Carlton Schools superintendent to step down

Superintendent John Engstrom will leave the district at the end of the school year.

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Carlton High School. (Katie Rohman /

CARLTON — South Terrace Elementary Principal Donita Stepan is expected to become the new superintendent of the Carlton School District next school year, as Superintendent John Engstrom announced his intention to step down when his contract expires in June.

The plan was shared at the school board’s Monday, Feb. 13 committee of the whole meeting as a budget-reduction option following recent discussions by the certified negotiations committee. A vote for the change could take place as soon as the next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 21, but likely won’t occur until March, Engstrom told the Cloquet Pine Journal via email.

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Carlton Superintendent John Engstrom
Jamey Malcomb / 2020 File / Cloquet Pine Journal

He went on to share that the savings associated with the plan, if approved, could come in around $100,000.

"That will depend on some details that haven't been fully vetted yet, and how things actually roll out next year. There's the original plan, and then there are events that cause the plan to be modified. I'm hopeful that it will end up being in the neighborhood of $100,000," he said.

Engstrom was originally hired by the district on a one-year contract in the summer of 2020. Stepan, who was a finalist for the position, went on to serve as superintendent of the Thief River Falls School District before being hired as principal at South Terrace.


According to Engstrom, her experience in both capacities makes the change feasible.

“If we had brought somebody in who was a first-year principal without any prior administrative experience, then the plan that I’d be proposing would be a little different,” he said. ”... I just think that it’s the best plan moving forward.”

Stepan said she’s on board with the decision, despite the added responsibility and work load that will come with it.

“It’s definitely going to be a big job,” Stepan said. "But it makes sense for school districts our size to do this same thing because it’s difficult to afford that many administrators for the number of students that we have.”

If the proposal is approved, Carlton Middle/High School Principal Warren Peterson would likely begin working three days a week instead of two, according to Engstrom.

Teachers within the district will likely take on additional roles as well — something that is already taking place at South Terrace.

“One of the things that I have tried to work hard on here is building capacity with the people that we have there — making sure that we’re delegating some of the responsibilities and teachers are taking on some of those,” Stepan said. “We’ve done that, we’ve done a really good job of that, and the teachers have really stepped up and done a lot of that.

The Carlton School Board will reconvene at 7 p.m. Tuesday for its regular board meeting.


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