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District 518's Landgaard recognized as 'Administrator of Excellence'

WORTHINGTON -- John Landgaard would rather discuss his next pheasant hunting trip than share details about a personal distinction.But last Friday in Minneapolis, the 13-year District 518 superintendent was named the 2016 Region 3 Administrator of...

2402262+John Landgaard web.jpg
John Landgaard is shown Friday in his office at the District 518 administration building in Worthington. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - John Landgaard would rather discuss his next pheasant hunting trip than share details about a personal distinction.
But last Friday in Minneapolis, the 13-year District 518 superintendent was named the 2016 Region 3 Administrator of Excellence at the spring conference of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA), leaving him little choice in the matter.
“He didn’t really want to tell anyone about it,” revealed his wife of nearly 27 years, Jodi Landgaard.
Added District 518’s current board chair, Steve Schnieder, “John doesn’t make a point of drawing attention to his accomplishments; we only find out about them when others let us know.
“He does not expect nor does he do things to get recognition.”
Recognition has nevertheless come Landgaard’s way, with the MASA honor going to administrators who demonstrate active involvement in education and community affairs, are regarded as role models by MASA colleagues and are practicing administrators and MASA members, according to the award citation.
“Being a school superintendent is a challenging and difficult job, but this is a testament to the leadership John provides to the Worthington school district and community,” said Cliff Carmody, executive director of the Southwest Service Cooperative and a member of the MASA Region 3 leadership team.
“John is well deserving of this honor, which identifies individuals who represent leadership excellence, exhibit a willingness to risk, possess strong communication skills, are progressive change agents and have high expectations for themselves and others.”
Landgaard, however, is quick to deflect any personal praise and views the Administrator of Excellence award as evidence of District 518’s overall quality.
“I see this award as an affirmation of our entire district - of the cooks, custodians, teachers, paras and principals, and of the great work they do for our students,” said Landgaard.
“Our district motto is ‘excellence in action,’ and this is a direct reflection of that and of everyone who works here to make things happen in the right way.”
Getting started
Landgaard began his duties as District 518 superintendent in July 2003.
He arrived in Worthington with Jodi and their three young children after spending the previous eight years honing his administrative chops in Norwood-Young America (three years) and at Stephen-Argyle (five years).
A native of the tiny Polk County town of Nielsville (population 90 in the 2010 census), Landgaard graduated from Climax High School before obtaining a two-year degree at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D.
He went on to earn a B.S. degree at North Dakota State University and then began teaching at Iroquois, S.D.
“After Jodi and I were married, we moved to Sioux Falls and I taught for two years in Dell Rapids while attending South Dakota State University to earn my master’s degree,” Landgaard said.
His next career stop was Marion, S.D., where for three years he was the principal and athletic director as he simultaneously worked toward his specialist’s degree at the University of South Dakota. Thereafter, he was both the elementary principal and superintendent for a year before moving to Stephen-Argyle.
Landgaard explains he was motivated to become a school administrator when he realized the impact such a role would let him have on students.
“It’s the kids that mean the most to me, even though in my job I don’t always get to interact with them on a regular basis,” the former teacher observed.
“What I do allows me to have a big influence on how students are educated,” Landgaard continued. “I get excited about all the opportunities this district can provide, and how we can offer an excellent education and the potential for kids to have success in their lives when the reach the age of moving into the world of work.”
On-the-job challenges, support
Landgaard experiences support from the District 518 staff and board, even as he leads them in facing challenges.
“It’s no secret that the biggest issue our district faces right now is trying to figure out how to best meet the needs of our students with the continued growth here,” said Landgaard.
“We’re trying to balance those needs without creating a huge impact on the taxpayers, but as this community keeps growing, the number one issue here is the facilities.”
This past week, the District 518 board approved the purchase of 157 acres on the west side of Crailsheim Road as a potential site for a new high school and/or sports complex. Transactions like that, Landgaard explained, are the result of careful study and planning.
“We actually started looking for property almost five years ago,” said Landgaard, “and we started by evaluating 10 different pieces of property, whittling down the options each year.
“Things don’t just happen overnight; it takes time to get in the right position.”
The District 518 board and administration largely value Landgaard’s prudent attitude and approach, which have resulted in a long run of fiscal stability for the district.
“I’ve appreciated John’s conservative style with the district’s finances and his creativity in finding ways to fund projects,” said Lori Dudley, a District 518 board member throughout all of Landgaard’s tenure to date.
Concurred board member Linden Olson, “John has done excellent work in keeping the district in a sound financial position.
“With his leadership and the assistance of capable staff, the district has navigated the complex legal and financial structure under which public schools operate, allowing us to add programs, services and facilities that benefit both our students and taxpayers now and for years to come.”
Contributed Dave Skog, District 518’s director of management services, “He does a good job of looking ahead and trying to anticipate future needs - like the need for additional space due to our increasing enrollment.”
Landgaard has learned the importance of gathering public input before taking major actions, and he is appreciative of the strong school boards he’s encountered over the years.
“I’ve been fortunate to have good school boards to work with, both in District 518 and at my previous assignments,” said Landgaard. “We try our best to keep the processes open to constituents, because it’s their school district and we want to make sure they know what’s happening with their schools.
“We’re fortunate in Worthington that people are extremely interested in doing what’s right for kids, keeping the school district sound and providing a quality education.”
Community-minded family man, outdoorsman
Landgaard makes a point of attending many District 518 activities across the spectrum, from sports to music, while also maintaining a presence in the greater community.
“I’ve been involved with the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee almost from the start, and I’m a member of the Noon Kiwanis Club,” listed Landgaard, who is similarly active in his church.
“Sometimes my schedule limits my ability to participate in certain things,” he admitted, with professional organizations such as MASA also eating up chunks of his time.
But Worthington has become home to the Landgaards.
“Our family has really loved this community, and it was very obvious to me 13 years ago this was a quality school district with good people and a lot of good things happening here,” said Landgaard.
“I tell a lot of young administrators to do what’s right for your family first and then for your career, and I feel we’ve achieved balance in both areas; my family is happy, my kids have gotten a good education and I’ve felt supported in my career here,” he continued.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with many great community members and organizations that continue trying to grow this community.”
The Landgaards’ children include Cassie, 23, who will begin physician’s assistant training in the fall at University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Abbie, 20, who is studying business at Moorhead State University; and Erik, 18, who is due to graduate in May from Worthington High School.
“Being able to present my own kids with their diplomas is something unique; not everyone gets to be a part of that,” smiled Landgaard, recalling those happy moments at his daughters’ commencement ceremonies and anticipating his son’s two months from now.
“It’s been meaningful,” he assured.
When Landgaard isn’t working, the 56-year-old Leap Year baby looks forward to pheasant hunting (“My wife would say I do it way too much,” he laughed) and fishing.
Driven by students’ needs, assisted by skilled staff
Although being a school superintendent may occasionally present difficult challenges, Landgaard credits whatever success he might be said to have had in the position to two things: students and staff.
“Reading all the state reports and doing the state reports paperwork, for instance, is not the fun part of the job,” said Landgaard. “Deciding whether or not to close school in bad weather is not fun.
“But I can hire quality people who can provide information and make good decisions on everything from facilities to curriculum to technology; there are a lot of exciting aspects to talk about when considering where we are and where we need to go to let kids thrive,” he continued.
“I was always advised, ‘Hire good people and they’ll make you look good,’ and I believe putting good people in place has helped this district succeed.”
Above all, Landgaard is motivated to serve students, and he has high praise for the schoolchildren of District 518.
“We really have good kids here,” he said. “For me, it comes down to this: When I go to bed at night, I ask myself, ‘Did I do what’s best for kids today? Did I grow and create opportunities for kids to excel?’”
Landgaard’s colleagues would argue that he has.
“Superintendent Landgaard looks out for the best interests of the children and community,” said Schnieder. “He has a realistic long-range vision for the district and understands how this fits in with the community’s goals.”
Contributed Skog, “I believe John does what he feels is best for the students, and he promotes diverse opportunities for all our students, both educationally and with extra-curriculars.”
That, Carmody asserts, is what makes Landgaard an ideal recipient of the 2016 Region 3 Administrator of Excellence honor.
“We’ve been colleagues for many years and I know John is a strong advocate for education who communicates effectively, serves on local, regional and state committees, and is recognized for his leadership by his peers,” said Carmody.
“There is no one more deserving than him for this recognition.”

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