Friday, June 5, 2020
Cindy Zahrte

Zahrte announces retirement July 1 next year

Tomah school district superintendent Cindy Zahrte announced her retirement at the Tomah School Board meeting Monday night.

Zahrte said retirement is effective July 1, of next year. The announcement was made at the start of the board meeting with a large contingent of building principals in attendance for a report by representatives of HSR Associates on a district facilities study.

Zahrte's announcement will give current board members a significant task ahead to attract a successor for Zahrte, who has filled that role for 10 years. Details from the facilities study will likely provide a significant task for future board members to deal with an aging group of buildings around the district and to accommodate student/space needs.

Zahrte devoted little time at the meeting for career reflection. She was a teacher before assuming the role of principal at Tomah Middle School, before being hired as superintendent.

"I only hope I gave as much to the community as what I've gained," Zahrte said. "I've had the luxury the last 10 years to help people achieve their best."

Board member John McMullen made the point to briefly remove himself from his board role to speak as a parent on what Zahrte brought to the district during her tenure as superintendent. He stepped before the podium during the public communication portion of the meeting. McMullen hopes the community takes stock of Zahrte's skill set as the district leader.

"Three things I think of Mrs. Zahrte, "McMullen said. "Compassion, she always tried to find compassionate solutions (to issues). Strength (when dealing with Act 10 transition and two school referendums to exceed revenue caps) and she is a tireless worker for the district."

But with Zahrte stepping down July 1, her replacement, along with other district leaders, will be tasked to incorporate information shared by Brad Simonson and Tim Ruppert of HSR Associates. The building review took place from July 2018 through Dec. 2018. Each of the 11 school buildings and district office were included in the study.

As initial reports were presented to the board, more discussion will take place at a Dec. 2 board academy meeting. One of the glaring points of the study, original building age ranges from 29 years-old (Camp Douglas, LaGrange elementary schools) to 82-years (Warrens elementary. )Tomah middle school, 81-years-old.

Ruppert commended the district for solid work over the years to maintain their brick and mortar and to utilize every bit of space.

"(The buildings) are using every nook and cranny for space needs," Ruppert said.

With one to six percent student growth anticipated over a five year period, those nooks and crannies will be more squeezed it was noted. Already the elementary buildings have 'small group instructional space' the study defined.

"There are needs in every single building," Zahrte said.

The future of Tomah education must be addressed, according to Tomah business manager Greg Gaarder.

"We are faced with some challenges, Gaarder said. "We cannot ignore those challenges. We have to think what will Tomah education look like 15, 10, five years from now. We are seeing some of those proximity issues. If you are around our schools you will see those issues. There are no preconceived needs. We just want to take a critical look."

The process is familiar ground for Simonson. He reminds people the study is merely a tool to get to the next step.

"The report is meant to serve as a tool to use for down the road," Simonson said. It is meant to generate discussion to find solutions..., a comprehensive look at the big picture."

Zahrte acknowledged what Tomah and other districts face.

"We have critical needs and it's going to take time to resolve those," Zahrte said. "But we live in an era of open (student) enrollment and we need to look at what we can do to attract families."

The district needs to be aware of the other direction of other districts undertaking new building projects, she added.

The HSR report outlined the duties of a community task force to study specific needs. Stay tuned.

Another point of retirement interest, Brad Plueger tendered his resignation as Tomah Timberwolves head football coach.

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