Pelican Rapids Principal Brian Korf, who has served as acting administrator since the untimely death of Superintendent Ed Richardson, addresses the school board May 26.
A new plan was outlined, which would transition Korf to Superintendent-Principal, and downsize administration by creating a lower-cost “Dean of Students” position—which is projected to save school district taxpayers up to $85,000 a year. At the June 1 meeting, the school board unanimously approved Korf as interim superintendent, beginning in September.

A plan to juggle the administration structure temporarily—and maybe permanently –was reviewed by the Pelican Rapids school board.

Central to the plan is the promotion of Brian Korf to a combined interim superintendent/principal position. To manage the administrative workload, a new position, “Dean of Students” would be created.

On the financial side, the restructuring would save the district $75,000 to $85,000.

The plan is designed for a short term, of one year. At the same time, it could transition into a long term solution.

The structure was outlined May 26 by interim superintendent Jerry Ness –who will continue in that role until about Sept. 1. Principal Korf is expected to complete his superintendent license requirements in the next three months. Ness would then continue as “mentor” to the administrative team through the 2020-21 school year.

“While Mr. Korf does not have experience as a superintendent, he has served as acting administrator performing the daily superintendent duties during a very stressful time,” stated the executive plan. “He does have experience and knowledge of the students, staff, school board, and the Pelican Rapids community…He has a proven track record as an administrator…”

The plan essentially has a built-in “fallback position.”

The board is already aiming at a timeline, which calls for evaluation of the administrative restructuring, as well as Brian Korf’s performance, beginning in December of 2020. This would give the board plenty of time ahead of the end of the 2021 fiscal year, June 30, and the 2021-22 school year—if changes will be considered.

This approach keeps future options open. One hypothetical structure mentioned by school officials could be a single K-12 principal, with a superintendent; and support staff structure built around the activities director and Dean positions.

Current Pelican school administrators have gained crisis experience
“Trial by fire” is how interim superintendent Ness described the response of Korf, and the entire administrative team, in the wake of Superintendent Ed Richardson’s unexpected death in early April. This experience has been unfortunate—yet invaluable – for the front office administrative team, including Korf, elementary principal Derrick Nelson and business manager Rudy Martinez.

The school board voted 5-0 in support of the administrative plan.

“(Korf) has proven himself…I’d like to see him in the superintendent position…the trust is already there,” said board member Brenda Olson.

Board member Larson liked the flexibility of the plan. “It’s low risk and flexible,” said Larson.

“Nothing locks us in,” he said, noting that there is ample time in December-January to review progress, and make any fine-tuning or changes well ahead of the 2020-21 school year.

In the wake of a series of interviews of superintendent prospects, Olson said one of the comments made consistently was that the first year would include getting to know the community, the staff, the students. “(Korf) already has that…he’s already done,” said Olson.

Principal Korf’s desire to continue coaching discussed

The executive plan also notes that Korf plans to continue coaching. He is closely identified with girls basketball, which he coached to a state tournament bid in March 2020. He is also an assistant coach in football.

The workload of a superintendent-principal-coach prompted some discussion at the May 26 meeting.

Korf said that he would like to continue coaching, and in fact stated that if the superintendent appointment meant “no coaching, I’d prefer to stay put.”

Korf said his goal is to stay with the Pelican district until retirement. 

“I have no plans to move on,” said Korf.

Coaching is an “extension” of the classroom and a way to connect with students. “I have no doubt that Brian will put his heart into it,” said board member Mike Forsgren, adding, however, “there are a lot of moving parts.”

Being a superintendent, a principal and a coach poses some unusual hierarchy or chain of command situations. Technically, the superintendent is the boss of the activities director and the principal; but the principal or athletic director is typically the superior of the coach.

Those concerns are “out there,” said board member Forsgren, though he added, “I’m not concerned myself.”

Board member Greg Larson said he had little concern about Korf’s ability to juggle the various responsibilities. He said concerns from the public are more a matter of perception.

“I’ve seen him on the school grounds at almost all hours of the day,” said Larson, who was a strong advocate for the administrative plan—and ultimately made the motion to forward it.

Interim Superintendent Ness acknowledged that a school administrator with a multiple of responsibilities and “hats” is “not typical, but not rare or uncommon, either.” Further, Ness noted that, in a sense, the superintendent schedule and workload is actually somewhat more flexible than a day-to-day, full-time principal.