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Disarray: Community questions district’s commitment to academic rigor

With elections looming just six weeks away, members of the Somerset Board of Education had their collective feet held to the fire by community members at the Feb. 20 meeting.

Somerset resident Chad Mecl delivered a sincere, thought-provoking appeal to members of the Board of Education to revisit their recent closed session decision to terminate math teacher Richard Thompson.

“Tonight I am requesting an on-the-record vote to reinstate Mr. Thompson. Unfortunately, it might be too late to salvage this year for his current students, my son Josh included, but we can hope he will come back for future students. In fact, I would endorse him to be the principal of the high school. Based on the current situation, we can wait for him to get licensed. I think he is one of the few who could straighten out the current environment and raise the standards in the high school so that when future families are looking for a place to live, Somerset is on the top of that list again. I’m asking the board to review their current policies in regard to the rigor at the high school and to have an open vote on the reinstatement of Mr. Thompson as a teacher at Somerset High School,” Mecl read from his prepared statement.

A number of residents and recent graduates took turns echoing Mecl’s sentiments during the open forum portion of  Monday night’s board meeting.

Speaker after speaker endorsed Thompson as a tough, but topnotch teacher, one of the few at Somerset High School devoted to truly preparing his students for the academic demands of college. Graduates bemoaned a curriculum generally lacking in substance equal to the challenge of preparing students for college and repeated calls for a return to more rigorous academic standards at the high school.  

Mecl’s reference to the high school’s most recent disappearance -- that of Principal Chris Moore -- reinforced the community’s growing discontent with the district’s downward spiral academically to the bottom of the conference over the past four years.

In an ironic twist, during his comments earlier in the evening, Superintendent Dr. Mark Bezek characterized one of the real challenges identified in his recent planning meeting with trustees from the village and township and members of the chamber as the “Route 66 Syndrome,” communities passed by because they had nothing to offer compared to surrounding communities.

“We’re at a crucial time here in Somerset and the surrounding area, especially with this little ribbon of concrete out here. We stand to become a Route 66 story if we don’t decide what is Somerset’s niche? What can we do to make this a destination? Two questions I’d ask people to keep in mind, ‘If you have children or you’re starting a business, why would you come to Somerset?’ That’s the question we have to answer. When you look at all the communities around us -- New Richmond, Stillwater, Hudson, Osceola -- they all found their downtown niche. In their plans, schools were listed as both a strength and a weakness,” said Bezek.

Other business

  • Superintendent Bezek extended an invitation to community members to join the action/measurement team responsible for implementing the new strategic plan currently in the works. Specifically they will be determining how to implement four core strategies, setting up to 15 goals for each of the strategies and figuring out how to pay for those efforts. Interested parties should contact Dr. Bezek’s office at 715-247-3313, ext. 510.
  • Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Trisha Sheridan told board members the district will be busy over the next month and half with various assessments taking place across the three buildings.
  • Superintendent Bezek told board members he is initiating a series of meetings with staff to explore creative ways to coax more hours of the current schedule to provide more time for students to concentrate in areas where poor assessments have indicated a need.
  • Board members tabled approval of the 2017-18 calendar to address a discrepancy between teacher contact days and student contact/instruction days.
  • Board members denied two petitions to alter district boundaries to allow students to enroll in the Hudson School District.
  • Director of Pupil Services Shannon Donnelly introduced the Class of 2017 Valedictorian, Max Ross McMeeken, and Salutatorian, Michelle Kathleen Schmitt.
  • Board members recognized members of the state danceline.