Dittberner’s goal for district: ‘We want excellence in everything’

Tim Dittberner has taken over the reins of the New Prague Area Schools as the new superintendent. (Chuck Kajer Photo)

One week into his new job as superintendent of the New Prague Area Schools, Tim Dittberner said there are two words that describe his feelings.

“Excited and enthusiastic.” No one who knows Dittberner is surprised by that. Those two words describe his approach in just about any aspect of his career, whether as a basketball coach, a classroom teacher, an activities director or, for the last 10 years, as principal at New Prague Middle School.

Dittberner brings an enthusiasm that is matched by a work ethic that made enough of an impression on members of the New Prague Area School Board to tap him as the district’s new leader.

Dittberner, a native of Oakdale, attended Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. His education career started at Le Sueur High School in the early 1980s, as a teacher and coach. He moved on to South St. Paul High School in 1988, and in the mid-1990s the superintendent there persuaded him to take on the job as activities director on an interim basis.

“I had never thought about administration,” he said. “Teaching and coaching is all I ever wanted to do. But things just fell into place.” He later served as assistant principal and activities director at South St. Paul before arriving in New Prague in 2003 as middle school principal.

He said he never really thought much about becoming a superintendent, until about a year and a half ago, while working with superintendent Larry Kauzlarich. “I started picking his brain and working on a superintendent’s license. It was almost like an internship,” Dittberner said.

One advantage he has in the new position is that he knows the district.

“I know the strengths, and I know what areas need to be addressed,” he said. “And I know the people... A big part of leadership is making personal connections.”

He says it’s funny how things have worked out. “I spent 10 years as a teacher, 10 years as an AD and 10 years as a principal. And now, this...”

After 30 years of having almost daily contact with students, he said working in the district office will take some getting used to. “But I still want to get into the school buildings, and talk to staff and students.”

Does he see himself in the same position 10 years from now?

“Possibly… I think the district needs stability, and I’m not planning to go anywhere. I’ll stay here as long as they’ll let me.

“I love this community,” he adds. “It has so many things going for it. I’m fortunate to have been here for 10 years… 10 more years would be fun.”

Dittberner said there are three main tasks that the district will be addressing. The first involves security issues. Asecurity audit is being doneby a consulting firm and they are expected to make recommendations to the school board before the next school year starts. Many districts are going through a similar process, and the bomb threats and false shooting report experienced in the district earlier this year have increased awareness locally.

Technology is another issue the district will be addressing. A committee has been meeting for several months to make recommendations on updating the district’s technology. That committee will report back to the board later this year.

The third project is the renovation of the Trojan Field athletic complex, which the board approved in May. Dittberner said school staff is working with architects and looking at other schools’ facilities and will prepare a final plan to present to the board so construction can begin next summer.

Dittberner said his ultimate goal is for New Prague to be one of the best districts in all aspects.

“We want the best language arts department, the best technology department, the best music department, the best coaches… We want excellence in everything.”

He said he doesn’t believe in sacrificing one area to improve things in another. "There’s a concept I read in a book by Jim Collins, Built to Last. He talks about the ‘Genius of AND’ versus the ‘Tyranny of OR.’ I believe you can have a strong academic program, strong music and arts program and strong athletic programs.

“Families want to be part of a school that is safe, that has a strong academic program and offers a comprehensive program of athletics and activities.”

And five years from now, how will he know that he’s done a good job?

“If we have improvement academically, not just in test scores, but in surveys. If our people are satisfied, and if we are a district where people come to us to see how things are done, that will be a good sign.”