had several opportunities come my way and, in that, found to be exciting to me, energizing to me,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to say what is that next big challenge for me out there and what is it I’d like to accomplish next in my career.”

The 49-year-old came to the district from a Raleigh, N.C., school district in 2006. Her last day is June 30, 2010.

“(I’m) a little tongue-tied for a change,” School Board President Tom Gentzkow said after Diesel Wallace gave the school board her formal resignation letter. “(But) we understand moving forward is something a superintendent does. We wish you the best of luck.”

The school board unanimously approved accepting her resignation letter. Gentzkow said Diesel Wallace told him about 60 days ago that she was being recruited.

Diesel Wallace wouldn’t say publicly where, what positions or how many organizations had contacted her. In fact, she said she’s “pretty early” in the process and doesn’t have a job lined up.

She said she told board members Monday, which is when they were scheduled to evaluate her as they do by state law twice a year, to give them time to find a replacement.

“I’ve been a person that’s lived on a little bit of risk in my life, so I’m taking a little bit of a risk,” Diesel Wallace said. “But I think it’s only fair for the board to have that time.”

When Diesel Wallace started her tenure in West Fargo in 2006, she immediately implemented widespread changes in curriculum, programs and staff.

Some said change was happening too fast.

In April 2008, the school board discussed not renewing her contract, with some board members calling her leadership divisive.

West Fargo Education Association leaders have repeatedly denounced her leadership, saying it’s caused low morale among staff.

“As the School District leader, Dr. Wallace never gained the respect and trust from the professional staff and community,” WFEA President Joan Connor said in an e-mail statement to media on Monday night.

However, Gentzkow said he’d recommend Diesel Wallace to other districts.

“I think we’ve had probably the most student achievement in this district in the last 3½ years that she’s been in this seat than we probably have in the last 15, 20 (years),” he said. “She has great initiatives.”

Notably, Diesel Wallace led the district through its first strategic plan, which is nearly accomplished two years early.

Gentzkow said the board hired her in 2006 thinking she’d stay six years.

Until June, Diesel Wallace said she’ll focus on improving communication between the district and schools.

Meanwhile, board members said they’ll focus on the upcoming school building referendum, tentatively slated for mid-March. They’ll also start a search for a new superintendent while Diesel Wallace weighs her options.

“I want to thoroughly think through all the options,” she said. “I love working in schools and with school systems, and want to continue to do that.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515