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Uselman accepts Bismarck position

Perham-Dent Superintendent Tamara Uselman will be leaving the district after eight years. Photo by Ashley Bergen.

After eight years in Perham, Superintendent Tamara Uselman will be leaving the school district.

Uselman will begin her new post as superintendent of Bismarck Public Schools in North Dakota's capital city on July 1, but says she's fully committed to helping initiate the new superintendent any way she can.

"I'll be involved as much as the board wants me to be," she said. "I'm deeply committed to working here and will be here until the end."

'A rare opportunity'

Uselman will be the first female superintendent Bismarck has ever had. She says she's excited to begin a new opportunity.

"So much is attractive about it," she said. "It has a good reputation, and I admire the work that's been done there. The city is gorgeous and the district has steady growth. It's a small city but you get the challenges of a large school district without being in urban environment."

She said the opportunity to lead the Bismarck school district is rare and she couldn't pass it up.

"It's the largest district in a place with the same kind of values that you hold in your heart and soul, those things make it an opportunity that I couldn't pass on."

She also complimented the state of North Dakota for the work ethic of its people and how it funds schools.

"North Dakota is funding schools properly but not extravagantly," she said.

While she is excited for the move, leaving Perham won't be easy, she says.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime for me but the cost is I won't be here working with these people, and that's a heavy cost."

Uselman said she isn't sure how the board will go about selecting a new superintendent as it is thinking about restructuring administrative positions with both she and high school Principal John Rutten now leaving.

"The hard part is the district shares a business manager. There's business and office work that the superintendent has picked up now."

Uselman said the board has discussed rolling the positions of superintendent, principal and business manager into one, which she is warning against.

"That's a lot even for a workaholic," she said. "I think they just need some time to talk it over. I know they know their job and their job is to do what's right for the district in the long run."

'A pearl among schools'

Uselman said the chance for someone new to step in in Perham is also a rare one.

"I think this school district is such a pearl among schools and I think it's a great chance for someone to step in and take the district to the next level."

She said the next superintendent will have the chance to work with some of the most talented administrators and teachers.

"For a chance for a leader to work with this team... I think that's a chance of a career. They work incredibly hard. Despite budget issues, for four years running, teachers have stepped up and made things work the best they can. I look back and realize I was lucky to work with those kind of folks, to me Perham is a place of great promise."

While it won't be easy for the next superintendent, as the district is being forced to cut at least $500,000 from next year's budget, Uselman believes the biggest challenge will be to keep the focus on student improvement and achievement.

"Despite a storm of budget issues we need to keep the focus on student learning," she said. "When everybody can stay committed to that, it's tough but it's not impossible to deal with the budget."

Uselman has been superintendent in Perham since 2003. She worked as principal in New York Miss from 1999 to 2003. She holds degrees from Bemidji State University, Moorhead State University and the University of St. Thomas. She is now studying for her doctorate at the University of North Dakota and expects to graduate in the fall of 2013.

While in Perham she has: Assisted in writing a bill for shared services for rural schools to be introduced to the Minnesota legislature; testified to the Minnesota legislative committees on the funding of career and technical education; written several successful grants, including a $200,000 technology literacy grant; served on governing board of American Association of School Administrators and local and regional boards; and has been nominated for numerous awards including the Kay Jacobs Memorial Award, Perham Lions Investment Award, and the 2011 Region IV Administrator of Excellence for the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

'Damn good here'

"I'm thankful to have worked in Perham, deeply thankful," Uselman said. "This is a good community and a good school. They must take care of their school. Perham's been really good to me and for me. It's work that I've loved. Difficult, challenging, exhausting, mind boggling... but it's been fun."

While it hasn't been easy and mistakes have been made, Uselman said Perham is a wonderful place that will always be in her heart.

"We're not perfect but we have built a really good system over the years," she said. "We're not perfect but we're damn good here."