Two Years and Three Seats Later

feedbackOn Monday, November 24th, 2014 the WGSD community will have the opportunity to attend a presentation by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB). The topic, taken from Monday’s updated meeting agenda, is, “Presentation of Survey/Focus Groups information”.  The WASB is scheduled for a 30 minute presentation. The meeting starts at 6:00 PM in the Evergreen cafeteria.

Key Events of the Last Two Years

Two years ago, in November 2012, a staff survey of WGSD teachers was conducted. In January 2013 the results were sent to the WGSD Board. Both the organizers of the survey and the participants remained anonymous out of fear of retaliation. Unfortunately, several members of the school board dismissed the results of the survey as hearsay. However, after disbursing the first set of merit pay checks that spring, the Board authorized the District Administrator to ask a group of “teacher leaders” to administer the same survey a second time. The results of this second survey were given to Chris Joch, District Administrator, in May 2013. The results of this second survey were nearly identical.

During the spring/summer of 2013 several teachers acted on the frustrations they shared in those two surveys, and the District lost approximately 15 licensed teaching staff. At that time some members of the Board felt they were taking the issue of teacher resignations very seriously. They would later cite that three district level committees had been formed to address the issues. Yet after more than a year of work by the District’s Climate committee there has been no report of it’s findings.

Unfortunately, the WGSD Board did little to give their employees hope that their work climate would change during the 2013-14 school year, and another wave of resignations began in January 2014. The resignations did not end until the last week of August.  Not counting several retirements, over 22 teachers resigned during the 2013-14 school year (from Sept 1, 2013 to August 31st, 2014).

Since the time of the original teacher survey just 22 months earlier, almost 1/3 of the licensed teaching staff in WGSD had now resigned. Many of them were the District’s “best and brightest” based on the District’s own teacher evaluation and merit pay systems.

Along with new faces in the classroom came new faces on the school board. Dawn Bleimehl was elected in April of 2013 and in addition to raising concerns about teacher resignations she opened the doors to a district-wide 4K program that is now set to begin in 2015-16. Then in April of 2014 Tom Hoffman defeated Jordan Karweik for the seat previously held by Paul Beyerl. This contentious election was showcased in a formal debate just days before the election. Two of Mr. Hoffman’s main campaign issues were 4K and staff climate.

As the resignations came to a boil in the summer of 2014 two parents wrote open letters to the Board, but by that time the two newest members on the Board were already having an impact. As a result, the first meaningful decision by the Board to address the teacher resignation and climate issue came mid summer at the July 2014 meeting. At that meeting the Board directed “…Chris Joch to bring in two outside agencies for review of our school climate…”.

Feeling that their voices may now make a difference, several past employees decided it was time to share their stories in writing with the school board. Those letters were followed by letters from parents and other concerned community members, several who asked for the resignation of Chris Joch, District Administrator. Then in September over 20 concerned community members addressed the Board in person by speaking during the “citizens input” portion of the meeting. The issue then came to a head when the WGSD community passed a motion of “no confidence” in the District Administrator at the 2014 Annual Meeting. By that time the District had already hired an outside agency that would conduct another round of staff surveys. The results of the surveys would then be given to the WASB who would then conduct focus groups of both current and past employees in early November.

Most recently, on Thursday, November 20th, the Board appointed Grant Strobel to fill the seat that was opened when Bob Kastengren stepped down in October.

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