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Superintendent of the Year Focuses on How to ‘Do More’ in Minnesota

Joe Gothard, superintendent of the St. Paul school district in Minnesota’s capital, has been named the 2024 National Superintendent of the Year, considered the most prestigious award for district leaders.

Gothard, who has been superintendent in St. Paul since 2017, said during a brief acceptance speech that he was honored to accept the award on behalf of the district’s school board, 33,000 students, 6,000 staff members and “a loving community that cares deeply about the success of students.”

The award was presented here during the National Conference on Education hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents’ Association.

Gothard, 52, also acknowledged the superintendents from across the country in attendance, as well as his wife and three children.

“It really is an honor to be a leader amongst all of you,” he said.

The other finalists for the national award were: Martha Salazar-Zamora of the Tomball, Texas, school district; Kimberly Rizzo Saunders of Contoocook Valley schools in Peterborough, N.H.; and Frederick Williams from Georgia’s Dublin City school system.

During a January panel discussion of the four finalists in January, Gothard discussed his desire to spend the $206 million St. Paul received in federal pandemic relief funds in a strategic way.

St. Paul used some of its pandemic relief funds to create a districtwide innovation office, he said.

Staff in that new department conducted a needs assessment that has led to several new initiatives, including an overhaul of the district’s reading instruction strategy.

“I did not want to take that money and spend it in the way that we’ve always spent our money,” Gothard said during the January event. “We had to do more.”

He also said he has spent much of his tenure working to meet students’ needs, rather than trying to force students to fit into a predetermined education mold.

“It’s happening because we want to ensure that we know who our students are, and they know the opportunities that they have in our school district,” Gothard said.

Gothard holds several leadership positions, including president of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators and member of the Council of Great City Schools’ executive committee.

Before becoming St. Paul’s superintendent, he served as superintendent of Minnesota’s Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district. Prior to that position, he served as a principal and assistant superintendent in Madison, Wis.

Finalists for the Superintendent of the Year award are chosen from winners of the state superintendent of the year contests. They’re evaluated on four criteria: how their creative leadership meets students’ needs, communication skills, professionalism, and community involvement. An AASA panel of judges then selects the winner.

A student attending the high school from which the superintendent graduated or a school in the St. Paul district will receive a $10,000 scholarship in Gothard’s name.

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