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DULUTH – Superintendent Bill Gronseth admits it won't be the same, looking out his office window and seeing the Minnesota River instead of the vast Lake Superior that has always greeted him.

To the lifelong Duluthian, a change of scenery this week will signal a new life chapter after 23 years working for Duluth schools, the last eight at the helm of the 8,800-student district.

Gronseth's wife, Deanna, took a job with Wa­se­ca Public Schools two years ago and next week Gronseth is set to begin a superintendent job nearby. He moved to the southern part of the state two weekends ago be­fore re­turn­ing north for his last days of work in Du­luth's His­tor­ic Old Cen­tral High School, the cas­tle-like brown­stone build­ing down­town that houses the district's administrative offices.

For some in Du­luth, Gron­seth rep­re­sents an administration still resented for a $300 mil­lion long-range fa­cili­ties plan that closed seven pub­lic schools and complete­ly re­fur­bished oth­er sites. Known col­lo­qui­al­ly as "the Red Plan," the con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion made in 2006 has dog­ged dis­trict lead­ers for more than a decade, still fre­quent­ly draw­ing men­tions at board meet­ings from resi­dents complain­ing a­bout the pro­ject's costs, han­dling or out­comes.

Gronseth was an as­sist­ant prin­ci­pal at Du­luth's East High School when the plan was passed. But loose ends re­mained when he took over as super­in­tend­ent in 2012 — debt pay­ments and un­sold prop­er­ties that kept the past de­ci­sion at the fore­front of minds.

A week and a half ago, dur­ing Gronseth's last school board ses­sion in Du­luth, a res­i­dent called into the vir­tual meet­ing to say he nev­er thought Gronseth was the right pick for the super­in­tend­ent job.

"You were so biased toward one side of an intense civic debate," said Lor­en Mar­tell, a longtime crit­ic of the Red Plan. "I know there are wounds in this city that have nev­er been ad­dressed."

In a subsequent interview, Gronseth breathed a small sigh, re­flect­ing on the com­plaints that clung on through his en­tire super­in­tend­ent ten­ure.

"Some­times de­ci­sions aren't easy and not ev­er­y­one will a­gree with them," he said. "But I feel like the de­ci­sions I've made have al­ways been cen­tered on the kids, and what's best for them and for our school dis­trict and for our com­muni­ty. I feel good a­bout the de­ci­sions that we've made. I'm hap­py to con­tin­ue to own those."

Gronseth said he's proud of the dis­trict's ef­forts to address the achieve­ment gap in the past eight years, of the im­prove­ments to Du­luth's ca­reer and tech­ni­cal pro­grams, of the bur­geon­ing Span­ish and Ojib­we im­mer­sion pro­grams.

"He has per­se­vered through some very tu­mul­tu­ous times," Board Member David Kir­by said at the June 16 meet­ing. "I think that grace un­der pres­sure de­fines him, re­al­ly."

Gronseth start­ed teach­ing in Du­luth in 1997 at Net­tle­ton El­e­men­ta­ry, which was shut­tered in 2013 as part of the long-range fa­cili­ties plan. In the years since, he's taught or served in an ad­min­is­tra­tive role at four oth­er Du­luth schools.

His roots with the dis­trict are even deep­er, stretch­ing back to his own days as a stu­dent at Stowe El­e­men­ta­ry, now-de­funct Mor­gan Park Middle School and Denfeld High School.

"I've had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to be con­nected with thou­sands of fami­lies," Gronseth said. "Everywhere I go I see some­one I know. Late­ly when I visit­ed el­e­men­ta­ry schools, the par­ents were my stu­dents, which is ab­so­lute­ly some­thing spe­cial."

He re­mem­bered one of his early years as a teach­er when the class guin­ea pig, Mr. Har­ry, died — a trau­ma­tic e­vent for el­e­men­ta­ry stu­dents. Gron­seth organ­ized a fu­ner­al where the stu­dents read poetry and a col­league played the vi­o­lin. Years later, one of the students from that class joined the dis­trict as a so­cial work­er, cit­ing that day as in­spi­ra­tion for her ca­reer choice.

"It's those mo­ments, the lives that we touch that we don't even re­al­ize at the time what it means, that are just so mean­ing­ful," Gronseth said.

On Wednesday, Gronseth will take over as school super­in­tend­ent of St. Peter, a small­er com­muni­ty that's home to Gus­ta­vus A­dol­phus College. He's been in fre­quent con­tact with John Magas, who is mov­ing from Green Bay, Wis., to fill the top po­si­tion in Du­luth.

"When some­one comes from the out­side, they have an op­por­tu­ni­ty to see the dis­trict and the com­muni­ty through fresh eyes, through new eyes. And some­times they can pull down that bar­ri­er for us to see things that we don't nec­es­sar­i­ly see be­cause we are so in­grained in the com­muni­ty," Gronseth said.

He'll have that per­spec­tive in St. Peter. But he'll also miss the place he's known and loved his whole life.

Gronseth's fam­i­ly has been in the area since 1886; his grand­parents watched the con­struc­tion of the distinctive build­ing where his Duluth office is housed.

Because he still has rela­tives and a cab­in in Du­luth, the superintendent says he will make the 3 ½-hour drive to vis­it — par­tic­u­lar­ly since the glo­bal pandemic has made it dif­fi­cult to say prop­er good­byes.

School board members said their farewells via webcam, wav­ing through com­puter screens and of­fer­ing a smat­ter­ing of ap­plause as the longtime Du­luth educator logged off for the last time.

Kat­ie Galioto • 612-673-4478