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Building schools and providing choices.

Those are the things Superintendent Randy Nelson is most proud of in his near-decade as superintendent of the La Crosse school district, a tenure that will end with his retirement in June.

“This is something I’ve been pondering for quite some time, just in terms of the longevity of my career,” Nelson said Friday. “When I look at the institution and what’s happening in the district, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and the things we’ve been able to build on. Now, I think it’s time for someone else to come in and move the needle.”

Randy Nelson

Nelson

Nelson, 59, joined the La Crosse district in 2008 as the associate superintendent of instruction. Before that, he was the director of curriculum and instruction for Rochester (Minn.) Public Schools.

In 2011, the school board tapped Nelson to replace outgoing Superintendent Jerry Kember, and the Cambridge, Minnesota, native wasted no time leaving his mark on the district.

In his second year on the job, Nelson helped push through a $15.7 million referendum to construct Northside Elementary School, the district’s first new building in decades. Northside replaced the aging Roosevelt and Franklin elementary schools, and gave families on La Crosse’s north side a state-of-the-art facility.

More recently, the district purchased a downtown bar and music venue, The Brickhouse, intending for it to be the new home of the La Crosse Design Institute and 7 Rivers Community High School.

“We were really excited for Northside Elementary School and this notion of bringing two schools together into one. It worked tremendously for a lot of people,” Nelson said. “We’re also really excited to have over 100 of our high school students downtown. From a bricks and mortar standpoint, those have been really important pieces for us.”

Under Nelson, the district has also worked to give students and families more options when choosing a school.

Hamilton and Northside adopted year-round calendars designed to prevent students from regressing academically over the summer.

The district also created or built upon a handful of school academies — health science, construction, engineering — so that students would have a tailored experience.

“We believe that one size does not fit all, and that’s a philosophy that goes back decades in this district,” Nelson said. “The academies play a significant role in helping us work on some sort of plan for every child, to make sure that each child has a spot and is recognized and is noticed. That doesn’t always happen in other districts.”

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Nelson said he has been contending with budget and facility questions raised by the district’s steadily falling enrollment, and that the new superintendent will have to face those issues head-on.

“When you have declining enrollment and revenue going down, you also have aging buildings that will need to be addressed,” he said. “And how do you maintain strong and comprehensive programs, and choices for students and parents, at a time when enrollment is down?”

At the moment, however, the district’s focus is identifying Nelson’s successor.

Mark White, director of human resources for the district, said school board members will discuss the search-and-replacement process during Monday’s meeting.

It will be up to the board to determine whether the district will use a search firm and when exactly a hire will be made.

White did say that Nelson’s announcement leaves the district plenty of time to make a decision. A successor should be named sometime in the spring, he said.

As for Nelson, retiring does not mean withdrawing from his prominent place in the community.

He and his wife, Lynn, a retired teacher, will continue living in La Crosse. And Nelson said he’s considering opportunities in “the private sector and the education sector.”

“My plan right now is to sit for a while, just enjoy not having the weight of constant, 24/7 decision-making,” he said. “But our intent is to be here, to continue serving the community in ways we’re passionate about.”


Kyle Farris can be reached at (608) 791-8234 or kfarris@lacrossetribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Kyle_A_Farris.

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