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Fargo-Moorhead schools see leadership shake-up

FARGO - Welcome to the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, where you can't tell your principals without a scorecard. At least that's how it's shaping up for this fall. In the past few months, there's been big turnover at the top of districts and schools i...

Illustration by Troy Becker / The Forum

FARGO - Welcome to the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, where you can't tell your principals without a scorecard.

At least that's how it's shaping up for this fall.

In the past few months, there's been big turnover at the top of districts and schools in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo.

The reasons are varied - retirements, districts hiring away talent from others, and new schools coming on line - but the result is that a lot of staffs and students will have new principals and senior administrators starting July 1.



Retirements led to a cascade of changes in the Fargo School District, starting at the top.

Superintendent Rick Buresh is retiring from the K-12 education grind at the end of June.

Stepping into his place July 1 is Jeff Schatz, who is wrapping up his time as the first principal of Fargo's newest school, Davies High School.

Schatz, in turn, is being replaced as Davies' principal by Troy Cody. Cody had been Fargo North High School's assistant principal and activities director.

Travis Christensen will replace Cody as assistant principal and activities director at North High. Christensen has been a teacher and coach at North.

Meanwhile, Bennett Elementary Principal Manix Zepeda is moving from the Fargo School District to the West Fargo School District for a similar post.

Replacing him as Bennett's principal is Tricia Erickson. Erickson came from Fargo's Lewis and Clark Elementary, where she had been principal for 15 years.

Jason Cresap was recently named the new principal for Lewis and Clark Elementary. Cresap was assistant principal for the West Fargo School District's Aurora and Eastwood elementary schools.


Other retirements include longtime Activities Director Ed Lockwood.

Lockwood is being replaced by Todd Olson, the director of athletics for the Grand Forks School District.

Olson already has one important tie to the district: As the athletics director in Grand Forks, Schatz hired Olson as head basketball coach for Grand Forks Central High School.

The two worked together about 15 years as Schatz was first assistant principal, then principal for Grand Forks Central.

Schatz said he and Olson were interviewed for their new positions in Fargo at the same time. Schatz said he didn't have the final say on Olson's hire, but he was consulted.

Fargo is also losing a well-known advocate for alternative education, Deb Dillon. Dillon is retiring as director of alternative education and principal of Woodrow Wilson High School.

She's being replaced in both positions by David Burkman, who is principal for grades 6-12 at Cedar Mountain School District in Morgan, Minn.

Carl Ben Eielson Middle School Assistant Principal Barb Weber is also retiring. She is being replaced by Patricia Cummings, who has been the speech pathologist at Carl Ben.


Buresh said a good part of what's happened is a series of moves internally, much like reshuffling a deck of cards, as his retirement led to others being promoted.

"One replacement necessitated another three," he said. Otherwise, he said the turnover seems "pretty typical."

West Fargo

West Fargo has seen changes in its building principal ranks thanks to bringing new schools on line, but it's also been bitten by the retirement bug.

The first of the district's new buildings south of Interstate 94 to be finished, Freedom Elementary, will be led by Jeff Johnson, the principal at Eastwood Elementary.

Taking over from Johnson as Eastwood's principal is Paula Henry. Henry is principal of Madison Elementary in the St. Cloud (Minn.) School District.

L.E. Berger Elementary Principal Dennis Howitz is calling it a career at the end of June. He'll be replaced by Manix Zepeda on July 1. Zepeda was the principal at Fargo's Bennett Elementary.

Jason Cresap's former assistant principal position is being shifted to serve L.E. Berger and Eastwood elementary schools for 2012-13 because both those schools will have new principals, said Heather Konschak, the executive assistant to the superintendent and board. That job is open, and internal applications are being taken.


The principals for the new Liberty Middle School and Sheyenne High School, both of which are into their construction phases, have not yet been named. The West Fargo School Board is expected to act on those hires sometime in the next month, Konschak said.


This summer's retirement of high school Principal Gene Boyle, led to the naming of Assistant Principal Russ Henegar as interim principal as of July 1. Taking Henegar's former post is Joshua Haag, who has been assistant principal of Sebeka (Minn.) High School.

In addition, Moorhead has replaced its activities director with the retirement of longtime AD Don Hulbert.

Dean Haugo has been hired to take on Hulbert's duties. Haugo previously worked as activities director for Breckenridge (Minn.) High School.

Moorhead has hired three assistant principals to handle growing administrative workloads, particularly with Minnesota's new requirements for stepped-up teacher evaluations.

They are Travis Okerlund, who will be assistant principal at S.G. Reinertsen Elementary. Okerlund has taught in West Fargo and Las Vegas.

Michael Daugs will be assistant principal at Ellen Hopkins Elementary. Daugs has been a fifth-grade teacher in the Elk River (Minn.) Area School District.


Jacob Scandrett will be assistant principal at Robert Asp Elementary. He has been a teacher in Tracy, Minn.

JPII Catholic Schools

Earlier this year, Michael P. Smith was named as the new superintendent for Blessed John Paul II Catholic Schools Network.

Smith is to begin work this summer at the start of the 2012-13 academic year. He will replace Deacon David Haney, who has served as interim superintendent since May 2010.

Oak Grove Lutheran

Nancy Weber, a longtime South Dakota middle school educator, is the new Oak Grove Middle School principal. That position has been open for a couple of years at the Fargo private school because of tight budgets.

Josh Kaeding, an Oak Grove teacher, will be the new Oak Grove Elementary principal. He replaces David Kahl, who retired.

Park Christian School


Park Christian School has hired Richelle Richardson as activities director.

Richardson has more than 20 years of teaching and coaching experience, and this last year was an assistant coach for Bemidji State University volleyball.

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

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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