See more of the story

St. Cloud school district Assistant Superintendent Laurie Putnam will take the helm of the central Minnesota district next year.

The St. Cloud school board on Wednesday voted unanimously to select Putnam, assistant superintendent of secondary education, as the next leader to replace Superintendent Willie Jett when he departs in June.

"Putnam is a rising star that is a great educational leader now and will prove to be an even more exceptional leader in the future," said Les Green, a school board member, in a news release.

Putnam said in an interview that she is humbled and honored to have the support of the school board and community.

"It's been really moving to hear students and families and our staff and community members so excited for this continuation of leadership," she said. "Education is a team sport. This is hard work and no one person does this alone, so to know I am going into this new role with the backing of this community is unbelievable. That's how we're going to move the great work that's been started forward."

Jett announced in October he will leave the district at the end of the school year, citing plans to spend time with family and pursue other interests. Jett, 57, was selected in February 2013 to lead the district of about 10,000 students.

"Going back eight years, we were looking for a significant change in the district — a new approach, a new way to do things, a new way to deliver education," said Al Dahlgren, who has served on the school board since 2012 and was part of board that hired Jett. "We were looking for someone to come in with a completely new perspective."

During Jett's tenure, the district has implemented new educational practices such as co-teaching and individualized education, added mental health resources and resources for the growing population of English-learners, reduced suspensions to keep kids in school and added more teachers and administrators of color.

The district also recently launched new "pathways" for secondary students to better align curriculum with students' higher education and career goals.

Dahlgren said the board decided to look at internal candidates at an Oct. 28 meeting. The board interviewed Putnam on Wednesday and made the announcement hours later.

"This brings a lot of stability," Dahlgren said of the decision. "We didn't feel like there was an advantage to go through a major search. Putnam is very well-liked in the district. People know her and love her."

Putnam has been assistant superintendent since July 2019. She joined the school district as a counselor at South Junior High in 2009 after working in the Minneapolis school district; she then was an assistant principal for three years before being named principal at Kennedy Community School in 2015. Putnam, 47, is married to state Sen. Aric Putnam, a Democrat who represents Senate District 14.

Board Chair Shannon Haws said Putnam has proved herself to be a leader of integrity, strength and vision.

"Our community, staff and students have had the opportunity to see her calmly and courageously lead through unprecedented times and plan for the future," Haws stated in the release. "We know that she is well-prepared to lead our ever-changing district as a voice of reason who deeply understands our district's unique strengths and opportunities."

Jenny Berg • 612-673-7299

Twitter: @bergjenny