The days are winding down to the new school year and many teachers are already back in their classrooms getting the last things in place for students to return.
“We spend all summer putting the last school year to bed and getting this one all ready,” said Lodi School District Administrator Vince Breunig, “so we are absolutely ready to have students and staff coming back.”
New staff were welcomed in Monday morning, to be followed by returning staff, and then students coming back on Sept. 1. The 14 new staff members started their first day at 7:30 a.m. with coffee and donuts from volunteers, segueing into introductions, ice breakers, and getting to know their schools as well as the community.
In his opening remarks to the new teachers that morning, Breunig didn’t mince words about the concerns about public education on the whole, while emphasizing the importance of the work ahead.
“They need us more than ever,” said Breunig, “if you’re looking for a profession with a purpose, you’re in the right place at the right time.”
After introductions, the district principals and administration members lined up in front of the room for a game in which Director of Curriculum and Instruction Nicholas Karls would read an embarrassing anecdote–many involving early classroom lessons–and new staff tried to match to story to the staff member.
The group then filed out for a field trip, getting on a waiting school bus for a tour of the Lodi area guided by former District Administrator Chuck Pursell.
Despite staffing shortages being common in schools nationwide, Breunig described the number of new teachers this year as more than usual, but not significantly so. The district had a near miss of having all teaching slots filled up to the week before inservice when they lost one, leaving a vacancy for a fifth grade teacher, which Breunig said he hoped to have filled by early the following week.
One of the new staff members will be taking over as principal of Lodi Elementary and Ouisconsing School of Collaboration. Breunig announced the hire in the Aug. 15 school board meeting, capping a long day for candidates and particularly new principal Eric Scheunemann.
Breunig explained that the day, involving interviews with multiple candidates, a tour of the city, an offer and finally an acceptance, was possible through extensive work at the beginning of the process.
“I spent Tuesday and Wednesday doing reference checks on all of our candidates,” said Breunig. “So I knew that whenever we came up with finalists, I knew that I would be confident bringing them back, and then did some more reference checks on that Friday and that Monday, so yeah, it worked out well.”
Scheunemann was previously with the Sauk Prairie School District for 17 years as a physical education teacher and in the past seven years also as a dean of students.
“I’ve had quite a bit of experience and hopefully be able to slide into this and make a smooth transition for everyone,” said Scheunemann. “Right now the big thing is just trying to get to know people.”
Working in a neighboring school district, Scheunemann’s work has overlapped with the Lodi School District in the past, specifically with a program that used support from the Sauk Prairie Healthcare Foundation to bring portable heart rate monitors into physical education classes to help students learn about cardiovascular health in realtime.
“Plus my wife used to teach at the elementary school for seven years as an assistant and then as a teacher,” said Scheunemann, “so we kind of feel like we’ve always had two work families our whole lives: at Grand Avenue Elementary in Sauk Prairie and at OSC.”
Likewise in Poynette district administration has seen staffing challenges with District Administrator Matthew Shappell estimating 15 or so new staff with the start of the semester.
In the Poynette School Board’s meeting on Monday Shappell requested board approval to hire seven new teachers and one counselor, while also announcing the retirements and resignations of six teachers.
At the end of the year Shappell will be adding his name to the list of retirees, leaving the position to be taken by Assistant Administrator Jerry Pritzl. The passing of responsibilities has been an extended process over the past year, according to Shappell.
“Dr. Pritzl and I are meeting regularly. We’ve started the transition process with Jerry taking over items that span the entire school year (principal supervision, district-wide professional development, etc.),” said Shappell. “Jerry and I are working on the District’s Strategic Plan, with Dr. Pritzl taking the lead. Jerry and I are starting to work on the budget and I’m reviewing policy updates with him as needed. I have no doubt that with Jerry’s attitude, skills, and knowledge, he’ll be more than ready for the superintendency. The school district is in great hands.”
At the beginning of the year the district announced that Pritzl, then Middle School Principal, would be taking over as administrator from Shappell as of Jan. 1, 2023.
“I am very excited for the opportunity to overlap with Dr. Shappell and learn from him over the next few months,” said Pritzl. “We collaborate regularly, and our transition plan will allow me the opportunity to lead the strategic planning process for our district. We are in the midst of a process that has given us a chance to learn what is important to a representative group of our stakeholders, and collaboratively outline the priorities for our school.”
In the same vein, Pritzl says that he has appreciated the opportunity to help in the transition of Jacob Hunter taking on the role of Middle School Principal and Lynn Sisco as Associate Principal.
”I am particularly excited about the opportunity to lead the strategic planning process for our district,” said Pritzl. “So far, the sessions have resulted in important dialogue about the aspirations of the school district while also being real about some of the challenges we will face along the way.”
How many students on the first day
Shappell and Breunig are both expecting roughly the same number of students coming in this year as last year--about 1,000 in the Poynette School District and 1,500 in Lodi.
Getting a concrete number of students is key not just in knowing how many desks will be necessary in each class, but as a metric that determines how much federal funding a school may receive. It is also something that, as Breunig points out, they don’t know for sure until they get there.
“We’re anticipating that we’ll have about 1,500--that’s our ballpark,” said Breunig. “You never really know until that first day when you know who has made last-minute moves, in and out.”
Districts will get a better sense of their situation and what is coming as of the “third Friday count” in September, which is a snapshot count for each district, determining their budget and revenue limit for the next year.
As schools prepare for full classrooms again, teachers and administrators have asked what that means in terms of public health and how COVID mitigation will play a part in the next school year. Both Lodi and Poynette schools have been rolling back restrictions and requirements over the past year, with that trend continuing. Shappell explained that guidance on the subject has been pared down “from a small book to one page.”
“We are no longer contact tracing and there is no longer quarantines for ‘close contacts,’” said Shappell in Monday’s meeting. “Basically if a kid is sick or a staff member is sick, they have to go home...the only real COVID difference here would be that if you test positive, you have to go home for five days and come back when your symptoms are gone.”
When asked about the district’s face mask policy, Shappell explained that if public health authorities announce that there is high transmission in the county, the status would shift from face masks being “optional” to “recommended,” but not required.
In summer meetings of Lodi School District’s Medical Advisory Committee the trend has been movement from the focus being on requirements to being recommendations and education.
Lodi School District has also dropped “contact tracing” of cases, but will still alert families if there is a reported positive COVID testing of an individual for COVID within a classroom.
There is a lot of build up to Sept. 1, but at the same time, Breunig explained last week, the school grounds are not exactly empty.
“We already have a lot of our kids already in, like our high school athletics are already going–we’ve already had a tennis match, the first football game is tonight…it’s hard to believe, Friday night football--here we go.”