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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 18 2012

New Fargo superintendent says transition has been smooth

FARGO – Jeff Schatz is getting used to the view at the top.

Last year at this time, the Fargo School District’s new superintendent was getting ready to open the district’s newest building, Davies High School, with 1,135 students and 140 staff.

With this year’s start of school on Thursday, the Fargo native is responsible for roughly 10,500 students and 1,700 staff. It’s 10 times the responsibility in terms of people alone.

“It’s a much bigger vision of the operation,” Schatz said. The planning is “much more strategic.”

He officially took over the post from former Superintendent Rick Buresh on July 1. He’s had the advantage of being able to sit in on district meetings since March, when he was chosen by the school board for the job.

He’s also had about 45 one-hour meetings with leaders in the district, including school board members, principals and other senior staff.

“The transition, from my perspective, has been very smooth,” he said.

Schatz said a couple of big challenges await the district in the year ahead.

The district is preparing to switch to using “common core” standards as a benchmark for what students need to learn.

The common core standards have been adopted by North Dakota in math and language arts, and 44 other states and three territories. The standards are considered tougher than those now in place in the state.

It will mean a switch in the statewide assessment tests, Schatz said.

The district also is embarking on a major technology initiative, trying to determine what electronic devices – laptop computers, tablet computers, iPads, smartphones – are best to enhance learning.

Schatz said he hopes the initiative takes students down a path where they’re not just looking up information, but creating something new or exploring concepts on a deeper level.

“This year we’re going to begin the process,” he said. “It’s going to be a walk rather than a run; to make sure that we’re doing the right things.”

Schatz said his goals include:

• More planning so the district can be proactive on issues, rather than reactive.

That includes working with the school board on long-term facilities and strategic plans.

• Getting good data and making it available to the public so it knows how students are performing.

• Empowering teachers to do their jobs well and to support them.

Schatz graduated from North Dakota State University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education.

He earned master’s and doctoral degrees in educational administration from the University of North Dakota.

Schatz spent much of his educational career working in Grand Forks from 1985 to 2009, where he was a teacher, coach, district athletic director, associate principal and served 11 years as head principal at Central High School.

From 1983 to 1985, he taught and coached at Sargent Central High School in Forman.

If money was no object, Schatz said he’d improve programs for at-risk students, to give them more opportunities to graduate; improve programs for special needs children; and accelerate the district’s technology initiative.

“What are the things that can make a difference on the front line for students? That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we exist,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583