Greenfield School District holds focus groups to discuss superintendent's role

C.T. Kruger
Dr. Louis Birchbauer of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards gathers input from eight people in the Greenfield High School PAC on Feb. 21 during a parent focus group for the selection of a new Greenfield School District superintendent. The parent focus group was one of five focus groups scheduled for the day with parents, teachers and district staff.
Published on: 2/26/2013

Greenfield - After the conflicts and emotion set off in the Greenfield School District and other school districts by the state's Acts 10 and 32 passed in 2011, one thing was clear in a day of focus groups for parents, residents and staff last week - everyone was ready to move forward with a healthy attitude, Louis Birchbauer said.

Birchbauer is a consultant with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, hired to help the Greenfield schools find a new superintendent to succeed Conrad Farner, who took a position with the Cedarburg schools last month. The focus groups were held Feb.21 to gather characteristics and qualities people want to see in the next superintendent.

Birchbauer holds focus groups for schools all over the state.

"It was obvious that everybody is ready to move forward," he said. "It's a very healthy attitude."

Moving forward

The staff, especially, wanted to put the negativity behind and looked forward to a fresh start, he said.

"Some are smarting in the School District because of Act 10," Birchbauer said. "Teachers expressed very soundly that they are willing to move forward with a leader they could have trust and confidence in."

That trust factor seems to be important, as he detected that there had been concern about repercussions from expressing views, Birchbauer said.

He will take his focus group findings to the Greenfield School Board either Mondayor March 11 when the board will use them to develop questions for superintendent candidates. The discussions will be in executive session. Superintendent interviews are slated to begin in early April, with a target date for a board decision in early May, Birchbauer said. The board wants a new superintendent on board by July 1.

He paid tribute to the board decision-making process, saying the board is taking its time, thinking the process through and being deliberate.

Fewer than 20 people came to the parent/community focus group, but Birchbauer said that's only a bit less than average for a school district Greenfield's size.

Facing challenges, ending politics

Even though they acknowledged that the district will face challenges, they feel ready to work together to meet them, Birchbauer said.

"People were very positive about the future of the School District," he said.

Among his other findings with the parents/community group is a desire to end the politics between the School Board and the superintendent that they felt was a distraction from education, he said.

But as to whether there had actually been friction, Birchbauer said, "I'm not going to validate that."

Parents/community members also called for ensuring the curriculum is relevant and that there are adequate educational opportunities for gifted students, he said. But overall the focus group seemed to emphasize preparing students to make choices for where they are going after high school - whether it be college, technical school, the trades or work.

Along the same lines, the parent/community group wanted better communication and transparency in the next superintendent so that when changes are made, people understand why, Birchbauer said.

Teachers and administrators in their separate focus groups echoed that, saying they wanted initiatives to be clearly linked to a strategic plan, he said.

"They want efforts connected to that so they can see where they are going," Birchbauer said.

He likened it to buying a piece of clothing.

"You usually see how it will fit in with the existing wardrobe," he said.

- Jane Ford-Stewart