West Bend Welcomes Don Kirkegaard

WBSD has new superintendent after seven months without a top administrator

By Samantha Dietel, Editor in Chief

Don Kirkegaard now fills a position that has been vacant in the West Bend School District since December.

Kirkegaard officially became the district superintendent July 9. His assumption of the role thus concluded the search initiated by the school board after Erik Olson, Kirkegaard’s predecessor, resigned.

The search for a new superintendent began in February when the school board enlisted the help of a search firm to find a suitable candidate for the position.

The job drew Kirkegaard all the way from South Dakota, where, at the time of his selection, he was serving as the state’s secretary of education.

“I was ready for a new challenge and West Bend looked like a perfect fit,” Kirkegaard said. “Even though it is a different state, there are lots of similarities and in both states, the ultimate goal is to do what is best for kids.”

He went on to explain that he appreciated his role as South Dakota’s secretary of education; however, the position rendered him unable to directly interact with individual students and staff members, which is something that he enjoys.

“The governor that appointed me as secretary of education was not running for reelection, so more than likely the new governor would bring his/her choice to the position,” Kirkegaard added when asked why he would choose to leave his role as a state official.

Kirkegaard has been involved with education for decades. In South Dakota, he gained 23 years of experience as a superintendent and six years as the principal of the Britton-Hecla School District.

Joel Ongert, the president of the West Bend school board, believes that the district is very fortunate to have Kirkegaard as the new superintendent.

“We are truly lucky to get him as our superintendent because I believe he could have handpicked any district he wanted,” Ongert said.

School board member Tiffany Larson agrees, expressing confidence in Kirkegaard’s leadership experience.

“I feel fortunate that after 23 years of superintendent experience in South Dakota plus a high profile position of Secretary of Education of S.D., Don was interested in relocating to a mid-sized community like ours; willing and able to invest his expertise to ensure its long-term success,” Larson said.

“We are truly lucky to get him as our superintendent because he could have handpicked any district he wanted.”
– Joel Ongert, school board president

As the new WBSD superintendent, Kirkegaard works closely with the school board and is responsible for overseeing the entire district.

Larson explained the relationship between the superintendent and the school board, as well as what she thinks are Kirkegaard’s most important responsibilities.

“The board, through its policy development, sets the direction of the district and the superintendent administers policy to accomplish district-wide goals,” she said. “While Don has many responsibilities, establishing and strengthening relationships within the community, instilling a positive work culture, oversight of fiscal management, and ensuring quality educational services for our students are some of the most important.”

Before Kirkegaard’s arrival, many of those duties had to be performed by others.

Ongert says that after Olson’s departure, assistant superintendent Laura Jackson was one of the employees that had to accommodate for his absence.

“(Jackson) became the ‘Administrator in Charge’ and led the district through a great school year without skipping a beat,” Ongert said. “The West Bend community is lucky to have leaders like Laura Jackson and many more in our district who are willing to step up, work hard and deliver results all for the benefit of the 6,800 students who attend school here.”

Jackson also praises the other district employees that performed tasks outside those of their normal jobs.

“The leadership team at the Education Service Center worked very collaboratively in order to continue the educational, operational and strategic functions of the district,” Jackson said. “I must commend the team as every person worked on tasks and led in areas that are not part of their typical role in order to continue the work in the absence of the superintendent. The administrative assistants, managers and staff in other positions, provided a significant amount of insight and assistance throughout the year.”

Kirkegaard has also noticed the level of commitment displayed by district staff members.

“I am very impressed with the school district,” Kirkegaard said. “I have met a lot of very dedicated teachers, administrators, and support staff. The community has been very supportive and welcoming.”

Kirkegaard hopes to expand the district’s internship, apprenticeship and career technical offerings. He aims to provide more enrichment activities for elementary students, as well as familiarize himself with the staff and community.

“I am looking forward to a great school year,” Kirkegaard said. “Our goal is to take an excellent school district and make it better.”

(Photo taken from the West Bend School District website.)

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