First-year superintendent receives high marks from board

By Matt Bunke, Community Editor

Superintendent Dave Marlette certainly didn’t come into the Watertown-Mayer school district last summer with the intention of maintaining the status quo.

He made that abundantly clear in an active first year in which he oversaw a successful referendum to increase the district’s operating levy, made administrative changes at both the high school and middle school, negotiated new contracts with the district’s bargaining groups, and most significantly, encouraged the school board to approve a 1-to-1 technology program that will put an iPad in the hands of every student in the district next year. If nothing else, the former Tracy Public Schools superintendent showed he’s not afraid to shake things up, make tough decisions and pursue innovative methods in an effort to drive student achievement.

"I’ve been in the business long enough that I think I’ve seen what works," said Marlette, who had 11 years of previous superintendent experience before coming to Watertown-Mayer, including the last eight in Tracy. "I think that’s what a superintendent needs to do. If you see some areas that need improvement, you need to bring it forward. It’s all about the kids, and making the best experience we can for their education. I’m not one to just come in here, sit in my chair and say everything’s fine. I’m proud off our accomplishments, and I really look forward to the future. Good things are really happening here."

Apparently, the school board also likes what it has seen. The board recently gave Marlette a glowing superintendent evaluation on May 14, the results of which were made public during the board’s June 27 meeting. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating unacceptable performance, 3 indicating expectations being met, and 5 indicating outstanding performance, Marlette scored a 4.5.

The composite score was based on nine different categories, many of which included several subcategories. Each member of the board ranked Marlette among each of the categories, with their results being averaged to produce a composite score.

Marlette’s lowest categorical ranking was a 3.9, given in the category for assessing the superintendent’s ability to "maintain and improve effective board/superintendent relations by periodically reviewing and upgrading performance through joint seminars and training." Even that score, however, exceeded average expectations, and was just a tenth of a point from being considered "very good."

Marlette’s strongest categorical scores were 4.6, which he achieved in two separate categories. The board was impressed with his ability to oversee all financial operations of the district and prepare, present and recommend various budgets to the school board. The board also liked the way Marlette interprets staff proposals to the board and recommends adjustments of employee policies and salary structures. Given that Marlette’s highest scores were 4.6 and his overall score was a 4.5, the board clearly was impressed with Marlette’s performance across the board.

"The board has been very pleased with Superintendent David Marlette’s performance during the past year," School Board Chairman John McCain said. "He has a get-it-done attitude, and has accomplished much during the past year. … The Board believes we have the right superintendent to lead the District into 21st century teaching and learning."

Marlette was certainly thrust right into the fire in his first year in the district, when he walked into a fierce battle to get a referendum passed that would increase the district’s operating levy from $242 per pupil to $500 per pupil. A similar ballot measure had failed the year before by a 3 to 1 margin, but this time, thanks in part to increased organization and communication with the public, the measure passed by 17 votes. The referendum’s passing may have been aided by its status as the only thing on the ballot in November, but nonetheless, it will give the district and additional $450,000 in funding in each of the next 10 years.

That additional funding was a big factor in the district’s ability to pursue its iPad initiative for next year, which will include the leasing of an iPad for each of the district’s K-12 students. The program will aim to drive student achievement by allowing students to access core curriculum and other materials on the electronic devices at home and in the classroom in a way that is considered more engaging for students than traditional textbooks. The program will cost about $250,000 per year, and was easily the biggest change the school district made in Marlette’s first year.

"Last year we had more open enrollees going out (of the district) than coming in," Marlette said. "Now we’re getting tons of open enrollees coming in. We have 15 to 20 open enrollees coming back in here since word got out about some of the things we’re doing. That tells you right there that we’re going in the right direction."

Other significant changes made in Marlette’s first year include an administrative shift that will send middle school principal Bob Hennen to the high school next year, with Director of Teaching and Learning Nick Guertin taking over as middle school principal. High school principal Scott Fitzsimonds will move into a role in the district office. Marlette has also worked with Hennen to create a new block schedule at the high school that will allow students more choices when it comes to electives.

"I just think our whole year went really well," Marlette said. "I look forward to next year. Next year is going to be exciting."