Parents and students who came to a special Kewaunee School Board meeting Tuesday night (March 12) hoping to get some answers about high school principal’s Mark Dax departure left frustrated, as the board offered no details and let stand its previous acceptance of his resignation.
The board met in closed session prior to the special meeting, and once they reconvened in open session board members listened to public pleas for almost an hour. In the end, though, when president Brian Vogeltanz asked if any board members wanted to make a motion to offer Dax a one-year contract extension, none did.
Vogeltanz then read a prepared statement: “The board has considered whether to offer another administrative contract to Mr. Dax based on all the facts and circumstances in considering all of the components of a principal’s job description. We’re unable to extend the contract at this time and will honor his previous resignation that was offered and accepted by the board. You also need to know that for every administrator and teacher, there is a renewal and non-renewal process. There’s also very specific evaluations as per state statute, where principals are evaluated on 19 core competencies. If there are deemed to be performance concerns, those must be addressed. And unfortunately, that’s all we can say about this because this is a personnel matter.”
As the board adjourned, students cried openly and several people shouted “Recall.”
As the meeting began, more than a dozen students sat near the front of the Kewaunee High School auditorium in T-shirts that read, “Keep our school great #savedax,” and 25 people stepped to the microphone to speak in Dax’s favor and ask the board to reconsider.
Kate Kinjerski, who emerged on social media in recent weeks as a leader in support of Dax, submitted petitions signed by 502 adults and 122 students. She read from the school district’s want ad seeking a new principal who “will establish rapport with our students, staff, parents and community while continuing to support the district’s mission and vision. A high-quality candidate will also understand the community’s expectation for visibility and approachability and will be able to promote continuous educational improvements so as to ensure the highest level of academic growth for all students.”
“I can’t help but think that’s what we already have,” Kinjerski continued. “This man has established many wonderful relationships with our children, staff, coaches, it really shows how much he loves this community.”
After posting a query on Facebook about the situation, Kinjerski said she received hundreds of messages from other parents, past and present students, and staff.
“Not one person had a single bad thing to say about Mr. Dax,” she said. “In fact, many say he is the best we’ve ever had.”
Several parents and students spoke about Dax’s enthusiasm as a Kewaunee graduate who came back three years ago as principal of his alma mater, and a number of them shared personal stories about Dax going the extra mile to support and encourage students, especially young people who were struggling.
“The community has invested a ton of money to upgrade this school, but without people who care about the students, it doesn’t mean anything at all,” parent Mark Huber said.
“He is so wonderful with our children as far as making sure that they follow their passions,” Becky Schleis said, noting that Dax tells students and parents at freshman orientation that the school offers four opportunities: to enter the workforce, to do military, technical college or four-year college. “He gives them the whole range with regard to what their future can be. I had not heard that from a principal before … We need Mr. Dax to stay because he makes connections with children, and it’s those connections that are going to propel our children out to the future.”
As Vogeltanz made a final call for public comments, someone in the audience asked if the board was going to comment.
“This is a personnel matter, we can’t – our comments are very limited what we can say,” Vogeltanz replied. None of the other board members present – Paul Jirtle, Dan Kassner, Deanne Schultz, Dennis Shimanek or Tom Stangel – said anything beyond Vogeltanz’s prepared statement.
Two people who were at the meeting said that Dax sat in the back of the auditorium, but he also made no public comment about the situation.
At least two of the three open seats on the Kewaunee School Board were already going to be decided by write-ins. Schultz is running unopposed for re-election to a seat representing unincorporated areas, but no candidates stepped up either for an open seat representing the city or an open at-large seat.