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Williston Basin School District superintendent placed on administrative leave

Dr. Jeff Thake
Dr. Jeff Thake(kfyr)
Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 4:49 PM CDT
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WILLISTON, N.D. - Just two months into the inaugural year of the unified Williston Basin School District 7, its board president announced that superintendent Dr. Jeff Thake has been placed on administrative leave.

Thake has been the superintendent of the former Williston Public School District #1 for the past three years. Educators say he brought change to the district through individualized learning and played a key role in creating the Innovation Academy.

“I consider Dr. Thake to be one of the top educational leaders. That’s just me speaking, but I think he has done wonderful things for [district 1] as an educational leader,” said Eric Rooke, who served as the band director for District 1 and now District 7.

So, it came as a shock to the community when the school board held an executive session meeting on October 22 to discuss legal advice and guidance on potential negotiations with Thake. It comes following a meeting between board member John Kasmer and Thake a week earlier.

“I told him in light of the financial information that we’ve gotten, that it’s going to be a very tough road for him,” said Kasmer.

The financial information Kasmer mentioned involves financial discrepancies from District 1 from last school year. According to documents obtained from District 7, District 1 fell short of their revenue forecast, causing them to be $2 to $4 million short of where they expected to be when they formed District 7.

Kasmer believes that, as superintendent, Thake should have been aware of this issue and other board members questioned his actions after that meeting.

“If a single board member walks in and says something to Dr. Thake, his responsibility is to go to Mr. Jundt and tell him what happened. Not walk out and pack his office. That is not the reaction of a leader,” said Cory Swint, board member.

President Chris Jundt said Thake has been looking around for other places of employment.

“He did inform me that he has applied elsewhere and may be a finalist for some of those openings already,” said Jundt.

Thake has faced a lot of challenges since the reorganization. He accepted a one-year contract despite being employed by District 1 for multiple years and was challenged by the board in September on mask mandates. Since hiring a superintendent can be a lengthy process, it is possible that Thake has been looking for another job prior to his confrontation with Kasmer.

“[Speaking] as the band director, he would absolutely be missed. He’s been truly supportive of the arts and education in general,” said Rooke.

In a statement released by Jundt on Friday, Thake remains under contract with the district through June 30, 2022 and that no formal action was made during Friday’s meeting that would change that. However, with this news coming into light, it remains to be seen whether or not the strained relationship between Thake and the board can be repaired or if it will soon be time to move on.

Thake’s semi-annual performance review is coming up next month. Jundt said to the board that Thake is concerned about the evaluation and would prefer to “look at other options.”

Your News Leader has reached out to Dr. Thake for comment, but have not heard back.

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Williston Education Association calls for Williston Basin School District President’s resignation

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