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Fargo schools superintendent to retire, says ‘some people might be surprised’

Jeff Schatz

FARGO – After 32 years working in K-12 education, Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Schatz is retiring at the end of the school year.

Schatz’s decision to retire was approved by the school board – albeit “unhappily,” as described by member Dinah Goldenberg – Tuesday, Nov. 28. His current contract expires June 30, which will be his last day with the district.

“There is no scandal at all,” Schatz told The Forum prior to Tuesday’s meeting. “Some people might be surprised, but there comes a time when everybody needs to retire. I don’t know if there’s ever a perfect time for that. In my case, this is a choice I am making to give myself time to pursue other things.”

Schatz, 58, said he informed school board president Jim Johnson Monday of his decision.

Johnson said Tuesday night, “I knew it wasn’t too far down the road [but] I didn’t know it was going to be this year. I knew he had been thinking about it the last couple of years. It didn’t totally shock me when I heard that this was going to be it.”

Schatz said he wanted to give the board ample time to search and hire a replacement – typically a three- to four-month process, he said. Schatz is familiar with how rigorous and lengthy the superintendent hiring process is. He successfully applied for his current position in 2012 along with 37 other candidates.

“We have a lot of really positive things happening,” Schatz said. “I feel good that I’ll be able to leave and whoever the replacement is will be able to take right off with what we’ve been doing as a school district.”

Schatz, a Fargo native, started his education career in 1983 as a teacher at Sargent Central in Forman, N.D. He then spent more than 20 years with Grand Forks Public Schools as a teacher, principal and athletic director. In 2009, he joined Fargo Public Schools as the first principal of Davies High School, which opened in 2011 under his leadership.

He has served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University – both his alma maters.

Asked if he has any plans to enter higher education after leaving the district, Schatz said, “I’ll step back and see what other opportunities are out there. If I choose to pursue that, I’ll make that decision at another time. Right now I don’t really have one thing that I’m looking to do.”

Schatz said he and his wife don’t plan on leaving the Fargo-Moorhead area.

The superintendent said there’s still a lot of work to be done in his last six months with the district, and a lot to reflect on.

Schatz said the district is comprised of excellent staff, a great strategic plan and quality facilities. He said there’s been a lot of work in K-3 literacy approaches and addressing issues of mental health and opioid abuse with new systems in place to help families struggling in those areas.

“You get reflective when you get to this point in your career,” he said. “You really leave with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for working with students and families, and you hope in the end you made a difference.”

Superintendent search

School Board President Johnson said requests were sent to executive search firms earlier on Tuesday and they hope to select a firm at the board’s next meeting, Dec. 12. The firm will lead the search for candidates, but the board also approved at Tuesday’s meeting forming a committee to start working on the process to find Schatz’s replacement.

Johnson said they want to start getting the word out to potential candidates before Christmas. Interviews will likely kick off in February and the board expects to offer the position to a finalist in March. However, Johnson indicated they could also name an interim superintendent.

Johnson stressed the importance of the time frame to ensure a good slate of candidates. Grand Forks and Moorhead are both going through superintendent searches as well, he added.

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