Dr. Lisa Snyder has been of the Lakeville Area Public School District. The current Merrill, WI, superintendent is described as “a breath of fresh air” and won enthusiastic support from both the School Board and community groups who met with Snyder throughout the day on Thursday.
and a sense of urgency to find a new leader after a year of seemingly never-ending stresses, ended with a collective feeling of optimism over a fresh start and a room full of smiles.
Snyder won the job over Bob Laney, the assistant superintendent in St. Louis Park.
Both finalists emphasized a collaborative approach to leadership and a need to improve the district’s utilization of technology. But it was Snyder’s frankness, exuberance and vision of the future that earned her the chance from the district to guide Lakeville’s schools forward.
“I think Mr. Laney is an awesome person and will make someone a great superintendent,” said Board member Michelle Volk. “He’s going to be a great leader somewhere. But she (Snyder) just kind of came in and stole the show.”
“I believe Dr. Snyder will bring a fresh approach … she’s a visionary,” said Board member Bob Erickson. “She’s a rising star in the field of education.”
Contract negotiations still have to take place but Snyder didn’t view that as an impediment and said she would be ready to start as early as mid-August. For some, it can’t be soon enough.
Snyder created a buzz during the public interview portion of the selection process just a few hours earlier with laser-sharp answers to tough questions and an honest communication style that induced loud applause following the session.
Public comments provided to the board from school administrators, teachers, students and community members praised her honesty and forward thinking. One commenter simply said “hire her.”
She brings with her a diverse history of educational experience including a strong background in technology. During her two-year tenure with the Merrill schools she was able to re-engage a community fresh off two failed levy attempts with a heavy dose of communication initiatives.
When asked what she saw as the biggest challenges facing the Lakeville schools during the community interview, Snyder replied with community engagement and technology, and didn’t hold back.
“I have read about some of the issues with wondering if the district has not been transparent enough with the decision making, with the financials, that means there’s been a breakdown in communication,” said Snyder. “This is public education. Public education is supposed to be transparent. To have a community that has stakeholders that feel that somehow there are some things that aren’t being completely shared seems pretty ridiculous to me because our business is an open book and that’s the way we have to operate.”
Snyder said that trust in the district can be restored through transparency and an aggressive pursuit of communicating with stakeholders through a variety of mediums.
“I definitely feel that the Lakeville school district is behind in the use of technology, especially when it comes to getting technology in the hands of students,” said Snyder. “We live in a digital, global society and it is just as critical as any academic area that our students leave … feeling comfortable utilizing the digital tools that are ever changing.”
Snyder said the district needs to have “twenty-first century leaders and twenty-first century teachers in order to have twenty-first century learners,” and used policy issues as an example that may need to be looked at if they are creating obstacles that are preventing access to the digital landscape.
“We worry, as adults, about will they cheat if we’re allowing them to use their smart phones … we worry about ethical issues,” said Snyder and acknowledged that some abuse might happen, but referred to those instances as “the 1 percenters.”
“We end up making policy for one percent of our population instead of doing what’s best for the majority of our population," she said.
She said creating systems that teach responsible usage of digital resources up front while effectively dealing with the “1 percenters” would allow the creation of new policies that “open up the world.”
While change in the form of communication, tone and moral may come quickly, implementing a revamped technology plan may take a little longer. But Snyder said if given the job, she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“I would see being very committed to Lakeville,” said Snyder when asked about her future ambitions. Snyder has family in the Winona area and has sought to return to Minnesota where she began her career to be closer to family members. She applied for the Rochester superintendent position in April and became one of three finalists for that position. “As long as you all want me here, I would be here for the long haul.”
Education-Minnesota Lakeville president Don Sinner also voiced approval over Snyder’s selection.
“I think she’s a good choice and I look forward to working with her,” said Sinner. “I like her positive attitude and her feet-forward system approach. That will help us move forward from the difficult cuts we had to make last year.”
Board members were unanimous in their praise as well.
“I was very impressed with not only the level, but the depth of her experience,” said Board member Kathy Lewis.
“At this time in our district our priorities are communication and technology and Dr. Snyder has the skills to elevate our district to the next level,” said Board member Roz Peterson. “I’m thrilled about her collaborative nature.”
Board member Jim Skelly said he feels Snyder offers the district the fresh start and new energy it needs. “I was impressed with the feedback we received through the process,” he said. “She’s a strong leader.”
“I think she’s got the perfect balance between her head and her heart,” said Board Chair Judy Keliher. “I’m excited about where we are going and I’m looking forward to going there with her.”
“I’ve always wanted to see Lakeville be all it can be,” said Volk after the quick vote to hire Snyder. “Not just a premier district in the state, but a premier district in the nation. I think that’s her goal, too.”
Snyder went one step further after learning of her selection.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity,” she said. “I think the district is well-matched, and well-positioned, for being a world-class district and the premier district of choice. It sounds like the stakeholders want that they’re just not sure how to get there, especially in such challenging times. But we’re going to get there together and it’s going to be a fun journey.”