Superintendent Tim Schigur's vision: Listen, have fun, be yourself

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Neil Johnson
Friday, September 13, 2013

MILTON—As new Milton Superintendent Tim Schigur planned his first all-staff meeting a few days before the school year started, he knew he needed to try something new.

He'd be introducing himself to 40 new teachers. Veteran staff, who knew Schigur as Milton Middle School's principal for six years, had weathered months of upheaval last school year after a blizzard of budget cuts and the suspension and ultimately the resignation of former Superintendent Mike Garrow.

Schigur didn't feel like he could hammer teachers with a speech about student achievement, district vision and staff team building.

There'd be time for that later.

He wanted to show staff how he felt about them, the district and his first full year as superintendent.

“I just couldn't do a boilerplate business meeting about the budget and state test scores,” Schigur said. “I needed to make this fun.”

As district employees poured into the Milton High School auditorium for the all-staff assembly Aug. 30, the first thing they heard was the high school pep band. They saw the school pompon squad cheering.

Then Rocky the Red Hawk, the district's giant bird mascot, raced through the auditorium, flapping his arms and jumping around. As staff sat in the bleachers, the school board introduced itself.

Then Rocky came running out again and removed his bird head.

It was Tim Schigur inside the costume.

For Schigur, who let students at Milton Middle School call him “Schigur the Tiger,” the most important thing is for new staff to feel comfortable being themselves and know they're allowed to have fun and enjoy their work.

“Some schools have over 10 or more new teachers learning the ropes this year. I've wanted to do anything I can to reduce anxiety. To set the tone, I wanted people right away to know who I am and to know that the administration and this district are human.

“We're here to be with you,” Schigur said.

When Schigur was hired in the spring, it was a palpable relief for the district. Months of administrative back filling in the wake of Garrow's departure and a feared budget gap of $900,000 had worn on the board and top district officials. 

In came a superintendent who'd been in the district several years—a known quantity of a principal who'd spearheaded a program that put iPad wireless devices into the hands of every student at Milton Middle School, creating a technology-based learning model that was different than anything the district had seen.

Schigur was a surprise pick by the board. His hiring came after two finalists, veteran administrators from other Wisconsin school districts, turned down the job.

Schigur hasn't waited to prove he was an effective hire.

Over the summer, he helped guide a centralized student registration process that enlisted volunteer students at the high school, where all registration takes place, and helped establish a computerized registration that brought in 70 percent of registrations online.

Schigur worked to restore staff cuts made last spring when the district was grappling with the specter of a budget gap. It helped that the district's budget picture brightened to the tune of a potential $213,000 surplus over the summer after the state decided to cut loose an increase in per-pupil revenue.

Schigur helped push through a blend of staff add backs that ranged from extra classroom aides to new part-time teaching positions, including a language arts teacher. The plan, he said, is intended to help thin ballooning class sizes, an issue the district grappled with last year.

“We wanted to turn things back around as much as we could,” Schigur said. “That takes listening and asking those administrators who know their own schools and their priorities, 'What are the best ways to make a positive impact?' The real question was, 'How do we spend some of this surplus to help kids out right now?'”

Schigur, who is in a state-sanctioned mentoring program for new superintendents, said he thinks the fastest way to learn is to get into each of the district schools as often as possible. The other key, he said, is being down to earth.

“I believe in being humble. You don't tell people how much you know and how you have every answer. That's not my role,” Schigur said. “I have a service to give—you listen, you hear people's questions and concerns and their thoughts. The answers come from accepting people's input and responding to it.”

One of Schigur's mottos stems from his love of a particular soft drink. On his desk is a framed mantra: “Keep calm and sip a Dr. Pepper.”

Teachers who were blown away by Schigur's Rocky the Red Hawk show Aug. 30 already have asked him how he's going to top it next year. 

Schigur kept calm and sipped a can of Dr. Pepper, thinking about it.

“I don't know what I'll do, but it's not a big deal,” Schigur said. “If tomorrow's Tuesday, I'm going to worry about how to top Monday. Wednesday, I'm trying to improve over Tuesday.

“That's the challenge, and that's the fun.

“It's a day at a time.”

Last updated: 3:52 pm Friday, September 13, 2013

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