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Three candidates vie for District 518 director of special education

WORTHINGTON -- District 518 received 10 applications for the position of director of special education, and its hiring committee interviewed three finalists Wednesday for the position.

Long-time director Betty McAllister will retire this year, leaving the position open.

A hiring committee of District 518 parents, administrators and school board members interviewed the finalists, who met more District 518 personnel over lunch.

Interviewers were parent Tara Thompson, Worthington Middle School ESL teacher Becky Sieve, Worthington High School special education teacher Deb Stoll, speech teacher Mara Jirele, WMS teacher Jody Madsen, interim WMS principal Clete Lipetzky, Prairie Elementary special education teacher Josh Noble, school psychologist Lois Kester, special programs secretary Gay Harberts, Area Learning Center secretary Val Nickel and school board members Stephen Schnieder and Lowell Nystrom.

Tricia Denzer

Tricia Denzer has been director of special services at Dallas Co R-1 School District, Buffalo, Mo., since 2005.

Prior to that, she was an administrative intern and then the director of special education and K-12 principal at Medford Public School, Medford, and was Special Services Coordinator at Medford from 2002-2005.

"I'm from Minnesota originally," said Denzer, who hails from Bricelyn. "It is a good opportunity to come home."

She called Worthington "a good community with a lot to offer for families," and praised its many opportunities.

Denzer taught special education in Blooming Prairie, Byron and Long Prairie, served as resource specialist in Fontana Unified School District, Fontana, Calif., and as a paraprofessional in Montgomery.

She believes her experience working in so many facets of special education -- serving as a paraprofessional, teaching, coordinating and becoming a director -- makes her a good choice for the position in Worthington.

She received her bachelor's degree in secondary education and licensures for social science from Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, in 1993, and a master's degree in special education and licensures for emotional and behavioral disorders from Minnesota State University, Mankato, in 2001. She received her administrative licensure from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in 2004.

Denzer believes special education is "as important, if not more important, than general education. I think it should be integrated as much as possible with general education. I don't want my kids to be left out just because they're special education students."

Bonnie Erickson

Bonnie Erickson has been a speech pathologist and CIMP disability leader for Rochester Schools since 2005.

Prior to that, she was special education coordinator and building administrator at Woodson Community School and Sheriff's Youth Ranch Alternative School from 2002 to 2004, a speech pathologist in Austin Public Schools from 1992 to 2002, and an early childhood special education director in Blooming Prairie.

"I was looking for a bigger leadership role," Erickson said of her decision to apply for Worthington's position. "It's a great place to bring in your knowledge and maybe learn a little bit more."

Erickson taught first and second grade at Alden-Conger from 1980 to 1989, taught kindergarten and first grade from 1977 to 1981 at Austin Public Schools and was a kindergarten and early childhood teacher at Akeley Public Schools from 1975 to 1977.

She received her bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1975 and her master's degree in speech/language pathology in 1980 from Mankato State University. She received her early childhood special education licensure from MSU in 1993, her principal licensure from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her director of special education licensure from the University of Minnesota in 2005.

"Special education is a huge support for students," Erickson said. "Today's education is all about demonstrating student learning. Special education is that support that allows all students to learn. All students can learn."

Erickson believes special education is critical work that, although expensive, helps students become better community members.

Nancy Johnson

Nancy Johnson served as an adjunct professor at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, in spring 2007 and was a special education teacher at West Fargo Public Schools, West Fargo, N.D., from 2000 to 2007.

Prior to that, she was a special education teacher at Wadena Public Schools from 1999 and the district director of wellness, health/physical education and multimedia teacher, wellness coordinator and gymnastics coach for Fergus Falls School District from 1995 to 1999.

"One thing is climate," Johnson said about why she chose to apply for Worthington's position. "You also have a community, which has great diversity, which interests me. I like that."

Johnson taught at Lake Park High School from 1994 to 1995, taught third grade at Detroit Lakes Public Schools from 1993 to 1994, taught health at Fergus Falls Senior High School from 1990 to 1992 and served as a substitute teacher in a variety of districts from 1982 to 1996.

Johnson believes her experience with different districts and different protocol practices, as well as her experience in teaching at many age levels, leading teachers, managing programs and presenting at statewide conferences make her a good choice for Worthington's position.

She received her bachelor's degree in physical education and coaching from Concordia College, Moorhead, in 1981, and her bachelor's degree in education from Concordia in 1993. She received a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Minnesota State University, Moorhead, in 1993, and her master's degree in special education from MSU in 2000. She received her educational leadership certification from Tri-College University in 2006.

"By law, special education is a provision to best meet the needs of all students," Johnson said. "Providing services for special education creates a well-rounded environment for all students."