High school staff seeks new start
A hastily called meeting by New Richmond High School staff members Monday night was filled with passionate pleas for change.
Front and center on the evening's agenda was the group's desire to convince Principal Jeff Moberg to stay on the job as the school's top administrator.
The meeting's organizers had hoped the entire New Richmond School Board would attend the evening's gathering to hear people's concerns.
Worries about proper notice of an official meeting of the board and prior commitments kept some of the elected officials away.
The 90-plus employees and community members in attendance were buoyed by the announcement that Moberg had pulled his recently submitted letter of resignation from the table.
The news came following more than an hour of staff members and parents singing the praises of Moberg's leadership at the school.
"He'll probably be canonized as a saint tomorrow," district resident Tom Koop quipped following the exchange.
One after one, people rose in support of Moberg.
"Jeff Moberg is a true symbol of what makes New Richmond a school of excellence," said Amy Almendinger, language arts teacher at the high school who had Moberg as a student and also taught side-by-side with him prior to his move to principal. "I can say, without a doubt, he is the most effective administrator I've ever worked with. We need to keep him."
Psychology and social studies teacher Dave Schleh said he's been impressed with the principal's willingness to innovate and back the ideas of staff.
"This kind of support is really hard to find," he said.
Stephanie Karno, language arts teacher, said she appreciates Moberg's "big picture vision" when evaluating the successes and failures in the school.
"I just plead with you to do everything you can to keep him," she told the board members in attendance.
Social studies teacher Amanda Erickson noted that Moberg's leadership has led to greater student and staff enthusiasm.
"We have higher school spirit today than we've seen in many years," she said.
Sue Kittle, a teaching assistant who said she was speaking on behalf of the support staff, said Moberg always greets people personally and is a "great principal."
"He treats us as equals to the teaching staff," she said. "He's a friendly, great guy."
Math teacher Jarrod Hamdorf called Moberg a "Tiger through and through" and wondered outloud why he may leave his post.
"There's got to be something seriously broken," he said.
Science teacher Neal Ziller had the same question in mind.
"This guy wants to stay here," he said. "But why are good people leaving this school district? I think we need to answer those questions."
Jessica Ferguson, social studies teacher and moderator for the meeting, said the potential resignation is "an indicator of a larger problem."
She warned that if the working environment for administrators isn't improved, New Richmond could lose Moberg and other principals in the district.
Erickson presented a list of worries staff members have concerning the way the School Board has operated in recent months.
She said board members have actively worked against administrators' decisions and micro-managed the schools when principals should be trusted to run their own buildings.
Ferguson said the teachers would request a formal special School Board meeting at the earliest possible date to clear the air concerning the Moberg resignation letter and related controversies. She suggested the meeting occur before the end of school, June 2.
"We are not interested in the blame game," she emphasized, "you fix this and we'll sit back. We want to work together to overcome these feelings of distrust and lack of respect."
Ferguson said it's important to have a community meeting, where teachers, parents and students can voice their opinions, very soon before more personnel choose to leave the district.
"Ultimately, I think, our goal is the same," she said. "We want a good school system for our kids. We shouldn't be at odds about that."
The four School Board members who attended portions of Monday's meeting were unanimous in their support of Moberg.
Each said they would do everything in their power to convince the principal to stay on the job.
"It is embarrassing the situation we find ourselves in," said Lester Jones, board member. "How did we get here? I really don't care -- we are here. The key is what we're going to do to get out of this spot."
A quality district staff should demand excellence from its School Board and administration, Jones said, but somehow the elected officials have let people down.
"If we don't fix this, vote us out," he said. "I'd encourage you to do that. I'd encourage you to speak up loudly. That may change things."
Board member Chris Skoglund said the board needs to focus on "the what and not the how" of operating a district. Micro-management and a lack of School Board unity is behind the current administrative mess, she said.
"I know Jeff is the right guy to be here right now and five years from now and, hopefully, 20 years from now," Skoglund said. "I will do whatever I can to convince him to stay."
Skoglund urged community members to listen to both sides of the debate, and not just to people they agree with. But shutting out "opponents," she explained, open and honest discussion can't take place.
"We're really, truly not that far apart," she said. "We've set this culture of disfunction by choosing sides."
Board member Greg Gartner said no one wants a board looking over their shoulder and "second guessing" them all the time.
He pledged to help change the atmosphere on the board and "work in a more positive way."
Gartner also criticized those who anonymously post comments on area blog sites, calling many of the comments "low, disgusting and untrue."
Several people charged that at least one board member has been participating in the blog by providing documents to the anonymous posters.
"Find who the saboteur is on the board and kick him out," resident Tom Koop said. He suggested the board censure any member who works in such a destructive manner.
Gartner said the School Board has a code of ethics in place, and if everyone followed those guidelines there would be a more positive atmosphere in the district.
Newly elected board member Bob Sievert, who arrived later at the gathering, said he senses that Moberg and others want to stay in the district.
"He loves it here," Sievert said. "He very much wants to stay here."
Sievert said the district needs to commit to a more positive future course to prove that things will improve.