Third LeRoy-Ostrander superintendent within months envisions a healing district

Published 9:00 am Friday, August 23, 2019

Ray Arsenault

Months after the LeRoy-Ostrander School District struggled with controversies, resignations and worries over the fate of its district, a new leader is ready to help guide the school forward.

Ray Arsenault, Butterfield-Odin superintendent, was chosen to serve as the L-O interim superintendent. The school board voted on Tuesday night to approve his contract.

The Burnsville native will continue to go back and forth between LeRoy and Butterfield, fulfilling responsibilities as superintendent for both districts temporarily. However, in October, Arsenault plans to have an interim superintendent hired for Butterfield-Odin so that he can focus the majority of his time on helping the L-O community for the long run.

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“It’s a rewarding career and I enjoy being in the school, watching them be successful,” he said. “I enjoy seeing what’s happening in the classroom, and helping students get to the point where they will have better skills for a better life.”

The management model that Arsenault brings to the superintendent position, he feels, is more on the democratic side. Arsenault is prepared to listen to all different sides from what occurred before his start in L-O, and to come up with a better management model that would further improve relationships in the district.

“I’ve seen management models where some superintendents used confrontation, some manage by bullying or being narcissistic,” he said. “I don’t use those models. I want input from all stakeholders, students, community, staff and management. We all have to work together for the best interest of the students and listen to them. It’s not short-term solutions, it takes a great deal of time, but I’m willing to put in the time to make the district normal and make it successful.”

Arsenault plans to meet with staff next week to go over expectations and introduce himself as the interim superintendent. Arsenault also planned to make himself more accessible to students and observe his staff in the coming weeks.

“I want to spend time in classrooms, observing my staff’s teaching strategies,” he said. “I want to see how teachers conduct instruction in their classrooms, but my mode is hands-on. I have to see what’s going on and getting to know students. That’s my first goal, from there, I can strategize about the improvement. However, I got to see where they’re at before I can make any suggestions to improve.”

Finding peace and balance

For Arsenault, his education became a lifelong passion when he was exposed to teaching assistants and office aides during his time as a student at Burnsville High School. It was when he was a freshman in college that Arsenault knew for certain that he wanted to become a teacher.

Initially, Arsenault attended Bemidji State University while on a football scholarship. However, he got into a car crash that left him injured, which resulted in Arsenault transferring to Minnesota State University, Mankato. Arsenault wound up at Winona State University to run track and play football, where he eventually received his bachelor’s degree in education.

Having started his teaching career at a St. Paul private high school, Arsenault went onto a fulfilling educational career. He spent two decades as a teacher and coach at Waterville-Elysian-Morristown High School while earning a master’s degree in history and educational leadership at Minnesota State. He then spent more than a decade in New Mexico as an assistant principal and then eventually superintendent of the state’s fifth-largest district. Arsenault returned home to Minnesota and led a STEM-focused charter school and also a substitute teacher in Rochester Public Schools while earning his Minnesota superintendent’s license.

Aside from his experience, Arsenault was lauded with recognition and numerous accolades from the state of New Mexico for narrowing the achievement gap among standardized test scores among minority students and raising test scores for his school district in Butterfield-Odin.

Through that journey, he learned a great deal about what would make a superintendent ultimately successful in leading others.

“You should have a commitment and care about the school district,” he said. “You should have a skillset to be able to handle the duties of the superintendent, though those roles grew much greater than when I first started. You should always be open and willing to listen to people. You don’t make decisions from the get-go whether it’s as small as ordering new chairs to hiring decisions. Always take your time and make the correct decisions.”

‘I don’t make them trust me, I have to earn it’

Jumping into a situation where two superintendents have left the school district within months of each other didn’t make Arsenault hesitate to lend a hand. It didn’t intimidate him.

He should know. Aresnault’s first superintendent position during his time in New Mexico came two years after his predecessor was murdered by a disgruntled employee who was fired from an administrative position.

“The superintendent had fired the principal, and the principal didn’t like that,” Arsenault remembered. “He brought in a briefcase, pulled out (a gun) and shot the superintendent three times in the head and died. I took over the position two years later. I moved into my office, looked at the wall where there were three round holes that were spackled over. I moved into a different office after that. That’s why nothing scares me.”

There were moments in his career that Arsenault felt had shaped his leadership style as well as philosophy for education. That included his time in Butterfield-Odin, when in March 2016, he took over the position when the prior administrator was fired for alleged financial impropriety.

He knew what it was like to be in a community where lines were drawn, animosity leaked into daily conversations and no one was willing to move forward but rather hold onto grudges as well as looking to serve themselves as opposed to their students.

However, Arsenault has hope for L-O and that with time, even the deepest of scars will eventually fade.

“I can’t make them trust me, but I’ll earn it,” Arsenault said, “I want to focus on what I’m doing right for the students in the district, and that’s been my mission for almost two decades. I can’t make them trust me. I have to earn it. It may take time, but eventually it will happen. If I went in and demanded for it, it’s not going to work. You can’t force healing, but I can take the steps to do that and guide them there.”