FREEMAN PUBLIC HIRES NEW SUPERINTENDENT
A Minnesota native who most recently served as the high school principal and principal of program development at Fairmont (Minn.) Area Schools will be the new superintendent at Freeman Public Schools.
Jacob P. Tietje (pronounced TEE-JAY) signed a contract for the position Saturday afternoon, April 17 after being offered the job by a unanimous vote of the Freeman School Board just minutes before. Also voting in symbolic support of the hire were Emily Andersen and Doug McCune, who will come on as new board members in July in place of Corey Gall and Mark Miller; Andersen and McCune were unopposed in seeking office and Gall and Miller chose not to seek reelection.
Tietje, 42, was one of 12 applicants brought to the board by Tom Oster, whose consulting firm has helped lead the superintendent search the past five weeks. Tietje was one of three interviewed for the job earlier on Saturday; those interviews were with both current and incoming board members, as well as selected members of the community. He will replace outgoing superintendent Kevin Kunz, whose resigned his position in March and will take over as superintendent at the Edmunds Central School District in Roscoe beginning July 1.
Tietje told The Courier he’s excited to move to Freeman with his family and get to work at Freeman Public.
“I’ve done a lot of research on the district,” he said. “It’s been helpful that all the more recent board meetings have been televised; that gave me a pretty good idea of the challenges that are going to present themselves to the district. I’m really excited for those opportunities.
“It will be fun to help the district and the community grow.”
Following the hiring of Tietje, there was notable enthusiasm in the high school library where the board meets.
“We had three good candidates; we hired a really great candidate,” said board president Kyle Weier. “Why wouldn’t you be excited about that?”
“It’s been a tough year,” he continued. “This is a fresh start and hopefully gets us going where we need to go.”
As principal at Fairmont Area Schools, Tietje’s duties ranged from developmental leadership in areas like positive behavior, teacher evaluation and a multi-tier system of support; to the securing of funds for an agricultural hydroponics lab, vocational equipment and spearheading a $6.73 million bond referendum for a vocational program expansion project.
Tietje says his first months on the job in Freeman will include a lot of listening and learning.
“I have a 100-day entrance plan that will be a big part of this,” he said. “A big part of that entrance plan will be meeting with different groups. Right now, I’m observing the district from afar; being here will allow me to really learn the district. Especially in those first few months, being an active part of the community is going to be really important.”
As for moving into a superintendent position for the first time, Tietje says he and his wife decided this past school year that “this was something I needed to do.”
They put together a criteria that included two main points — small-town living similar to what they have experienced in their current hometown of about 1,100 and a strong school district. The Tietjes have two young children; Elsie will be coming into the district as a third grader and William will be coming in as a first grader, “so making sure that it was a good school was something that was really important to us as a family.”
He calls the district and the community “rock-solid.”
“We’re really excited about it,” noting how much he enjoyed the interviews on Saturday with both the board and the community group.
“Great board, and the community group was fun,” he said. “I’ve had more fun in these two interviews than I think I’ve ever had in any previous interviews. I just think that shows how good the people of this district are.”
The bigger picture
Tietje’s hire reflects a period of change and transition and comes on the heels of what has been a challenging year for the district. Like all school districts, Freeman Public was forced to deal with issues related to COVID-19 and the uncertainty that went along with that, but also internal matters. A personnel issue mid-year led to the immediate resignation of dean of students/math teacher/head boys basketball coach Will Massey at a special board meeting in early February.
Kunz’s resignation came two months later and both Rachel Massey and Becky Kunz have since resigned from their positions with the district — Massey as a 6-12 SPED and Kunz as the third-grade teacher.
Freeman Public has also been discussing a possible sports cooperative with Freeman Academy and Marion, and also consolidation with Marion in the next three years. Those discussions hit a snag earlier this month when Freeman Public rejected a 5-sports co-op with both schools, starting this fall, by a 3-2 vote.
However, school officials from all three schools expressed an interest in forming a task force that would keep the cooperative conversation going, with interest in forming a new sports team in time for the 2023-24.
And Tieje isn’t the only new person in leadership at Freeman Public.
Last month the Freeman School Board hired Kalynn (Katie) Juhnke as the district’s new middle school/high school principal. Juhnke had been a well-loved 5-6 language arts and science teacher at Freeman Elementary before taking a teaching position in Parker.
Juhnke is finishing up her principal administration degree from the University of South Dakota, a program in which she enrolled in the summer of 2019.