After cycling through six superintendents in 12 years, Wisconsin’s smallest school district is taking a new approach to its leadership position.
Washington Island School, with a student body of 74 children in K-12, is splitting its superintendent position into three roles. For years the school’s superintendent filled the roles of principal, special education director, and handled administrative duties. Finding a qualified candidate with all the skill sets required for those positions has proved difficult, but finding someone with those skills who is willing to move to the island long-term is nearly impossible.
“The island is a unique place,” said business manager Sue Cornell, who has lived on the island for 24 years and before that visited since she was a young girl. “It presents some unique challenges to live here. It’s hard to get on and off the island when you want to. I love the island, but it does pose difficulties to live here.”
When School Board President Amy Jorgenson joined the board 12 years ago, the island had an administrator who was in the job for 10 years. But in the years since, superintendents have had short tenures for a variety of reasons. Some used the job as a stepping stone, others didn’t take to the island way of life, and others simply retired.
“We always felt we were going to get the brand new people, or those near to retiring,” she said. “We always had people applying, the problem is getting them to stay.”
Getting a person who fit with the island lifestyle was only part of the battle.
“It was a lot to ask of one person,” Jorgenson said. “We wanted them to be a people person, yet sit down in an office and push paper, to do really opposite things and be good at it, and on top of that be our special ed director. This is an area that was broken for a long time, and it was time to fix it.”
Starting July 1, the positions are split. The board has promoted from within to fulfill two roles. Longtime business administrator Sue Cornell has been elevated in her role to handle the administrative tasks previously placed on the superintendent. Special education instructor Michelle Jordan has been promoted to special education director.
“By giving these people, from within, a raise and more responsibilities, all we would need is a principal,” Jorgenson said.
For that, the board turned to someone they had interviewed twice in the past, but who didn’t have the qualifications to fulfill the job’s previous requirements.
Michelle Kanipes, dean of students and activities director at Southern Door School, will move to the island and become the middle school and high school principal.
Jorgenson said creating the new structure has been a lot of work. “We had to create positions, job descriptions, and salaries for positions that didn’t exist before,” she said. “And we had to make it work with a really tight budget.”
“I’m very excited for it,” Cornell said. “I think it’s very healthy for our district to have an administrative team rather than the one person.”
Washington Island School
Projected fall 2018 enrollment: 74
2018 graduating class: 4
Staff: 15, including aides
Budget: $1.3 million ($538,500 through referendum)