Greenfield — Lowell Holtz has assumed the top position in the Whitnall School District, taking over for Karen Petric, who retired in June.
Holtz was formerly superintendent of the Beloit and the Palmyra-Eagle school districts. In 2009, he was a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.
Below are condensed answers to a few questions posed to him Friday morning in his new office.
Q: Where were you prior to coming to Whitnall?
A: My wife and I went to school in the area - she was from West Allis and I was near north side of Milwaukee. My career began teaching third and fourth grade at Immanuel Lutheran in Minnesota. We moved to Whitewater, where I worked as a police officer from 1984 to 1989 while I got my graduate degree. I was principal in Cambridge for six years, and then had the opportunity to be a principal in Peshtigo. I worked four years as the Palmyra-Eagle superintendent position. Then Beloit opened up.
When Whitnall opened up, I went through the interview process. I think they're interested in working on communication issues, getting the community involved, and those are all things I've done a lot of in the past. They heard the things they thought would be a good match here, so I was offered the position and I was more than happy to take it.
Q: What have you been doing to begin your tenure, and what are your first impressions of Whitnall?
A: I'm meeting weekly with the administrative team to find out what's going on, what's the history on the academics, what are we working towards. I'm extremely impressed. We had teachers coming in over the summer to make a proposal, which will go in front of the board in August. They're excited about what they're doing for the kids.
I've also been trying to get more involved with the community. I went to a Rotary meeting, set up a meeting with the Greenfield mayor (Michael Neitzke). I met with Pat (Laughlin) of the Hales Corners Library.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the district?
A: The big challenge is going to be financial, because you can only tell people to do more with less so many times. And that's when you really have to be strategic in your approach to make sure you're still moving forward academically. That's where partnerships with the community are so important. That's what I enjoy doing the most - getting out there and talking to people.
If education never talks to businesses, we're training people for business yet not asking them what they need. Our kids from Whitnall won't be competing with kids from Muskego and Greendale for jobs; they'll be competing with kids from all over the world. That's what we need to prepare them for.
Q: What are some of your initial priorities in the first few months?
A: Make sure we have a good handle on the budgeting issues, make sure it's extremely transparent to the community. If it's transparent, they can see where the money's going. Do an analysis of our strengths and weaknesses. In the old days you gloss over the weaknesses. In testing, for example, the district could say "This is where we blew everybody else out of the water, but then this is where we struggled a little bit, and here is what we're proposing for next year to bring that part up."
The old saying, "it is what it is," well, people want to know what "it" is and then what are you going to do to fix it.
Q: What is your take on Whitnall's budget situation?
A: The district is in really good shape financially. It positioned itself well over the past decade or so to be where it is. The groundwork was all done. Everybody's going to take a hit, but the unfortunate thing is the state government is shifting the taxes from themselves to local government units.
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