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Stewart tours district, holds community meet-and-greet

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – The first finalist for the Green Bay school district superintendent position, Dr. Sonia Stewart, made her bid for the job with her Day In the District on Wednesday, Feb. 19, capping off a full day of events with a meet-and-greet with community members.

“I’ve had a great day,” Stewart said. “I’m really thankful for the way this day was structured, because I feel like I’ve gotten to meet multiple stakeholders in lots of different spaces.”

She said she is intrigued by the size of the district, coming from districts much larger than Green Bay.

“I feel like the district is at a pivot point,” Stewart said. “The landscape of this district has changed demographically over the last 10 years.”

She said her broad experience over several districts is what makes her a good fit for the position.

Dr. Sonia Stewart

“I think my record of moving equity is certainly part of the legacy of the work that I’ve done,” Stewart said. “Really this foundational belief that all children are our children. I say this all the time – this is their only trip through K-12, and it’s our responsibility as adults to make sure what they experience is what they need to be successful.”

Attendees had the opportunity to participate in two ways.

The first, was to submit questions for Stewart to answer during the Q&A portion of the evening, and the second was to jot down their thoughts about Stewart to be given to the school board to help with the decision process.

Some of the questions asked included what she sees as some of the challenges the district is currently facing, how diversity plays a role in the district, achievement gaps, trust and communication with the entire district community and special education.

“There are some themes that have come up today, as areas of improvement – and honestly I think there were some things that were communicated in what has been published online about places where you (the district/community) feel there are gaps,” Stewart said. “Board relations has certainly come up today – the relationship that the board has with the current superintendent, or will have, and the relationship the board has with the schools and the central office at large. Another thing that has come up today is concerns around the achievement gap. Everyone has acknowledged that there are barriers in our current system that are continuing to hold that gap in place and lots of people have had ideas on ways to get at that, but that has certainly been articulated here today.”

She said principal autonomy and accountability was always brought to her attention.

“When you have principals that are really getting it done and doing great things for kids – how do you get out of the way,” Stewart said. “And then when you have principals who need more support, how do you make sure they get the support that they need? And how do you change the distance between the central office and the sort of boots on the ground, to use the language that was used earlier today.”

She said she believes the function of a central office is to support what’s happening in the schools.

“If a school is unsuccessful, we are unsuccessful,” Stewart said. “It is not a principal issue. These aren’t teacher issues. There are 42 schools in this district and we are all responsible to ensure that they thrive. So hearing that space/distance between the central office is something that came up today and certainly would be some place where I would want to spend some time with.”

The school board conducted their final interview with Stewart following the meet-and-greet at Hotel Northland.

“The kids of any city – and certainly this one is no different – will only thrive if we see a collective community that is committed to making that happen,” Stewart said. “I think schools are expected to solve all problems. And I’m here to say if that’s what you are looking for in the next superintendent, I cannot solve all problems. But I do believe collectively, where people have a will and a commitment to see our kids thrive that things can change, and problems can be solved.”

Finalist Steven Murley’s Day in the District is Thursday, Feb. 20, which also includes a meet-and-greet.

The school board will meet in a special closed-session meeting on Monday, Feb. 24 for deliberation.

A candidate is expected to be chosen following that meeting.

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