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OPINION - The superintendent isn't the problem

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Wausau’s school superintendent won’t resign. She says – correctly – that there have been no community uproars during her tenure until this recent controversy over holiday concerts and music. Dr. Kathleen Williams has been here for almost three years. By and large, her time here has been quiet.

I disagree with the way the school concert issue was handled. But I don’t think Williams should be fired over it. I have many, many questions for the people who hired her – the school board.

Williams is who she is. She is in her early 60s. She’s not at the beginning or middle of her career as a school administrator. She’s near retirement. I don’t think she has bad intentions. I do think she doesn’t “get” this community. Anyone who’s lived her would have known that the holiday concert issue would have blown up. Williams may do some long-range planning for the Wausau School District, but it’s a plan someone else will implement – or change it if they think their way is better. But it’s hard for someone to have a long-term vision for an organization when their personal time-horizon is short.

Suppose Wausau had many dilapidated schools, and needed an expensive renovation or rebuilding program. Or, imagine the imbalance between east side and west side enrollment becomes a more urgent problem leading to redistricting. What about a hypothetical teachers contract stalemate? Someone who’s in it for the long term has a much better chance of navigating the community through these types of rough seas. Charles Skirka, who led the district for 17 years, had built up enough trust within the community to steer a big bond-funded construction project through referendum. Williams would not be capable to do the same. She simply doesn’t have enough capital to rally support for it.

Wausau is a wonderful community… one of the best small cities in the country. We should be looking for a young, up-and-coming superintendent who can articulate a long-term vision for our schools and has enough staying power to see it through. We’d like someone who isn’t easily lured away by the expensive suburbs of Minneapolis or Chicago. Someone who dreams of a retirement here, where they can enjoy our small-town lifestyle. We need someone who will consider Wausau their home – not just a place they’re passing through on their career ladder. They’d raise their children here – and will work like hell to make the schools so good that they’ll send their kids.

That’s not Kathleen Williams. The problem isn’t her. The problem is that, despite the tremendous assets this community brings to the table, our Board of Education doesn’t seem to find the right person.

Chris Conley
10.15.13