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Galesburg Superintendent Finalists Meet the Public

T.J. Carson
Steve Wilder (left) and John Asplund (right) speak to community members at Tuesday's forum at Lombard Middle School. Both are seeking to take over the Galesburg superintendent job from Ralph Grimm, who is retiring in June.

Two candidates are left in the running to become the Galesburg School District's next superintendent. They each made their case to the public Tuesday night at Lombard Middle School.

The two finalists are Steve Wilder, superintendent of the Knoxville School District, and John Asplund, superintendent of the Farmington Central School District. 

A third candidate, Bradley Cox, superintendent of the Erie School District, also participated in Tuesday evening's forum. But Cox told Tri States Public Radio on Wednesday morning that he was no longer in the running for the job. Cox didn't elaborate as to why.

Wilder has been Knoxville's superintendent since 2010. He has also served as an assistant principal at University High School in Normal, and was a principal, science teacher, and coach at Olympia Middle School in Stanford.

Wilder said he wanted to throw his hat in the ring for what he called a "rare opportunity."

"It's a bigger district, it's a more complex operation, and yet it's close to where we live in Knoxville and close to family that we have in Knoxville," Wilder said.

Wilder also cited his familiarity with the district and his connections to Galesburg as strengths. He said those include working with the district's current superintendent, Ralph Grimm, and previous superintendents, and he pointed to his work with the Knox-Warren Special Education District and his involvement with various Galesburg-based civic clubs and non-profits.

Asplund said he is also familiar with Knox County. He is a graduate of the ROWVA School District and grew up outside of Oneida. Asplund said he still keeps tabs on the area and is aware of what is happening in Galesburg.

"Reading the Register-Mail every day and listening to the radio and talking to family and friends, knowing at least somewhat of the history, both long-term and short-term, I feel like I'd be ready to come in with at least some background knowledge to be able to hit the ground running," Asplund said.

Asplund has been superintendent of the Farmington Central School District since 2011. He has also served as superintendent of the Lake Bluff, Reed-Custer, and Villa Grove School Districts. Asplund has been a principal at El Paso and Hammond High Schools, and he's been a teacher at Villa Grove and Knoxville High Schools.

Wilder and Asplund took numerous questions during Tuesday's forum.  The pair met with and were asked questions from three different groups: the school board, district staff, and community members and parents. Wilder and Asplund spent around 45 minutes with each group.

They were asked about a variety of topics during the community portion of the forum.

On the state budget and how that impacts the district:

  • Wilder - Wants to find a way to live within the district's means, and not overspend if there's no money. Would also use a combination of raising revenue and cutting expenses to balance the budget. Wants to stay in touch with legislators about issues with state funding. Says the district needs to do what it can locally to keep finances in order.
  • Asplund - Wants to focus more on revenue sources that the district can rely upon, such as local property taxes. Says there needs to be a mindset that the state cannot fix the district's problems and the district should not rely on the state. Looked at insurance costs in Farmington to lower costs, and didn't fill positions left open due to retirements.

On their management style with staff:

  • Wilder - Wants to build a consensus with teachers and staff, and work with a collaborative mindset. Also wants to have an open door policy and be open to new ideas. Wants to mentor principals and staff.
  • Asplund - Wants to have an open door policy. Says he wants to build ongoing relationships with teachers and staff. And to be approachable and listen.

On the value of Galesburg North, the district's alternative high school:

  • Wilder - Supports the idea because it gives a chance for students to succeed in a non-traditional setting. Says he was moved when he heard GHS North students talk to legislators about the value of the program.
  • Asplund - Says it can be a positive for the district.

On working to reduce bullying in schools:

  • Wilder - Doesn't believing bullying is worse today than 10 years ago. Believes it's more prominent because of social media and technology. Doesn't believe it can be stopped forever, and would address it on case-by-case basis
  • Asplund - Wants adults to set examples for students on how to behave, and come from a place of positivity.

On having grade school attendance centers:

  • Wilder - Says he doesn't have a lot of experience with them, but was considered while he was at Olympia. Believes positives are having all teachers in one grade level working together, but has concerns about travel costs and taking kids out of familiar neighborhoods for school.
  • Asplund - Says the pros would be easier for staff to collaborate and develop plans better if all in one building. Says he was superintendent at a school district that had attendance centers and saw improvements students from lower performance schools. Also has concerns about increased transportation costs.