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Published April 18 2010

Dardis makes second run for top spot

She’s spent nearly her entire career in the West Fargo School District.

Now Louise Dardis is hoping to lead it. It’s her second run at the top spot.

West Fargo’s assistant superintendent is one of four candidates for superintendent; the school board will interview her on Tuesday.

“I think I have proven leadership qualities,” she said. “I understand the culture, I understand the needs, I understand the strengths of the school district, (and) I understand typically what the public wants.”

Dardis was a semifinalist in the district’s last superintendent search in 2006 and was a Fargo superintendent candidate in 2007.

“She was an excellent candidate,” said West Fargo School Board Vice President Karen Nitzkorski. “I didn’t look at it like we were passing Louise over. I looked at it like we were trying to take our School District to a new level.”

Dardis hopes to do that.

“She’s shown she’s an effective administrator,” said High School Principal Gary Clark. “She has the leadership abilities.”

Former West Fargo Superintendent and current Battle Lake (Minn.) Superintendent Chuck Cheney is listed as a reference for Dardis and former Fargo Superintendent David Flowers, another candidate.

“I think the strengths Louise brings to the table are she’s very familiar with the community and its people,” Cheney said. “She has a positive reputation with the public, and she’s a known quantity.”

During her 35-year educational career, Dardis has worked exclusively in Minnesota and North Dakota school districts.

In the past 31 years, she’s been a teacher, principal and administrator in West Fargo. She and her husband’s two sons graduated from West Fargo High School. Since 1999, she’s been the district’s assistant superintendent, managing federal grants and overseeing curriculum.

For a school board looking for a regional leader with strong local ties, the 56-year-old has an unparalleled commitment to West Fargo.

But she is the only candidate without superintendent experience.

She countered that the district’s past three superintendents also came without past superintendent experience.

Nitzkorski said it remains to be seen if that will be a sticking point.

“An assistant superintendent in such a large school district, is that equal to being a superintendent (in a small district)?” she asked. “I think some of our board members think so.”

In her 31 years, Dardis said she’s gained extensive experience hiring staff, handling budgets and being visible to the public.

The school board chose her to be “the face” of March’s $40 million referendum. It failed, but board members commended her on orchestrating and leading public input meetings.

After 31 years in West Fargo, Dardis said that if she isn’t chosen as the district’s next superintendent, “I guess I’ll have a decision to make.”

In the meantime, she said she hopes West Fargo’s next leader fits what the public has said is needed.

“We need somebody who has open communication, someone who’s visible with the public,” she said. “We have to heal our communication problem.”

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