News & Notes

Saint Peter Public Schools logo
Kurt Hildebrandt

Move gives school board more time in search for full-time replacement

Dr. Jeff Olson was officially hired as interim superintendent of Saint Peter Public Schools after the Saint Peter School Board unanimously approved his contract for the 2019-20 school year at Monday’s regular meeting.

  Dr. Jeff Olson

Olson, who served as superintendent here from 2003 to 2014 and still resides in St. Peter, will shift into the role, held by current superintendent, Paul Peterson, on July 1. Peterson, who was recently hired as the new superintendent for Mankato Public Schools, has been the top administrator for Saint Peter Public Schools since replacing Olson at the start of the 2014-15 school year.

“I’m very excited and energized with the opportunity to serve as interim superintendent and also assist the district in their search for a new superintendent,” Olson said. “When the news came out about Paul being named superintendent at Mankato, given the timing of the situation, I wondered if the board here would be considering the interim route. Once I heard they were, I contacted the board chair (Mark Karlsrud) offering to help out in any way I could and he was very receptive to my call.

“I have a lot of good reasons to take this one-year position, including seven really good ones -- my wife (Judy) and I have seven school-aged grandchildren living here in the Saint Peter School District, so I’m really looking forward to the year ahead.”

Since his retirement, Olson has kept connected to education through the consulting firm, True North Consulting Partners, which he co-owns with long-time friend and retired Alexandria superintendent, Dr. Terry Quist. True North Consulting Partners focuses on educational planning and reform, leadership development, strategic planning, school facility planning and management consultation for about 60 school districts across the state of Minnesota. Included in that work, Dr. Olson assisted in superintendent searches with the Moorhead, Morris, Willmar, La Crescent, and Annandale school districts.

During his time as superintendent for Saint Peter Public Schools, Olson was named as Minnesota Superintendent of the Year in 2013. Prior to becoming Saint Peter’s superintendent, he served as Saint Peter High School principal from 1993 to 2003 and also taught social studies at SPHS from 1975 to 1993. He received B.A. degrees in history and political science from Concordia College (Moorhead) and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Mankato State University. He also holds a specialist degree in educational administration and a Ph.D in educational policy and administration from the University of Minnesota.

“We are just delighted to be able to coax Dr. Olson out of retirement for this one-year appointment to help us continue the excellent work Dr. Peterson has done for us,” Mark Karlsrud, Saint Peter School Board chair, said. “Because of Dr. Olson’s continued connection with this community and the work he has continued to do, since his retirement, with his consulting work, we are so fortunate to have someone in this role with his experience and networking ability available to us. It really shifts the timeline for us and really gives us the chance to gain some momentum moving forward as we will have some big decisions to make, as a board, coming up including hiring a new superintendent.”

Karlsrud stated Dr. Olson’s hiring will provide the board with time the rest of this calendar year to have thorough discussions on what the district will be looking for in potential superintendent candidates so that when 2020 rolls around the district will be ready to start identifying and, eventually, interviewing candidates. He feels confident a new superintendent will be hired by next spring and ready to start on July 1, 2020.

Saint Peter Public Schools logo
Kurt Hildebrandt

Long-time Saint Peter High School French teacher Mary Behrends, who is retiring after the 2018-19 school year, was selected as this year’s winner of the Distinguished Service Award for Saint Peter Public Schools.

  Mary Behrends (right), this year's Distinguished
  Service Award winner, is congratulated by Superin-
  tendent Paul Peterson at the recent Staff Recognition

Behrends, who has been with the Saint Peter Public School District since 1990, was recognized as the 2019 winner during the annual Staff Recognition Open House, held on May 1 at Gustavus Adolphus College’s Jackson Campus Center.

In an effort to emphasize the importance of “excellence” in the Saint Peter Public School District, the Distinguished Service Award was established during the 2010-11 school year.  Each year the award recognizes a staff member who exemplifies excellence in their job and for their commitment to the students and staff at Saint Peter Public Schools.

“Mary's service to the school district has been remarkable,” Saint Peter Superintendent Paul Peterson said. “Her commitment to authentic learning experiences both in France and at Lac du Bois has benefited so many students.  We can't thank her enough for everything she has done, all for the good of kids. What a career!”

The nomination letter for Behrends perhaps summed up her importance to the district best in the following statements: “Mary has been a loyal, dedicated teacher in St. Peter. Her commitment to the French language and French culture exhibits itself daily in her interactive, student-centered classroom and in the scores of weekends she's given up taking hundreds of students to French immersion camps at Concordia Language Villages, not to mention the many students she has taken to France!”

SPPS Distinguished Service Award recipients
2010-11 - Teresa Saum
2011-12 - Julie Frey
2012-13 - Neil Hanson
2013-14 - Ytive Prafke & Nancy Kruger
2014-15 - Mary Powers
2015-16 - Gayle Derner
2016-17 - Jim Kruger
2017-18 - Joanne Smith & Bob Ploog
2018-19 - Mary Behrends





Saint Peter Public Schools logo
Kurt Hildebrandt

Paul Peterson accepts role as new leader of Mankato School District

A search process will soon be underway for a new superintendent for Saint Peter Public Schools after current Superintendent Paul Peterson informed District 508 officials on Wednesday he has accepted the same role with Mankato Public Schools. His new position begins July 1.

   Saint Peter Superintendent Paul Peterson will
   take over as new superintendent for Mankato
   Public Schools on July 1.

Saint Peter School Board Chair Mark Karlsrud announced a study session for the entire board has been scheduled for Monday, May 6, to discuss their options moving forward in the search for Peterson’s successor.  

“We, as a board, want to wish Paul every success in his new position with the Mankato School District,” Karlsrud said. “He has been a fantastic superintendent for Saint Peter Public School, and has has been a tremendous asset for our students, staff, and the community of St. Peter. I have every confidence in our administrative leadership and the abilities of our teachers and staff and, right now, we are looking forward to finishing this school year like a pro.”

Peterson began his educational career at Saint Peter High School in 1999 as a social studies teacher and became SPHS Principal in 2004, a position he held until being chosen as Saint Peter Public Schools’ superintendent in 2014, replacing Dr. Jeff Olson.

“Saint Peter has been nothing short of incredible for our family,” Peterson said. “Our boys have gone to great schools with amazing teachers, and we have made lifelong friends throughout the community. Leaving Saint Peter is difficult, but I know that the district is in good hands with a high functioning school board and top notch administration, faculty and staff.”

Karlsrud encourages District 508 residents to contact Saint Peter School Board members if they have any thoughts or concerns about the upcoming search for a new superintendent. Contact information for the school board members can be found at

Saint Peter Public Schools logo
Kurt Hildebrandt

Recently released graduation data from the Minnesota Department of Education shows Saint Peter High School’s graduation rate for the class of 2018 to be well above the state average and better than the previous year for SPHS.

In 2018, Saint Peter High School saw 95.3 percent of its students (142 out of 149) graduate compared to 89.7 percent (104 out of 116) in 2017, the only time in the last five years that SPHS’s rate dipped below the 90-percent mark. The Minnesota statewide graduation rate for the class of 2018 was 83.2 percent.

“It’s also important to note that Saint Peter High School has more graduation requirements than required by the state of Minnesota. A diploma from Saint Peter High School really means something, and kids have to work hard to achieve that,” Saint Peter High School Principal Annette Engeldinger said. “I’m incredibly proud of our staff and their commitment to student success.”

In a comparison over the past five years, the SPHS class of 2018’s rate of 95.3 percent was only behind the 95.6 percent graduation rate of the school’s class of 2015.

“Teachers are incredibly supportive and dedicated to student success. When students reciprocate with a commitment to graduate, we see outstanding results,” Sykora said.

“We are also fortunate in our district to have several options for credit recovery when students do experience a course failure.”

State’s graduation rate improve as well

More Minnesota seniors than ever before graduated in 2018, with 55,869 students—83.2 percent of the graduating class overall, the state’s highest graduation rate on record—achieving the honor and moving on to career and college. Additionally, 3,641 students from earlier classes also earned their diplomas in 2018, graduating five, six, or seven years after beginning high school.

“Graduating high school is a critical step on every student’s path to find their own success,” said Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker. “In Minnesota, we do not give up on our students. Behind every single data point in this year’s historic graduation rate, I not only see the unique stories of individual students, but also the hard work that educators, administrators, coaches and families put into supporting the needs of our students so they could reach this important milestone.”

Graduation rates increased statewide for all racial/ethnic student groups this year, as well as for English learners, students receiving special education services, and students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals. Over the past five years, black students—who increased 7.2 percentage points—saw the largest increase.

During this same period:

  • American Indian/Alaska Native students increased by 2.8 percentage points.
    Asian students increased by 4.2 percentage points.
    Hispanic students increased by 3.6 percentage points.
    Students identifying as two or more races increased by 3 percentage points.
    Students receiving special education services increased by 4 percentage points.
    English learners increased by 2.5 percentage points.
    Students eligible for free or reduced-price meals increased by 3.5 percentage points.

“I am proud that the graduation gap is closing, but I am not satisfied,” said Commissioner Ricker. “As we move forward, I am eager to partner with communities across our state to better support all of our students.”

Saint Peter Public Schools logo
Kurt Hildebrandt

The Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC) will hold their next meeting at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, April 16 in the Community Room (next to commons area) at Saint Peter High School.