A born educator, Tim Lutz looks back on 4 years as Superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools – Bemidji Pioneer | Wender Mind Kids

A born educator, Tim Lutz looks back on 4 years as Superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools - Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Tim Lutz did not intend to pursue a career in education administration.

Lutz’s father was the principal at the Tri-County School in Karlstad, Minnesota for 31 years, where Lutz graduated. His mother was also a language teacher, although these early encounters with education did not initially stick with him.

“Initially, I resisted education. I got a different job in the business world after moving from a small town and exploring a larger area,” explained Lutz.

He spent 10 to 12 years in various business positions but always found himself in one of two dilemmas.

“Every time I found a job, I either seemed to get bored of that work quickly, or I gravitated towards the educational part of it,” Lutz said. “So in a business position, I gravitated toward the workspace that educated people and where I was involved in teaching others what to do.”

Having previously earned his bachelor’s degree in English, Lutz decided to return to school to earn his teaching certificate and complete his teaching experience as an undergraduate. In his thirties he realized he was a natural born educator.

“I finally realized that teaching was in my nature,” he said. “After resisting, I realized that education is what I am and what I love to do.”

Lutz found his first teaching job in Norman County East and remained an English teacher for a number of years until the district superintendent recommended him for a position as a school counselor, which became vacant.

“They noticed that I liked connecting and interacting with students and told me, ‘This isn’t just a job for you. You enjoy it’”, Lutz reflects. “I thought about it for a while and went back to school and worked as a consultant for the next four years.”

His attention shifted to administration after contemplating who had the ability to change things — particularly around budgeting, policy and programming — in schools.

Wanting to be a leader, he earned his principal certification and served as principal for four years. Eventually he earned his superintendent license and got his first job as superintendent at Kelliher Public Schools where he worked for 10 years.

In 2018, members of search and consulting firm School Exec Connect reached out to Lutz to express his interest in working for Bemidji Area Schools after Jim Hess retired. Lutz initially did not apply.

“Since I was in a small school, I didn’t think about applying. I figured the small school experience might even put me off getting selected for an interview,” he recalled. “However, the group that works with the school board had heard my name a couple of times, and after I applied, I received a call saying I was one of five applicants invited for an interview became.”

Before long, Lutz was named the lone finalist for the Bemidji Area Schools Board of Supervisors, which he took over in July 2018.

“And the rest is history,” said Lutz.

Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz attends his first school board meeting in July 2018 at the district’s downtown office.

File photo by Pioneer

After announcing his retirement plans at a school board meeting in January, Lutz reflected on his four years in the district that could have been 10 or 20 years.

“The last two years have felt much longer,” said Lutz. “It’s been very challenging with the pandemic and the political overtones that come with it.”

With the second half of his tenure plagued by the coronavirus pandemic, two failed referendum attempts and tense disagreements with certain community circles, Lutz cited the difficulty of building trust in a school district the size of Bemidji.

“The bigger an entity like a school district, the more connected we are to government,” Lutz said.

Referring to attempts to increase referendum filing in November 2020 and 2021, Lutz detailed the difficulty of informing the public about school funding and budgeting procedures, which he described as “extremely complicated”.

“If people don’t understand how school funding works, it’s difficult to build trust when they go to the community to ask for funding. When we go to a referendum, it becomes a challenge when people don’t understand “why don’t we manage our money better” when the money isn’t there,” Lutz said. “Then throw a pandemic on all of that and it becomes a perfect storm.”

Coping with the pandemic has been made easier for Lutz in part by relying on information and guidance from Sanford Health, Beltrami County Health and the Minnesota Department of Health.

“We had to rely on these experts and were sometimes criticized because some people disagreed with a lot of this information,” Lutz said. “But for me, it wasn’t about listening to the loudest voices, which weren’t necessarily voices trained in science and medicine.”

He saw it as his personal responsibility to support his colleagues amid heated disagreements over the district’s masking mandate, along with discussions of virtual versus in-person learning and vaccine choice.

“Navigating this for two years made everything else we did and every other challenge we had that much more challenging,” added Lutz. “But I showed up every day to support the people I worked with on a personal level, not just professionally.”

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Superintendent Tim Lutz listens as members of the Bemidji school board discuss hiring a firm to help find a new superintendent during a special meeting Thursday, February 3, 2022, in the district boardroom.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

When things got hectic, Lutz relied on his family and colleagues for a support system, and also credited his outdoor hobbies and faith for keeping him grounded.

“My wife has been by my side the whole time and is a good sounding board when I need to process something,” he said. “I have two adult children in the community and it’s nice to have them around. I have a great relationship with people throughout the district, which makes all the difference in the world.”

In his 14 years as Superintendent he has found the importance of surrounding yourself with good people to work with and allowing them to grow in their roles.

“Part of leadership development is giving them the support they need, removing obstacles, and making sure I’m not an obstacle—that I’m not getting in the way of their work,” Lutz said. “One person cannot do everything.”

He also emphasized the value of relationship management.

“Building relationships with students, staff and parents is important to build trust. It helps drive initiatives, relationships keep students in school, and relationships with parents help with that.”

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Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz speaks during an Emergency Response Committee meeting Monday, March 7, 2022, at the District Office.

Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Along with these lessons, Lutz’s tenure has brought him some notable accomplishments that he can carry with him into retirement.

At Kelliher, Lutz helped earn a grant to set up a STEAM Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Maths Manufacturing Laboratory that provided the district with new equipment for the Arts and Industrial Technology departments.

At both Kelliher and Bemidji, Lutz’s greatest pride is working around improving school safety, culture and climate.

He cited the Bemidji Area Schools’ emergency protocols, particularly the Standard Response Protocol put in place last school year, as well as Kelliher’s increased security and use of cameras, door buzzers and locks, among other security measures.

“This work is about making school a place where students feel safer not just physically but emotionally,” said Lutz. “We want every student to feel that this is a safe place where they want to be who they want to be. It’s an ongoing project, but it improves attendance, behavior, grades, and eventually graduation rates. We have made great progress and I am proud of that.”

He also cited multiple student accomplishments ranging from athletic to musical to academic and highlighted the over $3 million in scholarships the Class of 2022 has received.

“Many of these students go to college either locally or across the country,” Lutz said. “So many students excelled in our system and did well.”

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BHS Superintendent Tim Lutz displays a 1922 Bemidji yearbook during his speech at the Bemidji High School commencement ceremony Saturday, May 28, 2022 at the Sanford Center.

Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Lutz never set a specific goal for when he would retire, but after the pandemic years and reaching retirement age – he turns 65 this year – he decided it was time.

“I’m one of many people across the state and country who have chosen to retire as part of the ‘big retirement,’ or ‘big retirement,'” Lutz said. “After a difficult few years it’s time to focus on other areas like my hobbies and my family.”

While retiring from Bemidji Area Schools, he will step in as interim superintendent at Red Lake Schools for the 2022-2023 school year. Lutz cited a shortage of superintendents across the state that has caused many counties to struggle with their openings.

“I wasn’t looking for anything, but something important enough to serve the community came up,” Lutz said. “Since Red Lake was a neighbor of Kelliher and Bemidji, I figured it was my duty to help out somewhere. I felt like a person who likes to help.”

With Crookston Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Olson assuming leadership of Bemidji Area Schools effective July 1, Lutz has spent some time showing Olson the ins and outs of the area to ensure a seamless transition when he starts .

“I know he will continue to see the importance of having a positive school climate and culture in all buildings and maintaining school safety and emergency preparedness as a top priority,” Lutz said of Olson. “He’s also very concerned about the budget and is focused on retaining students and bringing the students we’ve lost back to charters, private schools and homeschooling. These student numbers allow us to increase our sales.”

For Olson’s efforts, however, Lutz will watch with pride as he leaves the district he’s called home for the past four years.

“I believe this is a district that serves its students and the community well,” Lutz said, “and I’m very honored to have been a part of it.”

A farewell party for Lutz will take place on Wednesday, June 29, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the district board.