When the Minot Public School Board went looking for a superintendent in 2002, they had a list of characteristics that included someone who was honest, trustworthy, a good leader, able to make decisions and a charismatic speaker, among other admirable trait.
They ultimately hired David Looysen, who will retire next June, and whom the board thought met the criteria. "That's Dave," said board president Nancy Langseth.
The self-deprecating Looysen wasn't quite so sure he agreed. He said he's humbled by the praise. After all, in his eyes all he was doing was getting up every day and going to a job he really enjoys.
Andrea Johnson/MDN •
Superintendent David Looysen will retire from the Minot Public School District next June.
Looysen has spent the past 37 years as an educator, first as a teacher and coach and later as a principal and superintendent. He grew up in Carpio in a big family and spent a lot of time taking care of siblings.
"That's why I got into teaching," said Looysen, who always knew he wanted to work with kids.
He graduated from Minot State University with a biology major and was advised to pick up some coaching credentials as well. He taught and coached at schools in Tappen, Carrington and Granville in the years after he left college. His parents and siblings moved to Carrington before he got the teaching job there, so he ended up teaching some of his younger siblings, including a younger brother who balked at addressing his big brother as "Mr. Looysen" in class. Even so, his brother sometimes did call him "Mr," said Looysen. Later, Looysen came back to Minot and taught there in the 1980s. In 1989, he went off to get his doctorate from Kansas State University.
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His wife Marsha, a high school English teacher whom Looysen said is a very talented person, more talented than he is, was a recipient of the North Dakota Teachers Scholar award that year, received a full salary while she was conducting research. They were able to subsist on her salary while Looysen completed his doctorate. Looysen went on to serve as an assistant principal and coach in Abilene, Kan., and went on to become a principal and later superintendent at Hawarden, Iowa, for four years before he took the superintendent's job in Jamestown.
Looysen said he always had an eye on returning to North Dakota and hopefully to Minot.
"This is home," said Looysen, and the culture is familiar to him. He was thrilled when he had a chance to take the superintendent's position in Minot eight years ago. He's tried to be a hands-on administrator, making frequent visits to different school buildings and attending games and concerts because "that's where the kids are."
His day usually starts early. On stormy days, he's up at 4:30 a.m. driving in his usual route around the city and out to Minot Air Force Base to try to decide if the roads are too bad to hold school that day. Then, regardless of what decision he makes, he can expect to hear angry phone calls from parents either wondering why he did or did not call off school. Those are things he probably doesn't enjoy as much, but that isn't a typical day. Looysen said he can count on one hand the things he hasn't liked about being superintendent. There are many more things he does.
One thing he enjoys is being able to represent Minot at conferences and other events. Minot is viewed as an exemplary school district statewide and nationally and it's fun for him to be able to represent it.
He's proud of many of the things that the school district has accomplished in those eight years, including developing a solid strategic plan to plan for the future and a focus on student learning that emphasizes boosting student achievement.
Even though the district hasn't been successful in getting voters to approve a building fund, the district has been able to make repairs and improvements on building because property tax valuations have increased over the past few years. The district has completed reroofed all of its buildings, upgraded electrical connections in many schools, added a vocational and technical center addition at Minot High School-Magic City Campus, and renovated a former medical clinic into the new Washington Elementary at half the cost it would have been to build a new elementary. The district has also added interactive boards to every classroom, added 14 classrooms, two gymnasiums and a commons area.
Looysen said when he arrived in the district, Minot, like other school districts in the state, was anticipating a continuing decline in student enrollment. The decline stopped a few years ago and now Looysen is seeing gains in student numbers every year thanks to an oil boom and an increase in the population at Minot Air Force Base.
Looysen anticipates the district will eventually have to build another elementary school south of Minot and likely will have to pursue a building fund. Minot is the only major school district in the state without one. But Looysen said those will be issues for the new superintendent to tackle.
Looysen said he will be available to help out with the transition if the new superintendent wants him to, but he won't be involved in the school system unless the superintendent wants it. The new superintendent won't keep him away from attending games or concerts, though. One of the things Looysen looks forward to is being able to go to more games and concerts after he retires.
The other thing he looks forward to in his retirement is being able to spend more time with his family, his wife Marsha and their two sons. Looysen doesn't have grandchildren yet but said he would love to have some.
"I love kids," said Looysen.