Transparency nonexistent with principal hires

Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Just when you think officials with the Shawano School District have hit rock bottom, someone throws them a shovel.

The latest jaw-dropping moment played out during a special meeting of the Shawano School Board on June 29 as business manager Josh Swanson announced that people were found to fill three vacant principal positions and two associate principal positions. On the surface, this would appear to be good news.

Wait, though. There’s more.

The agenda item was only listed as “Resignations/retirements/appointments.” For anyone in the general public, this would not appear to be a big, important item, but considering the school district has engaged in brick-wall transparency for some time, it’s not surprising local residents were unaware prior to the meeting that the administrative bleeding was about to be remedied.

However, it became quickly evident to anyone attending the meeting in person that the revelation was as much a surprise to members of the school board, which I found to be bizarre. Discussion soon revealed the board was unaware until the meeting started that there were candidates to take the place of the complete exodus of school administrators, had no idea what these new administrators would be getting paid, and that inquiries regarding the progress of finding new school leaders were not treated equally.

On one side of the room, you had Chris Gull telling his colleagues he knew the information about the principal candidates in advance. He pointed out that he persistently contacted district office officials until they told him the positions had final candidates, and he chided other members for not keeping in contact with the district office. When he said it, it made sense.

Not so fast, though. Jeana Winslow, the new kid on the block, pointed out she’s also made calls and asked questions. Her inquiries were met with silence, she said.

What does that say about an administration that spoon-feeds information to one board member but treats another like she’s second class? Giving limited information and shrugging whenever a board member asks questions like what the salaries are going to be shows disdain for the authority of the board, which is supposed to be representing the people of Shawano and surrounding communities.

Communicating with the public hasn’t been the current administration’s strong suit. Parents got angry when virtual learning continued in Shawano for months as other districts managed to bring students back to in-person learning. When the school district’s mask mandate was dropped at the time that the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Gov. Tony Evers’ edict, not a word was uttered to community members. Of course, who can forget the attempt to close a school with less than two months notice because the district had developed a seven-figure deficit?

It’s clear things need to change. It’s clear the board needs to realize being in charge of a school district is not a spectator sport. Members are being told existing policy doesn’t allow board members to sit in on interviews or entitle them to key information about the candidates being considered for hiring or promotion.

Here’s what the board needs to vote on in terms of policy change:

• A policy is needed that allows board members to take part in interviews, at least for administrative positions. Some departments with Shawano County include county board members in their interviews, especially with hiring new staff for the sheriff’s department. If school board members opt not to participate, that’s one thing, but the option should be available.

• A policy should be put into place with required information that administrators need to furnish to the board when hiring principals and other key school officials. At a minimum, board members should know the amount of salary and benefits being furnished, the full resume of candidates, how many candidates applied and how many were interviewed before the golden child is presented to the board. Board members should have that information a minimum of five days before the meeting to provide time for them to research.

• Policies about agenda items need an overhaul. Hiring principals and other administrators should not be hidden under a vague “Appointments” listing. Extending the superintendent’s contact should not be relegated to a consent agenda.

Transparency is non-existent, but better efforts could help to rebuild the constantly crumbling trust between the schools and the people. Building trust between the schools and the board is a place to start.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for NEW Media. Readers can contact him at