Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 24, 2004

HLWW hires new elementary principal for Winsted, Waverly

By Lynda Jensen

Becky Gerdes of the Maple River School District was officially chosen to succeed outgoing Elementary Principal Julie Millerbernd by the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School Board last Monday.

Gerdes is currently the elementary principal and curriculum director at Maple River, which is a district that represents four towns about 20 miles south of Mankato on Highway 22.

“I’m very excited about joining a district that is a School of Excellence,” she said, referring to the award given to both Winsted and Howard Lake elementaries last year.

In fact, that is what caught Gerdes’ eye, she said. “It is really healthy for a school,” she added, noting that the process for becoming a School of Excellence is one that requires vision and goal setting.

Maple River includes Mapleton, Minnesota Lake, Good Thunder, and Amboy. The district is named for a river that goes through all four communities, she said.

Gerdes is particularly interested in keeping a strong reading program, as well as character education – being respectful, responsible, and making good choices, she said.

She is president of the Southwest Principals’ Division for the Minnesota Elementary Principals Association.

Gerdes earned her masters degree and specialist degree at Minnesota State University of Mankato. She has past experience teaching fourth and fifth grades.

Nevertheless, the process to hire Gerdes wasn’t necessarily a smooth one at the board meeting.

Five board members spent a good deal of time questioning two other board members, Tom Hammer and Dan Schaible, because the latter were part of the committee that recommended hiring Gerdes.

The remaining five – Chairman John Lideen, Charles Weber, Al Doering, Lori Custer, and Charlie Borrell – found themselves asked to hire Gerdes without any specific information about her, even without a resume in their packets.

However, all but two were able to personally meet Gerdes the week before.

Borrell noted that some on the board knew, while others were “left in the dark.”

Lideen expressed strong misgivings about hiring Gerdes without having a copy of her contract to review first. He suggested a 20-minute recess to review the contract.

“A committee recomendation should come with substantial documentation and information,” Lideen said.

Board Member Al Doering pointed out that Gerdes was the committee’s third choice and wanted to know why the others were not hired.

“What were the reasons she wasn’t number one or two?” Doering asked.

Schaible noted that the first two were not interested in coming to the area. “She is well qualified,” he said of Gerdes.

Schaible also noted that of the top six candidates, five were excellent choices, and that any of them would have made good principals.

Following extensive questioning, the board decided to approve the contract.

Metcalf resigns as drama director

With regret, the board also accepted the resignation of long-time drama director Dave Metcalf.

Metcalf has been teaching drama for 33 years, and ended his service with a strongly worded letter:

“To the administration and school board of ISD 2687:

“I am deeply saddened that the drama program seems to have degenerated in importance and value to the point where other more important programs have gained priority over the only ‘correct’ space we have in which to rehearse and perform.

“Ongoing venue conflicts have repeatedly pushed drama out of the auditorium, leaving us to do make shift rehearsals in whatever improvised space we could acquire on our own – at whatever inconvenience and disruption.

“I know that there are multiple occasions when the auditorium is required, or at least desirable for use by others; I have tried to be flexible and accommodating wherever possible.

“Nevertheless, more and more frequently, we find ourselves with no appropriate space in which to practice, build scenery in a timely fashion – and now, even to perform.

“On a larger scale, this seems symptomatic of an erosion of drama’s significance as a respected and educationally successful program.

“Over the past 33 years, students, parents, assorted adults and I have worked extremely hard to earn that respect and success on a statewide scale.

“It would seem however, that continued success may have jaded the local perception of our program’s value.

“Even the equivalent of a state championship (which in any sport would arouse community/school fervor – and rightfully so) is treated as just another ho-hum win, not worthy of any sort of tribute or even financial assistance from the school to cover our student participants’ out-pf-pocket expenses (though we were all grateful to the athletic department and to private donors who assisted us financially).

“To be told, as we were, on the day after we returned successfully from the state one-act festival “You’ve got 10 minutes to get out (of the auditorium with our unwelcome set pieces) was both insulting and somewhat typical.

“There is even a lack of regard for basic liability in the administration’s stand regarding personal damage done in the auditorium to staff, students or patrons alike. Requests to address facility inadequacies and safety hazards are tabled indefinitely or denied outright, leaving small hope for eventual improvement of auditorium conditions.

“Neither I, as program director, nor my students can do any more than we already do through hard work, quality effort, and even public service, to attempt to earn and maintain your respect.

“In my opinion, we deserve better consideration than we currently ‘enjoy.’

The continual roadblocks, setbacks and growing apathy have weighed heavily on my mental/emotional disposition and ultimately have led me to conclude that the stress and frustration far outweigh the perks.

“Consequently, I feel that I am no longer the appropriate person to direct this program.

“I am too proud, too stubborn, and too old to invest my soul in a program that is simply ‘in the way.’

“I am extremely grateful to every student and parent who has given so unselfishly of his/her time, effort and talent over the past 33 years, and I am proud of them all, beyond words.

“I sincerely hope that you will actively search for a qualified, young, enthusiastic, dedicated new director to step up and lead our highly deserving drama students (unlike the sad demise of our once successful speech program).

“With regrets, a heavy heart, and a thousand terrific memories, I hereby retire from directing the extra curricular drama program at HLWW, effective as of June 2004.

Sincerely, David Metcalf.”

Lideen was pressed to read the letter aloud, which he did reluctantly.

“I don’t see the lack of community support,” Doering said.

“Before things came to this, I sure would like to have seen Mr. Metcalf before the board,” Borrell said.

The district can do one of three options, Ladd said. It can hire another drama director, hope to eventually hire a language arts or other kind of teacher who is interested in picking up the program, or collaborate with Dassel-Cokato to have the drama done outside.

Elementary move to be all volunteer work

Upon reviewing tight budget constraints, the board also decided to use all volunteer help with packing and unpacking of classroom material for moving elementary classes at the end of the school year. The vote was split with Hammer and Weber voting against it.

Teachers requested to be paid for this work previously.

The cost to pay teachers for the move would have been $4,000 to $5,000 per day, with one day spent in the spring and one in the fall for that purpose.

Potentially, district-wide the cost could be $20,000 per day, it was noted.

“This very board cut its own pay in half,” Doering said, referring to the April 27 meeting in which the board opted to half its per diem compensation. “We’ve been trying to squeeze every penny.”

“I can’t see it,” Borrell said. Many came forward to say they would help with the move, he added.

“We could be looking at $50,000 to $60,000 (with the two days combined),” Doering said. That’s more than one teacher position.”

“I think something should be done,” Hammer said. He suggested giving a flat rate of $100 to teachers who were affected. “Some teachers have jobs in the summer and will have to take time off,” he said.

A letter was also given to the district by union members of Education Minnesota of HLWW, asking for comp pay for one day for teachers involved. Another suggestion was to shorten the school year by one day to enable teaches to pack and have the assistance of those not affected by the move.

“The packing up of a classroom is clearly above and beyond regular teachers’ work,” wrote Education Minnesota representative and HLWW teacher Chris Starr.

“If the school district does not provide paid time for this process a grievance will be filed by the EM-HLWW,” Starr wrote.

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