At its Dec. 7, regular meeting, the Orono Schools Board of Education voted 6-0 to accept Superintendent Dr. Karen Orcutt’s formal notice of retirement. In a second action, the board unanimously approved Dr. Kristine Flesher, Orono’s current Director of Special Services, as her successor. Both actions are effective July 1, 2021.

Orcutt, who will retire after 17 years as top administrator, said, “I have been humbled by the great people I have met in my years of leadership for Orono Schools—outstanding teachers, talented staff, committed parents and generous community members. All have made Orono Schools what they are today. I am also indebted to a great many brilliant mentors, including Orono School Board chairs Jack Veach, John Malone, and Robert Tunheim. Their leadership and consistency provided unmatched support that benefitted our students and staff. I look forward to serving the needs of our learning community during my remaining months as superintendent and assisting with a smooth transition. We have much work ahead before the end of another unprecedented school year.”

Among the many programs initiated at Orono Schools during her tenure, Orcutt sees character-based education as a crowning and impactful achievement. In retirement, she hopes to be a strong voice and support for others interested in initiatives that couple academic scholarship with character education. She looks forward to embracing her love of nature, study and love of animals, and time with friends before continuing in her life’s work.

Speaking for the board, Chair Robert Tunheim said, “The board is deeply grateful for Dr. Orcutt’s vision these many years. As a role model, she demonstrates values-focused leadership every day. As an administrator, she has encouraged a level of professional development among her team that has made succession planning possible. Selecting a superintendent is one of the most important decisions any board of education undertakes. The Orono school board unanimously believes in the strength of management continuity and confidently decided to pursue a succession planning strategy five years ago. This decision led to the selection and careful consideration of high-quality internal candidates. After extensive vetting, the board unanimously selected Orono’s next superintendent, Dr. Flesher, and is committed to a timely and well-designed transition process. We look forward to continuing our strong partnership with Dr. Flesher in the coming years.”

Dr. Flesher began work in Orono Schools 27 years ago as a school psychologist. She worked throughout the district in early childhood education through post-secondary grades. In 2004, she was named the Director of Special Services. She currently leads and specializes in the areas of special education, gifted and talented, guidance and mental health, English Language Learners, emergency and health procedures, and character education. She has led the COVID 19 response team since spring 2020.

“I am honored to serve and am grateful to the school board for this valuable transition time,” Flesher said. “I owe so much to Dr. Orcutt for her mentorship. She has been a model of leadership for our entire school community and I look forward to working alongside her during the transition. I will use the foundation of excellence in Orono Schools as a springboard for continued growth and success for all students and our incredible staff. Thank you to the Board for their trust and faith in my leadership and vision for Orono Schools.”

“Flesher earned an Education Doctorate in Leadership from Bethel University in 2020. She holds bachelors and masters degrees as well as an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Psychology from Minnesota State University – Moorhead. She obtained several administrative licenses from Hamline University in both 2004 and 2016 and spent several years in a local Masters of Divinity Program. Dr. Flesher lives in Independence with her husband John, and daughters Jordan and Taylor, both Orono students.”

“I am thrilled with the school board’s selection of Dr. Flesher as Orono’s next superintendent,” Orcutt said. “She is a deeply committed and passionately hard-working leader. Dr. Flesher has deep knowledge of all facets of education and lives the values of this district. Her knowledge of character education, gifted and talented, special education, and multi-cultural education will solidify our commitment to serving all children. The future is bright for the district.”

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