Carlton School Board approves contract for new superintendent

Donita Stepan will continue to serve as the principal of South Terrace Elementary.

Principal greets students
South Terrace Elementary School Principal Donita Stepan greets students on the first day of school Sept. 6 in Carlton. Stepan will also serve as superintendent starting July 1.
Jake Przytarski / 2022 file / Cloquet Pine Journal

CARLTON — The school board unanimously approved a three-year contract Monday, March 20, for new superintendent Donita Stepan.

Carlton School District Superintendent John Engstrom announced in February his intention to step down when his contract expires in June.

Stepan's contract, which goes into effect July 1 and runs through June 30, 2026, was brought before the board under the recommendation of the certified negotiations committee. The committee includes board Chair Julianne Emerson and board members Tim Hagenah and Sam Ojibway.

Under the conditions of the contract, Stepan will maintain her role as South Terrace Elementary School principal in addition to serving as superintendent. Her salary will start at $134,860 in the first year before increasing to $137,557 in 2024-25 and to $140,308 in 2025-26.

“It’s a very fair contract,” Emerson said. “I couldn’t possibly have a higher recommendation in terms of not only the contract, but of Donita as well.”


As part of the restructured plan, Carlton Middle/High School Principal Warren Peterson is expected to move to a three-day work week from two this academic year. The board agreed to post a dean of students position internally, which would require a teacher to drop down to either three or four instructional classes per day to accommodate the added duties.

“That would give the district and this building a dean who is here every day and their time would kind of be intermittent throughout the day, because they wouldn’t have classes all the way around,” Engstrom explained. “And then it would kind of be that daily presence.”

In discussions with business manager Norman Nelis, Emerson said the total savings under the restructured plan would be $85,000-$90,000.

Stepan clarified who would be in charge if she is unavailable or not in the South Terrace building if an issue arises.

“I can tell you that I have put together an organizational structure for my building that I'm working on right now that just brings clarity to sort of everybody’s responsibilities and one of the people that I’ve talked to is Rachel Dennstedt,” Stepan said.

Stepan said that Dennstedt, a special education teacher, is already in charge of bus routing and fire drill exercises as well.

“She has leadership qualities that impress me every day,” Stepan said of Dennstedt. “Her class sizes are smaller and she has more flexibility within there and she does a lot of our safety stuff right now, so end-of-day bus routing, fire drills.”

The board will reconvene for its committee of the whole meeting April 11 at 7 p.m.

Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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