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Eager for collaboration, Jeremy Olson takes over as Bemidji Area Schools superintendent

Taking over for former superintendent Tim Lutz, who announced his retirement plans at a Jan. 24 school board meeting, Olson is eager for the collaborative opportunities throughout the community and honing in on his skill set once the school year starts.

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Jeremy Olson assumed his role as Bemidji Area Schools new superintendent on July 1.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Jeremy Olson has always admired the Bemidji area and as of July 1, he’s been doing so as the new Bemidji Area Schools superintendent.

Taking over for former superintendent Tim Lutz, who announced his retirement plans at a Jan. 24 school board meeting , Olson is eager for the collaborative opportunities throughout the community and honing in on his skill set once the school year starts.

In fact, these opportunities have already popped up in his first week on the job.

“My job as superintendent is not about creating the ideas but creating an environment in which ideas come to the district and work together collaboratively,” Olson said.

Crookston to Bemidji

Olson was the Crookston Public Schools superintendent at the time the Bemidji Area Schools superintendency opened up.

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Having started in Crookston in 2018, he hadn’t planned on making a switch until recently-named Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College President John Hoffman accepted his new role in March.

Hoffman had served as the vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at the University of Minnesota - Crookston starting in 2018 and was selected for BSU and NTC to replace outgoing president Faith Hensrud.

“(Hoffman) was the one who actually called me up and said, ‘Jeremy, I’m taking the president job. Would you be interested in applying for the Bemidji superintendent job?’” Olson recalled. “I said to him, ‘I hadn’t thought about that, but sure!’”

Olson detailed the previous collaboration between UMN - Crookston and Crookston Public Schools that he found mutually beneficial, and wanting to marry that collaboration with his admiration for Bemidji, he applied for the superintendency.

“I love to deer hunt and have been coming up through Bemidji for quite some time since I was a kid. So when the job came up, I felt it was a good fit from what I knew about Bemidji and the skill set I could bring,” Olson said. “It felt right, it felt comfortable throughout the interview process, so I thought, ‘why not?’”

Olson noted several similarities between Crookston and Bemidji Area Schools in terms of the make-up of special education students, poverty rates and the ethnic breakdown of both districts.

“It’s almost scary how similar the two districts are,” Olson added. “Crookston is slightly more diverse than Bemidji while Bemidji just seems like a larger version of Crookston. I feel like I’m well-prepared as I’m used to working in a district like Bemidji’s.”

Pertinent priorities

Being named the next superintendent during a second round of interviews with the school board in April, Olson has questioned district leadership about where they would like the district to go and aims to find common ground when a disagreement arises.

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“For me the fun is, there are 15 different ideas and how do we merge them,” Olson said. “How do we get people to think systems-wide versus thinking in isolation? Oftentimes, we’re tempted to work in silos.”

Olson sees his three main priorities for the 2022-2023 school year being fiscal stabilization, enrollment stabilization and telling the district’s story well.

Olson has four kids who will be attending Bemidji High School, Bemidji Middle School and Gene Dillon Elementary and noted several positives that he wants to highlight when telling the district’s story.

“The opportunities for my kids are just crazy,” Olson said. “The number of (Advanced Placement) and college-level courses they can take, and the Bemidji Career Academies are just phenomenal here. Our elementary schools have done well with academic performance.

“So often, people hear about the negatives but don’t really hear about the positives that are going on. We need to tell our story well and we need to tell our story often. That’s what we did in Crookston and what we’re going to do in Bemidji.”

Olson believes district enrollment will remain steady for this upcoming school year, but hopes it will grow in the future with the right messaging to the community about the district being a strong academic choice.

Forging connections

Olson credits Lutz for aiding him throughout his transition to the Bemidji Area School District.

“Tim was highly collaborative and very personable,” Olson said. “I very much appreciate his leadership and what he’s done to prepare the district for this transition.”

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Olson is most looking forward to forming connections at various community events and district functions and getting to know the people of Bemidji.

Admittedly, however, he has a hard time remembering names.

“I hope there won’t be a test at the end of people’s names as I’m not very good with names,” Olson said lightheartedly. “But I get great fulfillment watching an audience enjoy a play performance or interacting with them at a sporting event. Seeing the community supporting our teams and kids is a lot of fun.”

A lot of Olson’s relationship-building will start with staff and students.

“I’m really looking forward to walking down the hall, recognizing staff, being able to recall their names and knowing something about them,” Olson left off. “When you start to form those relationships with staff and students, that’s when you feel at home in a district.”

Prior to Crookston, Olson acted as superintendent of school districts in Underwood and Henning, Minn.

Before that Olson served as superintendent and principal at Pingree-Buchanan School District in North Dakota and had prior experience in a variety of teaching and principal roles in elementary, middle and high schools.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in history education from the University of Jamestown, a master’s in education leadership from the University of North Dakota and a doctorate in education administration from the University of South Dakota.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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