When the Pequot Lakes School District welcomes students next month, it also welcomes Kurt Stumpf, who now serves the district as interim superintendent.

“Pequot Lakes is known for a great school district with a really engaged community,” Stumpf said. “Our students are high achievers and seem to support each other, and there is a really dedicated staff.”

The Pierz native began his journey in education right in his hometown, teaching seventh-grade math and coaching various sports for five years. After that, he made the shift into administration, first serving as dean of students for a year before serving as middle-school assistant principal and then principal at Sartell-St. Stephen.

Most recently, he served as superintendent of the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District for two years.

“I didn't believe it at the time, but you can have a greater impact on the whole as a leader of a building or a district,”' Stumpf said. “Going through my licensure program for principals and superintendents, listening to the impact that could be made and the growth of leadership was intriguing.”

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Stumpf replaces former superintendent Chris Lindholm, who accepted the superintendent position for the Cook County School District after eight years in Pequot Lakes.

Of those interviewed publicly for the interim superintendent position in the Pequot Lakes School Board’s special meeting in June, Stumpf was the one interviewee who made it clear that he intended to apply for the district’s full-time superintendent position once that job is posted.

“I'm not sure if that's to my advantage or disadvantage, but I don't want to overthink it,” he said. “I wanted to be transparent. If that would have swayed (the board’s decision) one way or another wouldn't have mattered to me. I'm one who likes to be transparent and likes to make sure that people understand what I'm thinking.”

He said his leadership style is one that is always evolving, but centers on self-reflection and listening to employees, students and community members.

“I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “Through listening and hearing multiple perspectives, we can help this district move forward, hopefully through really sound decisions that take in a bunch of different perspectives.”

He feels that leadership also needs to be rooted in civility and a respect for everyone.

“I think leadership is about a genuine care for others, even when they don't agree with you,” Stumpf said. “Too often, judgements or assumptions are made where they shouldn’t be made. We can agree to disagree and still have a high respect in regard to each other.”

Stumpf has wasted little time in becoming a part of the community. Shortly after his hiring, he was helping out at Stars & Stripes Days on July 4. Since then, he has volunteered at Bean Hole Days and the Ideal Beef Feed.

“I want to continue being visible, not just in our school but in our community as well,” he said. “If we expect our students to give back to our community - and we have some really cool volunteer things that our students already do - I think that is what should be expected of me. It’s also just a great way to meet people. I have talked to a lot of people in those settings where it was just an impromptu conversation where they were able to share what they love about this district and maybe where they want to see it move forward.

“The more that I can listen and understand from our community, the better that I am going to be as a leader.”

With the school year beginning soon, Stumpf has plenty to look forward to, primarily getting to know every member of the district staff.

“(I’m looking forward to) meeting people and being around our staff and students,” he said. “I want to get into some classrooms and see the outstanding instruction by our teachers and the connections they build with our students.”

Though many of the restrictions and stipulations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted, Stumpf said the district needs to maintain its dedication to providing “a safe, supportive and collaborative school environment” for everyone who walks through the doors of any district building.

“We have to make sure that our students and our staff feel safe and supported,” Stumpf said. “This year we are going to have some students and staff that want to wear masks, which is absolutely fine. We have to make sure that they feel safe and supported, as well as all the other circumstances that we deal with throughout the school year.”

Students report to school Tuesday, Sept. 7.

“I’m just excited to be here, and I’m looking forward to a great year,” Stumpf said.

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.